Despite being a household name in alternative R&B today, Frank Ocean originally operated behind the scenes as a songwriter. Despite finding major success in that field, Ocean eventually became fed up with being told what to do by his label and embarked on a freeing solo career around 2011.
Videos by American Songwriter
Videos by American Songwriter
Having heard Ocean’s deeply distinctive solo material, it’s hard to imagine that he could lend that same prowess to another artist and have them be able to pull it off. Nevertheless, he made quite the career out of doing so in the early ’00s. From John Legend to Justin Beiber, here are five songs you didn’t know Frank Ocean wrote for other artists below.
1. “Quickly” (John Legend)
Written by Christopher Breaux (Frank Ocean), Dapo Torimiro, John Stephens, Kevin Risto, Waynne Nugent
“Quickly” appears on John Legends’ third album, Evolver. “I look at Frank, and I think he’s a soul artist,” Legend once told Complex of Ocean’s involvement with the track. “But it’s modern soul, and that’s part of what it means to define what 21st century soul is. … I know Frank’s music very well and I love Frank. I think he’s phenomenal. I love his sound. He has an interesting mind and interesting lyrics. He really makes some cool music.”
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In addition to writing the track, Ocean provides backing vocals. You can hear Ocean best during the chorus: The news said the sky is falling, the globe is warming / My country warring, leaders are lying, time is running / Nowhere to go.
2. “Bigger” (Justin Bieber)
Written by Justin Bieber, Waynne Nugent, Kevin Risto, Dapo Torimiro, Frank Ocean
Ocean had a hand in Justin Bieber’s meteoric rise in the pop world with “Bigger.” The track appears on Bieber’s debut album, My World. Looking back at this Bieber track in hindsight, it’s hard to separate Ocean’s distinct songwriting voice. If you remove Beiber’s 15-year-old falsetto singing the lyrics, this song could find a comfortable home on Ocean’s more contemporary solo work—if he aged up the lyrics a tad.
3. “I Miss You” (Beyoncé)
Written by Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, and Shea Taylor
After hearing an Ocean song while in the car with Jay-Z, Beyoncé immediately flew the singer-songwriter out to New York to work on a song for her album, 4. “I noticed his tone, his arrangements, and his storytelling,” she once said. “I immediately reached out to him—literally the next morning. I asked him to fly to New York and work on my record.”
Since “I Miss You,” Beyoncé and Ocean collaborated again on Ocean’s “Pink + White.” In the bridge of the song, you can hear Beyoncé’s infallible vocals, lull out a harmony overtop Ocean’s staccato verses.
4. “My Willing Heart” (James Blake)
Written by Frank Ocean and James Blake
Since becoming an artist in his own right, Ocean’s songwriting cuts on other artists’ albums have been few and far between. One that did come to fruition though was “My Willing Heart” by James Blake. Blake once called Ocean “one of the best lyricists around.” Blake sings in the opening verse, The first time your name was used / It was beauty and I knew / Sat in a violet room with some people I saw through / Gathered ’round the television’s fire.
5. “One Thing” (Alicia Keys)
Written by Malay, Alicia Keys and Frank Ocean
After Ocean put out the 2012 album, Channel ORANGE, his reputation in the songwriting community exploded to new heights —so much so that he earned a cut on Alicia Keys’ Girl on Fire album. Other names attributed to the record include Babyface, Dr. Dre, Jeff Bhasker, and Rodney Jerkins. For Ocean to fall in line with these iconic producers so early on in his solo career is a testament to his ability behind the pen.
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