We already know Frank Ocean to be one of the greatest talents of the current (or any) generation, but that didn't stop legendary producer Tricky Stewart (the man behind the boards of Frank's first hit, "Novacane") from affirming as much during an interview on Spotify’s Original Podcast, Dissect.
“I mean [Nostalgia, ULTRA] is a classic,” Stewart said during a discussion about Ocean's legacy. “If I have two classics, which I think I do, maybe three, but those two projects, the way they're put together, Nostalgia, ULTRA and [The-Dream's] LoveHate, I think it's a classic. And I think if it could have been released properly, I'm pretty sure that wins the GRAMMY for Album of the Year that year. I'm pretty sure that happens, but it wasn't because of the obstacles we faced with the label and the partner, and you know that was what we faced, but if that record was commercially released with proper clearance, I'm pretty sure you're looking at album of the year.”
Taking a look at the 2012 Album of the Year nominees, the year Frank's 2011 debut would have been eligible for the award, it’s easy to agree with Stewart's claim. Against the Foo Fighters, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Rihanna, and Adele, Nostalgia, ULTRA certainly stood a fighting chance. Then again, this is the GRAMMY Awards we're talking about, so I'm quite certain Adele, the eventual winner, would still walk away with the victory.
The following year, Ocean’s commercially released 2012 album, channel ORANGE—which celebrates its sixth anniversary today—would actually be nominated for Album of the Year, ultimately losing out to Mumford & Sons' Babel. Frank still secured his deserved flowers, though, as channel ORANGE did take home Best Urban Contemporary Album.
Award show fantasies aside, with at least 12 samples on the record, especially the high-profile pulls from the Eagles and Coldplay, clearing Nostalgia, ULTRA for commercial release would have been nothing short of a miracle. Remember: the Eagles are not too fond of Frank Ocean. Regarding a possible EP reissue of the project, Ocean told MTV in 2011: "The Eagles sample has no chance in hell of being cleared. Coldplay sample, possibly. I hear 'possibly' from people who say they know. MGMT, those guys seem chill. I heard they heard the record and they liked it a lot, so hopefully, that can go some way... Hopefully, the sh-- gets worked out. We might pull a Hail Mary and clear the Eagles' record. They might want all of the publishing for the whole album, though, which can't happen."
Jokes aside, clearances at that level would have definitely been a financial nightmare. Just ask Danny Brown, who over the weekend revealed he spent $70,000 of his own money to clear samples for Atrocity Exhibition.
Bringin the conversation to 2018, Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E. has suffered its own bout of sample clearance issues, forcing her to release the updated version of her album in visual form. For artists worried about the financial cost and exclusion that comes with heavy sampling, please see our 2016 interview with 25-year industry veteran Deborah Mannis-Gardner, who has sample clearance down to a science.