Live preview: Frank Ocean

A guest star on two hip-hop blockbusters grabs the spotlight for himself.

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Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean Photograph: Julian Berman

Hype aside, the year's two buzziest hip-hop albums—Jay-Z and Kanye's self-toasting paean to superfame, Watch the Throne, and Tyler, the Creator's goofy/chilling id-vomit breakthrough, Goblin—share a single factor: Christopher Francis Ocean, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter who guest-croons on each. The conventional pop narrative dictates clear next steps. Ocean, whose professional handle is Frank, issues a single under his own name—maybe, somewhere down the line, a full-length. Thing is, he's already done both. What's more, "Novacane" and Nostalgia, Ultra aren't just auspicious; they're, respectively, the best track and album this writer has heard in 2011.

"Novacane" exemplifies a recent R&B trend of murky, sinister story-songs that depict sex and drugs as a single blurred-together intoxicant. But unlike in the similarly seedy "No Church in the Wild," the Ocean-abetted Watch the Throne opener, or "High for This," by Toronto blog sensation the Weeknd, you sense a conscience behind Ocean's quasi-predatory pose. Remarkably, the rest of Nostalgia, Ultra feels just as deep, whether Ocean's embodying a charming imp ("Songs for Women"), a gentle philosopher-poet ("We All Try"), a lovelorn loner ("Swim Good") or a fragile young man lamenting an absent father ("There Will Be Tears").

Expect to hear most of the record at this intimate show, Ocean's headlining debut in NYC. And though it seems likely that the singer will turn up at this week's Watch the Throne shows to reprise his cameos, you'll want to see how he handles a much-deserved turn in the spotlight.

Follow Hank Shteamer on Twitter: @DarkForcesSwing

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