Earlier this month, Frank Ocean returned with his first new original song since 2017, “DHL.” The song, which premiered on blonded RADIO, finds Frank back in his rapping bag, once again proving his ability to drop infectiously quotable bars as efficiently as your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.
Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard Rapping Frank. Since bursting on the mainstream hip-hop scene with his debut mixtape, 2011’s nostalgia, ULTRA, Ocean has frequently reminded fans that he has a timeless rap album in him.
The evidence is all there, from early Odd Future guest spots like 2012’s The OF Tape Vol. 2 posse cut “Oldie” and Earl Sweatshirt’s “Sunday,” to more recent standout verses on A$AP Rocky’s “Purity” and A$AP Mob’s “RAF.”
In celebration of Frank Ocean, the Rapper, let’s look back at the 10 best rap verses of his career.
Honorable Mentions: Channel Orange’s “Pyramids” (Verse 3), Endless’ “Sideways” and “Commes Des Garçon,” Blonde’s “Futura Free” (Verse 3) and Tyler, The Creator's “She.”
10. Tyler, the Creator — “Window” ft. Frank Ocean, Mike G, Hodgy & Domo Genesis
2011’s Goblin standout “Window” is the first time Frank truly flexed his lyrical prowess on wax. On the eight-minute track, the GRAMMY winner submits perhaps the song’s best verse, on the strength of his poetic lyricism and detailed storytelling, describing his introduction to OFWGKTA in hilarious fashion. In hindsight, Frank’s guest appearance was merely the first Odd Future posse cut he would hijack his rapping peers (more on that later).
9. Frank Ocean — “Seigfried”
Everything that needs to be said about “Seigfried” has already been written, from the song’s ties to ‘60s psychedelic rock and the late indie-folk singer Elliot Smith to former DJBooth managing editor Brendan Varan calling it “the best R&B/pop song of 2016.” Nevertheless, “Seigfried” is a lyrical gem, climaxing with the spoken word verse Frank delivers near the end of the song:
“Less morose and more present / Dwell on my gifts for a second, a moment/ One solar flare, we’re consumed / So why not spend this flammable paper on the film that’s my life?/High flights, inhale the vapor, exhale once and think twice / Eat some shrooms, maybe have a good cry about you / See some colors, light hang glide off the moon (In the dark).”
8. A$AP Rocky —“Purity” ft. Frank Ocean
Perhaps the most slept-on rap verse of his career, 2018-released TESTING’s “Purity” sees Frank skate over a Lauryn Hill sample with relative ease, rapping about how his fans “got they hands out like they acknowledgin' the Führer” and how he “fired the label, like fuck brands.” His gift for metaphor shines throughout the verse, especially when he plays with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign, by following up “brain on drugs” with the vivid line, “this white got eggshells in my omelet.”
7. Frank Ocean — “Blue Whale” (Verse 1)
While “Blue Whale” isn’t Frank’s best rap performance, lyrically, you’d be hard-pressed to find another verse in his catalog more raw, tranquil, and downright beautiful as the opening frame to this one-off loosie. Released in September 2012, just a few months after he catapulted to superstardom with channel ORANGE, “Blue Whale” is a breezy riff that doubles as a freestyle.
Over Pharrell’s tropical production, Frank reflects on his rise to fame, rapping, “This life goes on man, that’s one thing about it.” It would’ve been the perfect outro for his debut album. Instead, it remains the moment everyone realized that, if he chose to do so, Ocean could craft nothing short of a timeless rap album.
6. Frank Ocean — “UNITY” (Verse 1)
Before rap-centric Blonde cuts like “Nights” and “Futura Free,” the official return of Rapping Frank came on his visual 2016 project Endless. Backed by a slow, melodic, chilled-out beat, Ocean opens “UNITY” with a stream-of-conscious, freestyle-type verse that’s filled with some of his greatest life advice. And for those that prefer Nostalgic Frank, it doesn’t get much better than “If forever seemed like time’s up / When we swerved in the Honda / Now forever seems like no time / I mean, time flies when you have some.”
5. Frank Ocean — “Biking (Solo)” (Verse 2)
It’s fair to argue that “Chanel” and “Provider” were the two best loosies Frank dropped in 2017, but it was another, “Biking (Solo),” which found Frank, the MC in his bag. After opening the track with a sing-song bridge bleeding into an infectious chorus, he switches up his flow in the second verse. What follows is Peak Frank, as he contemplates the possibility that romantic love is only a temporary phenomenon.
Did I mention he had JAY-Z and Tyler, the Creator on the original song?
4. Earl Sweatshirt — “Sunday” ft. Frank Ocean
Admit it: Frank didn’t just hold his own against Odd Future’s most heralded lyricist. He washed him, on his own track, on an album regarded as his magnum opus. Yes, that’s precisely what happened on 2010-released Doris standout “Sunday,” as Ocean transformed into R&B’s rapper-eater and swiped Earl’s song out from under him in convincing fashion. Though he doesn’t seem overly concerned with staying on the beat, once he settles into the pocket, it’s a wrap.
At the time, Frank’s verse became an instant classic largely due to his not-so-subtle jabs at Chris Brown, in reference to their infamous confrontation. Six years on, though, it resonates for entirely different reasons, as he tackles the themes that often come up in his best musical moments: Longing, regret, and the highs and lows of fame.
3. Frank Ocean — “Nights” (Verse 2)
Three minutes into “Nights,” the space-shifting centerpiece of his second studio album, 2016’s Blonde, the track switches into a woozy trap beat. A pitched-up Frank raps about avoiding the infamous 27 Club before he plunges back into the past. What follows is arguably the best rap verse in his solo catalog.
Ocean transports us to his hometown of New Orleans, where he spent his childhood admiring local legends like No Limit Records founder Percy “Master P” Miller, riding in his family’s 1998 Acura, and going to the Southern restaurant chain Shoney’s. The verse finds Frank at his best: Perfectly, casually melancholic.
2. Odd Future — “Oldie”
In the spring of 2012, despite Frank’s handful of guest spots on Odd Future projects, rap fans were confused why the rising R&B star was still being hailed as a member of hip-hop’s most infamous crew. Then “Oldie” dropped.
Featuring appearances by nearly every official and unofficial member of OF, the best posse cut of 2012 belonged to Frank. He flexed his lyrical chops so effortlessly, with a scene-stealing verse that remains the moment we all began to wonder which OF MC had the freshest bars.
1. A$AP Mob — “RAF” ft. Frank Ocean, Playboi Carti, Quavo & Lil Uzi Vert
With no disrespect to The OF Tape Vol. 2 rapathon “Oldie,” there’s no denying that “RAF” contains Frank’s greatest rap verse ever, if only because he’s never faced as much competition on one track. As if bodying A$AP Mob’s leader on the crew’s own track wasn’t enough, Frank lays waste to the then-hottest rapper alive (Lil Uzi Vert), Rap’s Rookie of the Year (Playboi Carti), and someone who’d just cemented his status as the best scene-stealing guest star in hip-hop (Quavo).
Why’s it the best rap verse of Frank’s career? Because he washed some of the most influential rappers of the past five years on one of the best posse cuts of the decade. I digress.