Frank Ocean began his career as a music ghostwriter, but his emotion-packed songs eventually led him to release solo mixtapes and landed him a record deal. He consistently ranks on the charts with single releases from his albums, bringing a depth of emotion to his songs that are matched only by his incredible vocals. In this article, we’ll look at 21 of Frank Ocean’s best songs.
Novacane was Frank Ocean’s debut single and what a single to start off with. While it uses a rather explicit narrative to weave its tale, the song explores loneliness, isolation, and the numb feeling that comes from those that makes it hard to feel anything. The song made it to number 82 on the Billboard Hot 100 but it was critically listed as one of the best songs of the year by publications like The New York Times, Spin, and Pitchfork.
2. Thinkin Bout You
Where Novacane released as Ocean’s first single, Thinkin Bout You released as the lead single from his first studio album. The song made it to number 32 on the US Billboard Hot 100, 94 on the UK Singles, and 13 on the Heatseekers Songs charts. In 2013, Thinkin’ Bout You was even nominated for the Grammy Award for Record of the Year.
Chanel serves as a beautiful, slow piano ballad that delves into the fluidity of sexuality and masculinity. Critics hailed it as a huge flex on traditional masculine ideas and as a bisexual anthem on Twitter. Chanel was released as a standalone single in 2017 and saw tons of Airplay, being labeled by Pitchfork as their Best New Track.
Pyramids tells more than one story, thanks to the metaphorical and literal interpretations. The lyrics describe the fall of a woman from grace, starting as the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, and ending up as a humble prostitute. It could be interpreted as the story of black people once being royalty but having suffered a long history of oppression and injustice since. As the song continues, it gets faster, starting as a gradual slide down before the fate of the storyteller simply falls off a cliff
5. In My Room
Most of In My Room is rapped at the lower end of Frank Ocean’s vocal range and is one of his most authentic performances. The song wasn’t officially announced before its release, mostly the singer speaking proudly about how he’s been able to remain authentic and build himself to the point he has made it, even though it leaves some room for self-doubt.
Ivy is Frank Ocean when he pulls out all the stops to put as much emotion into a song as possible. Musically, lyrically, and thematically, it’s just heavy, but in the best possible way. It sucks when you meet someone so right for you at the wrong time, and that’s the idea of the song. Sort of a goodbye, no hard feelings, but man, that could have been what I was looking for.
7. Swim Good
Swim Good takes on the feeling of drowning in emotion after the end of a relationship and is really talking about being able to swim through those rough currents and make it out okay. It’s all about releasing the pain inside, featuring more singing verses than most of his work.
Slide was released as a song by Calvin Harris but featured both Frank Ocean and Migos, serving as the lead single from the Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 album in 2017. It was Ocean’s first appearance as an independent artist and was met with mostly rave reviews among music critics.
9. Super Rich Kids
Being rich really does make you lose sight of some things, no matter how grounded you are. Super Rich Kids dives into that theme by discussing how numb it can feel to have everything you ever wanted at your fingertips, culminating in the suicide of the speaker at the end of the song.
10. Pretty Sweet
Pretty Sweet serves as a battle for Frank Ocean, dealing with the life he wants versus the life he feels like he has to lead. It discusses how exhausting it can be to keep up with responsibilities, especially those you’ve placed on yourself.
11. Pink + White
Pink + White takes on the passing of Ocean’s friends from a place that isn’t ultimately sad, but more nostalgic for the days they spent together. It focuses on the good times they had rather than just the grief from the loss. Beyoncé is heard in the song as a background voice to compliment Frank Ocean’s vocals, and frankly, the fact that he stands toe to toe with her in quality is a testament to his own greatness.
12. Bad Religion
Bad Religion is a dramatic song that mirrors Godspeed’s overall themes but has a vastly different tone. The song likens unrequited love to a bad religion, regretting how you feel about a person and wishing you could stop but feeling unable to do so. It’s beautiful, therapeutic in a way, and captures the essence of the singer’s sadness.
Nights follows a rough time emotionally in Ocean’s life, dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and his attempts to cope with the disaster. It pulls at your heartstrings listening to the story of someone trying to suppress their feelings when you know they’ve been through so much. It’s a feeling that many people can relate to when nothing really helps the hurt, and you just feel like you’re left to drown.
14. Self Control
Self Control is another Frank Ocean song that reflects on an old relationship, though it comes at it through a darker lens. Both partners have moved on, though the song wonders if the two will be able to stay apart or if they’ll lose control and drift back together. It also implies that at least Ocean, if not both partners, regrets having moved on from the relationship.
Lost is very reference-heavy, including everything from books, movies, and the Bible. While it discusses a woman being led into drug trafficking, it stays away from becoming a depressing song through its upbeat style and focuses on the woman’s life and how she is still caught up in everything.
Provider describes the dream life he and his ex came up with together while also wondering if it would work out between them if they found their way back to each other. It uses distorted vocals to show the shaky connection that now exists, shifting to a very slow tempo halfway through like the dream has slipped away and he’s now realized it but wishes it could still happen.
Seigfried is by no means one of Ocean’s most popular songs, but it’s undoubtedly one of his best despite being harder to follow the lyrics than most. He claims to be willing to do anything for his partner but regrets not having the courage to put those words into action. It’s a sad dream of a former relationship, reminding us that it’s okay to be sad, but we still have to move on.
18. Cayendo (Side A – Acoustic)
Like much of his work, Cayendo is an emotional ballad from Frank Ocean that talks about how it feels to love someone who doesn’t feel the same. Mixing Spanish and English lyrics, the song only features a lone guitar to pair with the vocals, adding emotion by focusing on the words and minimizing the background noise.
19. White Ferrari
Like Godspeed, White Ferrari is the story of an emotional goodbye from Frank Ocean, but this one refers to someone who is assumed to have passed away. It’s an intense song describing his depth of care for the person, reminding them that he will always care for them.
20. Pink Matter
Pink Matter is a play on the term gray matter, which references the brain, where the pink matter, in this sense, references the female anatomy, the desire to enjoy those parts, and perspective on what really matters. The song is full of double entendres and features André 3000 in two verses.
Godspeed taps into the elements of gospel music to create an emotional goodbye song. Ocean wishes the person well in life and hopes the best for them, all curated with religious undertones that mimic Ocean’s devotion to the person.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.