It's incredibly difficult to pick Frank Ocean's best songs. In fact, it would be easier to have just left a link to his entire discography. But where's the fun in that? Without a doubt, the picks on this list will strike up a debate. However, the fact that choosing his best songs is such a trying task proves that Frank's music and songwriting ability moves people in different ways—leading each of us to have favorites of our own. This can't be said of everyone, but Frank is certainly an extraordinary talent.
Over the last few years, Frank has collaborated with the likes of Beyoncé, Jay Z, Kanye West, Tyler the Creator, and more. But his solo efforts continue to be the most impactful. Since he made his official debut as Frank Ocean on Nostalgia, Ultra in 2011, he has continued to release music that is not only worth the wait, but makes his fans beg for more. Four years after Channel Orange, Frank brought the music world to a stand still as he shared his visual album Endless and his latest album Blonde. We thought he might then disappear for years, but Ocean quickly returned on Calvin Harris' "Slide" and then his own surprise drop "Chanel."
With each release, Frank Ocean causes the world to halt for a moment as we all take the time to listen to the intricacy of his lyrics. His fondness for writing lyrics with double and deep-rooted meanings only add to the intrigue of his music. Frank's career has been fairly short so far, but his rapid and well-deserved rise to success has emphasized the power of his talent.
With "Chanel" still in repeat, we picked our favorite Frank Ocean songs so far, capping the list at 17—the number of tracks on both Channel Orange and Blonde.
17. "Wise Man"
One of Frank Ocean’s best songs was never properly released. Originally written for Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 epic Django Unchained and later attached to 2015 boxing flick Southpaw after Tarantino failed to find a scene that would do the song justice, “Wise Man” wages war against hatred rooted in human difference. Precise and curt, the song feels ancient but never antiquated.
Recent months have only made his earnest pleas for understanding all the more gripping, if not prophetic: “No evil man exists… No righteous man exists… just flesh and blood exist.” Confronted by the cold, lifeless eyes of a lost brother and the childless womb of a deceased sister, Ocean offers no simple solutions or meaningless platitudes, instead challenging the listener to confront life's complicated realities.—Alex Siber
There was much discussion about whether to put "Rushes" or "Rushes To" on this list. Both songs provide examples of Frank's ability to create an aching crescendo in response to broken love, and the pain on display during "Rushes To" is a too-real reminder of that feeling.
But it's preceded by an even more beautiful song—"Rushes" features little more than Frank's voice, an electric guitar, and a show-stopping vocal performance from Jazmine Sullivan. The song's intensity builds for nearly three minutes: more voices, a heavier strum, until finally the grief crystallizes with a devastating ask—"I'll wake up in a week, wake me up in a week."
The song ends with the most creative and surprising drums on all of Endless, a largely percussion-less album. Frank dives into some heavy drum & bass, storm clouds finally breaking after a tempestuous final act of his relationship. It's cinematic, unpredictable, and hits you right in the feels. "Rushes To" is great too, though—listen to the whole thing on Apple Music.—Graham Corrigan
15. "Super Rich Kids"
Plastic bodies and bloody noses surround Frank Ocean and Earl Sweatshirt on “Super Rich Kids.” It’s a damning portrait of suburban luxury that passes by like a balmy breeze despite offhanded allusions to death and boredom.
There’s power in the song’s descriptions. Mispronounced wine bottles fill the trash. White powder decorates marble counters. Maids tend to both. Parents don’t parent. Earl supplies the missing gear with his drawling verse, calling attention to the rest of us, the majority who treat the fortunate like they can’t erupt. At the end of the day, as Ocean recognizes, we all hope for the same thing.—Alex Siber
14. "Pink Matter"
Alongside a hip-hop hall of fame great, Ocean codifies his understanding of the world through colors. Gray matter, pink matter, blue matter, and purple matter reconcile mental cognition, sex, gender, and universal origin, breaking trillions of complex systems into simple forces.
These colors define his curiosities, inform his questions, dictate his sense of self. What begins as an intellectual quest quickly blurs with the bodily. "What do you think my brain is made for," Ocean asks. "Is it just a container for the mind?"
In grasping what it means to love, Ocean and his guest express humility. Are the skies and stars just an alien show? Is a woman the vessel for a child? Rather than stoop to stoner-speak, Frank and André 3000 coast across a smooth wave, creating a hypnotic four minutes that ask us to feel first, think second.—Alex Siber
13. "Crack Rock"
More often than not, Frank Ocean's lyrics are a bit of riddle, and allude to deeper meaning. Not so on “Crack Rock.” Rather than penning tricky lyrics with double meanings, Frank went straight to the point of a very important subject, with words that hit as hard as those crashing drums.
It’s not often that an artist can create a song about the sad realities of drug addiction that will make listeners want to sing along at the top of their lungs—but we’ve established many times that Frank just isn’t your ordinary artist.
On “Crack Rock,” Frank creates a repetitive chorus that is instantly infectious, a mimicry of how easy it is to fall under the spell of a drug addiction. It’s not a comfortable or enjoyable subject, but Frank sings about the delicate subject over a hard-hitting beat that ultimately makes it hard to ignore. If the masses won’t listen to these stories in a lecture, perhaps they will when it’s squeezed into a song as good as this one.—Adrienne Black
12. "Pink + White"
Imagine actually being able to secure a feature from Beyoncé, and then just asking her to only do additional background vocals? For most humans, this scenario is laughable. For Frank Ocean, it's “Pink + White.”
Frank’s vocals here are sweet and effortless. His words float above production from Pharrell that sounds light, heavenly, and soothing all at once. The addition of Beyoncé’s delicate harmonies in the background are the perfect little flair, subtle and imperative all at once.
Although this song features Frank showing his appreciation for a special someone who has finally given him the love he’s been wishing for, you don’t necessarily need to relate to that topic in order to be completely consumed by the pure joy that is embedded in this record.—Adrienne Black
11. "Self Control"
Frank Ocean’s “Self Control” quietly gives Drake's classic “Marvin’s Room” a run for its money as Generation Y’s lust-for-ex anthem of the moment. Ocean substitutes barroom croons and liquor-scented voicemails for poolside conversation. He longs for a person who came into his life at the wrong time.
With help from Austin Feinstein and Yung Lean, who perform a chorus almost soft enough to veil vengeance, Ocean asks a former lover to keep him in mind (and in between his successor). The mild-mannered request to “keep a place for me” offers new meaning to “I’m just saying you can do better.”
Their charged past still requires self-control when one fling reenters the scene, and while that transition isn’t the “nothing” Frank makes it out to be, he approaches acceptance as the track’s outro takes flight, using the final hook to launch himself forward.—Alex Siber
10. "Swim Good"
A constant theme within Frank Ocean’s earlier music was the longing for a mutual love, the heartache caused by it, and his passion for cars. Frank managed to fuse all three together on “Swim Good.” A quick listen makes this seem like the perfect late-night drive soundtrack. But a closer listen to the lyrics reveal much more darkness.
Frank sings about this metaphorical trunk, or hearse, full of broken hearts that continue to weigh him down. After struggling to carry around this enormous amount of baggage from his past, Frank openly admits he want to drive straight into the ocean—with the climax of the record sounding like a wave (of water or emotions) has literally come crashing down. Rather than harming himself in real life, Frank releases his pain through words. As a result, his fans can listen to “Swim Good” on repeat until they’re also able to release their own extra baggage.—Adrienne Black
9. "Pilot Jones"
One of several Channel Orange cuts that points to Frank Ocean as the new school king of first-time love, “Pilot Jones” is something of a three-act novelette featuring a drug-dealing, smoke-puffing, mother-scaring girlfriend brimming with nasty habits. This nameless influence pushes Ocean past the realm of logic and competence into...something else.
With minimal material (verses cut off after just a handful of bars), Frank skewers the romanticism of falling for another.—Alex Siber
When Frank Ocean released the video for “Nikes,” it shook the music world. Just days before sharing the video for the single, Frank released his visual album Endless, a half hour experience that marked the end of a days-long live stream. Many fans feared that was all we'd get from music's most famous recluse. Then "Nikes" arrived, complete with a video. Boys did cry.
As expected with any Frank Ocean song, “Nikes” features silky melodies and lyrics that stick long after the song's over (“These bitches want Nikes / They looking for a check / Tell ‘em it ain’t likely”). For the first half of the song, Frank’s vocals are pitched up. When he finally drops down into a normal register, his words hit that much harder: "We'll let you guys prophesy."
Though it can seem like Frank is a mysterious figure who doesn’t come out of hiding often, his mentions of Travyon Martin, A$AP Yams, FKA Twigs, and more make it clear that his absence from the spotlight doesn’t equate to obliviousness. It was a powerful return and the perfect precursor to Blonde.—Adrienne Black
After making fans wait so long for his albums Endless and Blonde, it seemed like a safe bet to guess that Frank Ocean would disappear into the abyss once again. However, that hasn’t necessarily been the case. In the months since the release of his latest albums, Frank has shared strong opinions on his personal Tumblr account, teamed up with Calvin Harris and Migos for a summer-ready hit, and hosted his own radio shows on Beats 1.
During the second episode of his radio show Blonded, Frank premiered a brand new single titled “Chanel.” It hasn't been long since the song's release, but it doesn’t take long to acknowledge that this is certainly one of Frank’s better releases. Frank has perfected the technique of stacking a full story in a concise verse, and tying everything together with an incredibly catchy chorus.
Since coming out as bisexual, Frank has not been shy about alluding to relationships with both sexes in many of his songs. For the chorus, he toys with this topic once again as he sings “I see both sides like Chanel”—referencing the famous brand’s double C logo. For the remix version, A$AP Rocky carries on the theme of duality as the self-proclaimed “Fashion Killa” makes references to both high fashion as well as his ex-girlfriend, model Chanel Iman.
Since the first teaser for his Boys Don't Cry magazine, he's put plenty emphasis on having "two versions" of things—two albums, alternate Blond(e) spellings, and now two versions of "Chanel." Ocean's duality continues.—Adrienne Black
Left alone with little more than an organ for company, Frank Ocean hits the road on “Solo.” Different cities afford different delights, but constants surface during national travels that begin and end with transactions—grams for brain, fame for financial gain. He turns drugs into vehicles that traverse an emotional spectrum with a heavy bass line.
A cyclical loop ensues: reclusive lifestyle leads to another fleeting rendez-vous in a faraway place. It's the warmth generated by two people who let themselves love, if only for a short while.—Alex Siber
5. "Bad Religion"
This is Frank's Mt. Olympus moment, where he ascended to the heavens from dark depths to all the way to a falsetto scream. He's pinned to the backseat of a yellow cab with no hand to hold, no lost love to lament over. Nothing but an empty pit where future memories were meant to rest. This recording of a man swallowed alive, pushed to the brink of suicide, lives on thanks to the saving grace of a stranger.
"Bad Religion" was debuted on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to bring Channel Orange into the world, both song and performance doubling down on a Tumblr letter published less than a week prior. Frank's story spun the conversational spotlight to shine down on a narrative we weren't used to seeing on national TV. At once fittingly poetic and frustratingly indicative of a backwards culture, he did it by simply removing the letter "s." And in an instant, Ocean's pain provided light and relief.—Alex Siber
4. "Thinkin Bout You"
On the surface, “Thinkin Bout You”—the lead single from 2012’s Channel Orange—feels like a sweet love song that one might include on a playlist for a crush. But by now, we know a recurring theme for the songwriter’s early work was unrequited love. While telling someone that they’ve been on your mind can be flattering, in this case, the feelings aren’t mutual.
Frank sings about love in a way that’s catchy, relatable, and somewhat healing. When he sings, “No, I don't like you, I just thought you were cool enough to kick it / Got a beach house I could sell you in Idaho,” it’s clear to see that he’s using his sarcasm as a defense mechanism to cope with rejection. This is a bad habit many of us can relate to, which is what helps to make “Thinkin Bout You” so near and dear to our hearts. Being vulnerable is difficult and embarrassing and Frank Ocean sings about outcomes we fear in a comforting way that lets his listeners know they’re not alone.
On any given day, “Thinkin Bout You” can make you feel a wide array of emotions. It has the ability to make you cry, motivate you to move on, and experience every feeling that lands between those two stages. And though the majority of us aren’t gifted enough to match Frank’s falsetto, there’s something about putting your all into trying to sing along that can make you feel better. It’s these little qualities that continue to make Frank Ocean’s music extraordinary.—Adrienne Black
When Frank Ocean released the video for his breakout single “Novacane,” the song's meaning was up for endless debate. But first, the facts: as a drug, Novocaine can be both addictive and numbing. The same can be said about relationships.
For most people in their mid 20s, the thought of finding true love is a goal that can feel more distant with each bad experience. Eventually, we can get to the point where we pause our discouraging search for love and use passers by as replacements to fill a void.
On “Novacane” the relationship Frank describes are quick, meaningless, fun, but most importantly, distracting. There’s a chance that girl he just met at Coachella really did lace their blunt with Novocaine to literally numb their feelings. But there’s always a duality to Frank’s songwriting. He points this out when he sings, “But there's no drug around quite like what I found in you.”
Even when people enter a relationships with good intentions, rather than in search of a distraction, they can still fall into this same trap. Although he makes it look effortless, Frank always manages to create several possible scenarios for his lyrics. Leaving songs open to interpretation makes them more universal, and Frank Ocean has mastered this approach.—Adrienne Black
After the first listen of “Nights” it’s easy, and almost expected, to make comparisons to “Pyramids.” But really, the only similarities between both tracks is the fact that Frank managed to squeeze what could really be two different songs into one long track.
Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, but let’s really be honest with ourselves and just admit that part two of “Nights” is the better half. When those drums kick in about three minutes in, the delicate string section is replaced by an attention-grabbing electric guitar solo. Somehow, Frank manages to make swift transitions from violins to guitars to pianos feel natural.
The second half of “Nights” could have easily been a successful track on its own but a closer listen to the lyrics prove that each part of the song tells one complete story. The opener sounds more cheerful because Frank is reflecting on his newfound success and finally being in a place to not need anyone’s help—as we witness when he released Blonde independently. The slowdown towards the middle of "Nights" coincides with a remembered past, and how much Frank had to sacrifice to make it here. But these vivid memories keep him motivated and pushing forward, making “Nights” one complete cycle.
It’s not often that great storytelling translates into a great song—some people just have the gift. Frank Ocean has proven multiple times now that he truly understands the art of storytelling.—Adrienne Black
The idea of including a hidden track at the end of a song is nothing new, but that’s not the technique that Frank Ocean usually goes for. Instead, he introduces two different chapters of a complete story with a short interlude in the middle—all within one track on the album. He first introduced this concept to his fans with “Pyramids,” taken from 2012’s Channel Orange.
Seeing a track on an album that is nearly ten minutes long can seem overwhelming, and almost tempt you to skip it all together. No one has the attention span for that, and Frank knows this, which is why he inserts so many twists and turns within the record to distract listeners from exactly how long the track truly is. By the time “Pyramids” nears the five minute mark, the production begins to sound like it’s spiraling into something dreamlike.
Throughout the song, Frank tells two different tales surrounding the word “pyramid.” For many, the idea of pyramids brings the mental image of ancient Egypt which he references with mentions of Cleopatra, “the jewel of Africa.” In the first part of the song, pyramids are praised and admired for all their glory. But as he fast forwards to a more modern story, Frank emphasizes that these pyramids symbolize strip clubs while Cleopatra is now used as an alias for both strippers and prostitutes as he sings: “But your love ain't free no more, baby.”
To match the new story of part two, the production slows down into a more seductive rhythm fitting for a strip club. The ancient pyramids were known to house the body of past Pharaohs and their beloved belongings, and these new pyramids Frank sings about still resemble a level of wealth. The men and women who either visit or work at these clubs all have one thing in mind: money.
In the music video directed by Frank’s longtime collaborator Nabil Elderkin, he sets the scene for the story within “Pyramids.” Putting the main focus on the modern tale in the second half of the record. By the time the song ends, Frank manages to make a timestamp of 9:53 feel like it's not long enough.—Adrienne Black
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