When Frank Ocean released Channel Orange three years ago, the alternative R&B wave was just beginning. The Weeknd was the closest thing you could find to Ocean, Miguel was just starting to catch the attention of the mainstream with Adorn and the onslaught of bedroom R&B stars was still to come.
In 2015, The Weeknd has had a massive hit with Can’t Feel My Face and is now a festival headliner, Daniel Johns has tried his hand at Ocean’s signature R&B sound and Channel Orange producer Malay is reportedly working with Zayn Malik on solo material. The R&B landscape is undeniably flooded but there still hasn’t been a record that’s been as groundbreaking or as fulfilled as Channel Orange.
Understandably we’re all hanging out for Ocean’s next move - an album that is probably called Boys Don’t Cry. Since announcing a July release date he’s had everyone on the internet pining for the record. As you’re probably aware, it’s now August and to be frank, Ocean is starting to piss everyone off. The whole of Twitter has now developed trust issues and have turned on their idol labelling him a liar. One user even reminded him that he can’t pull a Beyonce and randomly release the album because he did actually announce a release date - just incase he forgot.
Something needed to be done. So we’re coming to the aid of all those pining for the new record by compiling a few new songs that sound like Ocean in one way or another - just to tide us over.
Roy Woods - Drama (Feat. Drake)
One thing Ocean is an expert in is treading a careful line between rapping and singing. Take his feature on Earl Sweatshirt’s Sunday where he sounded perfectly soulful and yet was technically firing down a rap verse. OVO’s latest release is from Toronto newcomer Roy Woods who also has that style down. On Drama, he quickly weaves his way through the verses, moving between short, sharp words and elongated, soulful ones. It’s just like the way Ocean transitions from the verses to the chorus in Thinking About You.
Abhi//Dijon - Jon B
So much R&B that seeps through to the mainstream today draws on more contemporary, Mike Will Made It-style beats. Ocean has never treaded that territory, inspired more by D’Angelo’s classic soul than anything else. US duo Abhi//Dijon, who’s Soundcloud is a goldmine by the way, share that same kind of organic vibe. Jon B is built upon a laid-back beat textured with real-sounding percussion and warm keys. It has the same kind-of no frills charm that Sweet Life does in the way that the vocals sit back in the beat and never try too hard.
Tory Lanez - Say It
One of Channel Orange’s biggest strengths was that it never over did it. The beats were always minimal with plenty of space making Ocean’s voice the clear protagonist (see Pink Matter for the best example). Say It is Tory Lanez’s major label debut but he doesn’t let the bigger budget overwhelm him. It’s a sparse instrumental that he lays his slowly sung words upon. Lanez clearly has the chops to churn out a mid-tempo chiller and also drop a chart-ready banger. This one sits in the former category and it’s a great way of introducing himself to a wider audience.
London O’Connor - Nobody Hangs Out Anymore
From the tumblr interaction to raw Aaliyah covers, there’s always been something distinctively DIY about our Frank. It’s probably why everybody relates to him in one way or another. 24 year-old NYC artist London O’Connor makes music that makes him the very definition of a bedroom artist. It’s unpolished, uncensored and the most effortlessly charming R&B music you’re likely to hear this year. Nobody Hangs Out Anymore is an anti-technology jam that simultaneously criticises his friends for only living online and also paints him as a loner. Much of his music sounds as if it was recorded live through his microphone and handed to us directly - that’s pretty rare these days when polished production is so tempting and easy.
Klyne - Paralyzed
Ocean rarely cranks up the synths and gives us a slick number than can be danced to but when he does it’s flawless. Take Pyramids, Channel Orange’s 10 minute epic, which features his most contemporary and funky verses. Netherlands duo Klyne trade in that kind of funky, synth-based R&B and do damn good job of it. Paralyzed is a minimal but effective dancefloor-bound track that places every beat there to demand some sort of body movement. There are also some seriously lush sounds in there that are candy to the ears. That’s on top of an equally lush layered vocal.
Alessia Cara - Here
The train of thought style of R&B that Lauryn Hill delivered so successfully on the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is so rarely found in music these days. That’s what was so distinctive about Bad Religion when it first dropped. It sounds like Ocean is a narrator as he half-speaks over the organ-centred instrumental. That’s the first thing you that hits you when you hear Alessia Cara’s Here for the first time. She narrates what’s going on at a party where she’s sitting in the corner. She rarely stops for a breathe and yet manages to sound smokey and soulful the whole way through. She’s only 19 and her lyrics are so vivid and unfiltered sounding as if she’s just rattling everything off the top of her head.
Gallant - Weight In Gold
Many have tipped LA singer/songwriter Gallant as the new Frank Ocean (NBD) and it’s probably because he really sings. On Channel Orange, Ocean showed-off everything he’s got from his runs to his ridiculous falsetto and Gallant does exactly the same thing. On Weight In Gold, he sits back in the beat and basically just gives us all a vocal masterclass. At his own pace he moves in and out of falsetto and eventually works up to a big gospel-sounding chorus. It’s very easy to try to hard when it comes to singing R&B, it’s hard to sound like you’re not trying at all.
Kehlani - You Should Be Here
Hitting accents like a boss is the mark of a great soul singer. Ocean is so laid-back on Sweet Life in the verses but when the brass comes in on the chorus he vocally stabs at it, giving it all he’s got. 20 year-old newcomer Kehlani is one of those sorts of singers. On You Should Be Here, the title track of her latest record, she uses the verses to lay down a smokey, honey-soaked vocal and then hits the choruses’ brassy accents with attack. It’s a big call, but she’s probably got one of the best voices in modern R&B right now and if she’s going to really snatch that crown then she’d be taking it from none other than Ocean himself.
Jordan Bratton - Prisoner (Feat. Chance The Rapper)
Prisoner by New York singer Jordan Bratton is the type of song you’d expect to hear as the first single from Ocean’s forthcoming (nevercoming?) third album. It’s understated but sinks under your skin by way of its gospel undertones and stomping backbeat (It’s almost as if it was borrowed from Super Rich Kids). It’s obvious he has a great voice but he doesn’t overdo it, barely ever straying from the level that he begins on. You need a great song in order to do that kind of thing and Prisoner is that. It also helps that Chance The Rapper pops in at the tail-end with a brilliant verse.
James Fauntleroy - Magic
James Fauntleroy is hip-hop’s go to man when they need a soulful verse. He’s featured on tracks by A$AP Rocky, Big Sean, Drake and Kendrick Lamar recently managing to add gentle undertones to each track. There was a time when Ocean was that man. He sung on tracks for Jay-Z, Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt before disappearing from the earth. Fauntleroy has thankfully not disappeared and he’s just dropped this understated groover - Magic. It’s a tinny, DIY affair but his falsetto is so on-point it’s hard not to get caught up in the song. In the past year this guy has filled his Soundcloud with brilliant stuff, seemingly not having a limit on how much he can produce. If you’re feeling a little low due to the lack of Frank Ocean material then this man’s plethora of music at his Soundcloud will save you.
-The Interns' Sam Murphy for Cool Accidents