9 Great Songs You Didn't Know Frank Ocean Wrote - Rolling Stone
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9 Great Songs You Didn’t Know Frank Ocean Wrote

Hear tracks ‘Blonde’ singer-songwriter penned for Justin Bieber, Beyoncé and other stars

Frank Ocean Songs You Didnt know he wrote

Long before his solo career took off, Frank Ocean penned songs for Justin Bieber, Beyoncé and other stars.

Kevin Scanlon/The New York Times/Redux

Long before Blonde, or even before Frank Ocean started to earn notice for his work with the rap collective Odd Future, he was working as a professional songwriter in L.A. "I had a problem listening to anybody," he told the New York Times Magazine in 2013. "I had a problem listening to A&Rs telling me how a song was supposed to sound, or what this artist's vibe was." But the work offered a means of support for a time, as Ocean placed tracks with Brandy, Justin Bieber and others. 

Much of the material Ocean wrote during this period, including his versions of Brandy's "Scared and Beautiful" and John Legend's "Quickly," eventually found its way online in a release titled The Lonny Breaux Collection. Several of these songs, especially collaborations with the production duo Midi Mafia, are still among Ocean's strongest records: "Miss You So," which Conor Maynard later released, and "No Bonnie" rival the intense yearning of his best solo tracks.

After Ocean released the Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape in 2011, he made sudden leaps into the superstar sphere – penning tunes for Beyoncé, singing hooks on Jay Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne. These days, he seems to write less for other artists, though he made an exception to help James Blake with The Colour in Anything earlier this year. Below we round up some of Ocean's notable writing credits.

John Legend, “Quickly” (2008)

Legend recorded an Ocean co-write on his third album, Evolver. According to Discogs, Ocean also contributed backing vocals; you can hear Midi Mafia's beat tag here as well. "I look at Frank, and I think he’s a soul artist," Legend later told Complex. "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."

Frank Ocean Songs You Didnt know he wrote

Kevin Scanlon/The New York Times/Redux

Brandy, “1st & Love” (2008)

Brandy has recorded several Ocean tunes: On her Human album, he helped write "1st & Love" along with "Locket (Locked in Love)," which appeared on a deluxe edition. In a conversation with Rap-Up, Brandy suggested that she saw Ocean's star-potential early on. "I'm like, 'Dude, you're special,'" she remembered. "'Please know that you’re special.' And he’s so meticulous and he needs everything to be on point and that’s when I knew that if he was gonna be an artist, he was gonna do it his own way. He trusted his gut, he trusted his instinct, and I’m just really proud that we are blessed by his talent."

Frank Ocean Songs You Didnt know he wrote

Kevin Scanlon/The New York Times/Redux

Justin Bieber, “Bigger” (2009)

Ocean and Midi Mafia landed a cut on Bieber’s debut EP, My World. “We were working with Brandy and James Fauntleroy, who we’re huge fans of,” Midi Mafia told HipHopDX. “And we met Frank Ocean, because he was one of the writers. We just kind of kicked it and realized that our musical tastes aligned. He was like, ‘Yo, I’d like to come to the studio.’ And in the process of coming to the studio and working on his craft, we placed a lot of records.”

Frank Ocean Songs You Didnt know he wrote

Kevin Scanlon/The New York Times/Redux

The Internet, “She DGAF” (2011)

Before her work in the group the Internet, Syd tha Kyd was the DJ for Odd Future, which Ocean joined in 2010. "Most people don’t even know that Frank Ocean wrote part of 'She DGAF,'" Syd explained to Pigeons & Planes. "So Matt [Martians] wrote the chorus – 'Blow smoke in the air' – and Frank was like, 'You should change the second part to "She shaved off all of her hair" or something random.' Frank's the kind of dude who can sing anything and it’ll sound beautiful."

Beyoncé, “I Miss You” (2011)

"Jay had a CD playing in the car one Sunday when we were driving to Brooklyn," Beyoncé recalled during an interview with Complex. That was her first encounter with Ocean's music. "I noticed his tone, his arrangements, and his storytelling," she said. "I immediately reached out to him – literally the next morning. I asked him to fly to New York and work on my record." She recorded Ocean's track "I Miss You" for her 4 album. If you think the track's minimal throb anticipates the Channel Orange track "Thinkin Bout You," you're right – Ocean co-wrote both songs with Shea Taylor.

Conor Maynard, “Pictures” (2012)

This is another track Ocean put together with Midi Mafia. Their version, called "Miss You So," is vibrant, 808-heavy pop – there are echoes of Scott Storch, one of the most successful 2000s hip-hop/R&B producers, in the production. Maynard's version is slighter but still conveys the gravity of the song.

"With Frank Ocean, funny enough, I never got to meet him," Maynard explained to MTV. "It was one of those sessions where a song is put out there, where someone writes it, and someone else hears it and I end up with a song on my album. For me, it's kind of annoying I never got to meet him, but at the same time it's an incredible song."

Brandy, “Scared of Beautiful” (2012)

Brandy picked another Ocean co-write to appear on her Two Eleven album. "He had the song for a while and when I heard it, it really just spoke to me," Brandy told Rap-Up. "He’s such a brilliant writer. He’s a poet and I love that about Frank Ocean. For him to write such a beautiful song and me get a chance to sing on it was a plus for me, such a blessing. So glad the world knows about him."

Alicia Keys, “One Thing” (2012)

Ocean's star rose rapidly in songwriting circles after he started putting out his own music. Alicia Keys recruited huge names to help her craft the Girl on Fire album: Babyface, Dr. Dre, Jeff Bhasker and Rodney Jerkins. In the midst of these titans, Ocean managed to place a song he wrote with Keys and Channel Orange producer Malay. Keys wasn't planning to write when she met Ocean. "We were just gonna hang out and talk and next thing we knew I was like, 'But I have these chords,'" she told MTV.

James Blake, “My Willing Heart” (2016)

Though Ocean has appeared on other artists' albums since Channel Orange, his writing credits have been few and far between. But he broke this rule to work with James Blake on "My Willing Heart," which appeared on The Colour in Anything. According to Blake, Ocean encouraged him to manipulate his vocals on the track. "I remember feeling kind of justified by someone of that caliber of songwriting saying, 'Well, actually, I think you should do this because it works,'" he told EW. "I'd say he's one of the best lyricists around." Blake also interpolated Ocean's song "Godspeed" later on his album.

In This Article: Frank Ocean

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