When the news about Chris Brown’s physical altercation with Frank Ocean made headlines on Monday morning, most people probably asked, “Chris Brown hit who?”
Indeed, Ocean – who is not related to “Caribbean Queen” singer Billy Ocean – may not be as well known as Brown, but he is arguably far more talented. Although the two are both nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album at Sunday’s Grammys, there’s a vast different between the artists, both in terms of musical style and personal affectation.
To begin, Brown is a Top 40 artist, while Ocean is much more of an indie darling who has started to cross over to the mainstream. Both of them fall under the R&B / Urban genre umbrella though.
Brown, 23, often lip-syncs in concert… and not the Beyoncé kind of lip-syncing. Because he dances constantly during his performances, the “Turn Up the Music” singer instead chooses to mouth the words into a hands-free microphone attached to his head while a recorded track plays in concert.
In May 2012, his so-obviously lip-synced performance at the Billboard Music Awards caused an uproar with celebs, including Pink and supermodel Chrissy Teigen, the latter of whom actually received death threats from Brown’s “Team Breezy” after she tweeted, “Why sing when you can dance?” But even when Brown does sing on his records, his vocals are so auto-tuned, they could rival Rebecca Black’s “Friday.”
Brown is set to perform at the upcoming Grammys and reportedly wants to duet with Rihanna… nearly four years to the day after he beat her so badly the night before the awards, she had to cancel her own performance.
Ocean, meanwhile, doesn’t need to resort to publicity-grabbing tactics to make people listen. His debut album, Channel Orange, which has sold 100,000+ more copies than Brown’s 2012 release Fortune, had to be bumped up a week last July because demand was so high. While Fortune got panned by critics (Entertainment Weekly graded it a C-, while Rolling Stone gave it two out of five stars), Ocean’s Channel Orange was praised by Spin with a 9/10 and Pitchfork giving it 9.5/10.
Before making a name for himself, Ocean (real name: Christopher "Lonny" Breaux) was a ghost songwriter for the likes of Justin Bieber, John Legend, and Brandy. In 2009, he joined the Odd Future hip-hop collective, which also included Tyler the Creator. But he finally got to put his name on something when he worked with Beyonce on her 2011 album 4 when he co-wrote her song “I Miss You.” Last year, Ocean, who has also written for Jay-Z and Kanye West, told the New York Times that the first time he played the track for Beyonce, she cried.
The 25-year-old, who sort of came out as gay (or possibly, bisexual; he’s never said) last summer when he revealed his heartbreak over a male ex, has also earned the respect of his music industry peers. When he performed on “Saturday Night Live” in September, none other than John Mayer was his guitarist. Even Coldplay jumped at the chance to have Ocean open for them on the European leg of their 2012 tour, which he unfortunately had to cancel due to illness.
It should be interesting to see what happens at the Grammys on Sunday, February 10: Will Ocean beat Brown for Best Urban Contemporary Album (or will they both lose out to the highly-praised Miguel?)? And if Brown does lose, might he retaliate in some way?