Frank Ocean. (Getty Images )
Frank Ocean’s critically lauded breakout, “Channel Orange,” took home the Grammy for urban contemporary album at the 55th Grammy Awards on Sunday.
Ocean's Def Jam debut was celebrated for its confessional storytelling and disregard for the trends scoring radio play. The album became a critical darling and netted six nominations.
Rife with simmering textures and raw honesty, Ocean wasn’t a mainstay on radio dials, but the album broke more ground than anything issued by his contemporaries.
"Channel Orange's" lyrical content broke new ground in urban music when Ocean made headlines for his sexual orientation. Instead of a big cover story or PR-orchestrated announcement, the singer opened up about his sexuality by posting a letter that was originally meant to appear in the liner notes for the album in which he details the first time he fell in love with a man.
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It was undoubtedly the glass ceiling moment for music. Especially black music, which had long been missing a voice like Ocean’s to break the layers of homophobia often found in contemporary hip-hop and R&B.
The introspective singer is the first to claim the trophy for the newly created category, which is intended for artists whose music includes the more contemporary elements of R&B and may incorporate production touches found in urban pop, urban Euro-pop, urban rock and urban alternative.
When the Recording Academy scaled back 31 Grammy categories last year, protests arose from many corners of the music world.
Perhaps as a consolation, this year, three new categories -- urban contemporary album, Latin jazz album and classical compendium -- have been added to the previously scaled back field.
The new award for urban contemporary album takes the place of several more R&B-related categories that were previously cut, and is perhaps the most relevant in a year that proved game-changing for the genre.
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“Channel Orange,” which is also up for album of the year, competed against releases from Chris Brown and Miguel.
The Grammys are determined by about 13,000 voting members. The eligibility period for nominated recordings was Oct. 1, 2011, to Sept. 30, 2012. The 2013 awards are being held at Staples Center and telecast on CBS. They are broadcast live except for viewers on the West Coast.
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