Frank Ocean’s debut mixtape, Nostalgia Ultra, dropped 10 years ago today. In that moment, it felt like the world stopped and consciously chose to experience music in a way that our generation had never been exposed to before. The Odd Future affiliate poured his heart out to ten songs that continue to resonate with fans today. Ocean says that he was inspired to create this mixtape masterpiece after his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana faced one of the most devastating disasters to date, Hurricane Katrina. This led to his relocation to the City of Angels, Los Angeles, California where he later joined the alternative rap collective, Odd Future in 2010. The self-released mixtape had no proper marketing campaign or promotion, but its unique take on R&B became one of Frank Ocean’s best projects ever.
The songs throughout the project focus on relationships, personal reflection and social-political commentary surrounding world events. The cover features Ocean’s dream car, a bright orange BMW E30 M3, amidst a lush bed of greenery. The mixtape cover, much like Frank Ocean, is mysterious and not telling of what the project would become. Nostalgia Ultra was received well amongst music critics and fans across the world.
Today, fans of the mixtape reflect on how the mixtape affected the way we experience modern day R&B and Frank Ocean’s introduction to the industry.
There are a few things to note about how epic this mixtape is to music and entertainment for a new artist. In May 2011, Def Jam announced plans to release the mixtape as an EP the following summer. Instead, the EP was indefinitely delayed and eventually cancelled. Ocean felt dispensable to his label and decided to release it on his own without any promotion or sample clearances. Ultimately, the release of Nostalgia Ultra established Frank Ocean as a visionary artist carving out his own lane in an industry that wasn’t built for individual thinkers.
Ocean began a solo concert tour through North America and Europe to promote the two singles, “Novacane” and “Swim Good” released from the aborted EP version. He played a total of 7 shows including a very intimate concert in Washington, D.C., which was my first real concert experience. His energy filled the small DC concert venue known as the 9:30 Club and left a room full of concertgoers happily influenced by his music for years to come.
If you have experienced Frank Ocean’s earlier live performances, you understand the emotional turmoil felt afterwards. It is a mix of sheer happiness and a wave of uncomfortable sadness, because Ocean’s music translates effortlessly to his listeners. Simply put: You feel what he feels. Honestly, this mixtape was such an emotional experience for anyone who dared to listen. It is one of those projects that simply embodies “the feels.”
Ocean performed live renditions from Nostalgia Ultra in 2012 at his first Coachella Festival performance including songs, “Novacane,” “Strawberry Swing” and “Lovecrimes.”
Ocean surprised fans during the festival’s first weekend by bringing out Tyler the Creator as a guest performance during his set. Fans go wild.
Nostalgia Ultra caught the radar of several music critics’ and publications’ end-of-year album lists. Controversy later arose in March 2012 over his rendition of American rock band Eagles’ song “Hotel California” entitled “American Wedding.” That didn’t stop Frank Ocean from continuing to flourish as a result of the release. The controversy led to more eyes watching his creative talents and later caught the eyes of Kanye West who was reportedly a fan of the mixtape. Frank joined West and Jay-Z on the album, Watch the Throne.
This one project changed Frank Ocean’s life forever. The mixtape developed a cult following with fans ranging from your average college student to Beyoncé Knowles-Carter herself. Nostalgia Ultra was followed by the release of Frank Ocean’s debut studio album Channel Orange receiving even more praise and far greater critical acclaim just a short year later.
Happy 10 year anniversary to, Nostalgia Ultra! A mixtape masterpiece that continues to pull at our heartstrings ten years later.