Being an independent artist is still a revolutionary feat. There are so many horror stories about how the industry has managed to get over on recording artists who are simply just trying to share their gifts with the world. In the past, musicians like Prince, TLC, and more have been vocal about signing deals that didn’t have their best interest at heart.
For Frank Ocean, not only has he been a groundbreaking artist in terms of attaining his masters, but he also smashed ceilings for the LGBTQ+ community. His critically acclaimed “Channel Orange” album was the first time he shared with fans that his first love was a male friend in the renowned “Forrest Gump” track. During an interview with GQ in 2011, he told the outlet that he deems both his sexuality and music as uncategorized.
“I’m giving you what I feel like you can feel… The other shit, you can’t feel,” he explained. “You can’t feel a box. You can’t feel a label.”
Now, as a seasoned veteran in the game, Ocean has managed to master the art of redefining himself as much as he wants to. AfroTech breaks down the way the “Pyramids” crooner single-handedly managed to reclaim ownership of his masters, thus paving the way for independent artists as we know them and setting the tone for artists who fully support themselves to come.
His Rise to Fame
Ocean is no stranger to the music business. He penned some of the hottest tracks for artists including Beyoncé, Brandy, Justin Bieber, and more under the name Lonny Breaux. It wasn’t long before he caught the attention of songwriter and producer Tricky Stewart, and the rest was history.
Ocean signed a deal with Redzone Records, a subsidiary of Def Jam, in 2009. However, he soon realized that he did not have their support for the work he wanted to put out as an artist.
After releasing his own mixtape “Nostalgia.Ultra.,” while simultaneously working on Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “Watch The Throne,” the 34-year-old entertainer slowly but surely began to draw in his own crowd of fans.
“Frank came in with the best intentions of being a great artist to a label,” said Stewart in a 2016 interview with The Fader. “But bringing him into Def Jam was a little bit of a disaster. It was probably, in hindsight, a huge mistake on my part. I couldn’t really get Def Jam to respond to him the way I wanted them to respond to him.”
After his debut album, the aforementioned “Channel Orange,” Ocean went quiet for the next four years to successfully plan his exit from Def Jam.
Like most deals, he had a contract to fulfill. For him, that was to provide the label with two studio albums. Somehow, he managed to not only uphold his end of the deal, but also maintain majority ownership of his second project while doing so.
“A lot of people I talk to about careers in the music industry, their ideas of success have to do with nostalgia, they have to do with the tropes of success, things they’ve been shown that represent what a successful career is,” Ocean told GayLetter in 2019 interview. “I think that helps you become prey, because somebody can manipulate you with those things.”
The Final Say
Ocean’s second studio album, “Blonde” debuted in 2016 under his independent label titled, Boys Don’t Cry. Rumor has it that Apple provided the Long Beach, CA native with $20 million in exchange for exclusive rights to the album.
“A lot of that was everybody I knew telling me I was out of my mind, that there was no way it was going to happen,” Ocean said in an interview. “People older and wiser than me telling me, ‘You’re off your shit, and there’s no way.’ I said, ‘Nah, it’s gonna be sick.’ That’s the thing – it didn’t quite feel like when it’s not going to work.”
In turn, according to TITLE Mag, Ocean was reportedly able to pay his original label back the $2 million advance, thus regaining ownership of the master recordings of his first two projects.