I am a reluctant Frank Ocean fan. I'd heard his name floating around the interwebs on music blogs, Twitter, and the like, but continually ignored his offerings. After I learned that he was affiliated with the drug-fueled, often nonsensical hedonistic hodgepodge of cool kids known as Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (or OFWGKTA or simply Odd Future), I figured that since I don't powder my nose for fun, I wouldn't enjoy much out of their camp. After taking a chance on a YouTube link posted on a friend's Facebook wall, I was officially drawn into the world of Frank Ocean. Sure, he's no Prince. The singer/songwriter is certainly not churning out Stevie Wonderesque ballads. "Groundbreaking" is likely not a word that you'll hear when describing his music, but, as far as enjoyable non-Usher R&B, I dig most of what he's offering. Sure, he's not opposed to a little Auto-Tune, but who isn't these days?
Long before he changed his government name to Frank Ocean, he was known as Lonny Breaux and apparently has had a following as far back as 2007. Eager kids over on the KanyeToThe message board pooled 64 demos and unreleased tracks and compiled what's known as the Lonny Breaux Collection. The set showcases his earlier work for artists such as Brandy and John Legend, with production by Midi Mafia, Brian Kennedy, and The Underdogs.
Sequenced alphabetically, the songs range from forgettable dated R&B to surprisingly solid headnodders. I dig that Frank specializes in love songs, has a thing for big, grand hooks, and adores a mid-tempo. The ultra-violent ramblings of his homies don't get any shine here, thankfully.
Since the tracks include features, mixtape joints, and don't have any other info attached, one is left to guess as to when they were actually created. Whereas on nostalgia, Ultra, I wasn't quite sure how seriously he took himself as a singer, his growth as a writer and performer are evident here. Some of what is obviously earlier work -- "Rewind That," for example -- doesn't even sound like the same singer. It's also worth mentioning that some of the production here is pretty noteworthy, like J.R. Totem's "Non-stop" and "J.O.B." by Syience.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. With it's low moments ("Private Show" and "Rewind That," most notably) these possibly unmastered leaks are ultimately better than Trey Songz' last album. Even the wealth of whiny electro moments -- and plenty there are -- are less cringe-inducing that the new electrotrash from Usher, a veteran. At least half of this material is worthy of at least a second listen. Again, take off your Prince ears, put on your 2006 Usher ears, and enjoy.
Standouts: "The City," "Old Terror," "Non-stop," "Focus," "Holly Baby," "J.O.B.", "Together," "When I'm Done"