Danny Ocean is anything but conventional.
Not as a kid: His mom was a Venezuelan diplomat, so he spent his childhood as an expat, living in different countries throughout Africa and the Caribbean before returning to his homeland after Hugo Chávez took power.
He’s been unconventional with his music too. His initiation into music wwere movie soundtracks he listened to at his grandfather’s home. “My question always was, ‘How do they do this music?’” he asked. That quest to figure things out from the ground up led him to become part of Venezuela’s urban underground scene, creating beats for sale.
Ocean (whose real name is Daniel Morales) isn’t even being conventional about his debut album release. 54 + 1 (so named after 54, the street number of his Venezuelan address, plus an additional track), is being rolled out one day at a time, one track per day, beginning with “Cuando me acerco a ti,” which dropped March 12, and ending with “Veneno,” due out on March 22.
Each day prior to release, fans can take part in a virtual “scavenger hunt” in different cities where winners can hear a snippet of the song that will come out the following the day.
The beginnings of the album, however, strech back to 2016, when the then-24-year-old self-released “Me rehúso” (eventually re-recorded as “Baby I Won’t” in English), a minimalist reggaetón built on a pulsating synth and a drum machine, with Ocean’s raspy, plaintive voice providing the secret sauce.
It exploded on social media, and eventually in the streaming world. Today, it has nearly 800 million streams on Spotify alone. “It took me by surprise. It changed my life,” admits Ocean today.
Billboard dropped by a recording studio at Warner Music Latin, the label to which Ocean signed on the strength of “Me rehúso”’s success in a tandem deal with Atlantic for his English-language releases.
Ocean is camera skittish: none of his artist pages include his photo; his album and single covers are built on graphic images not portraits and he gives few interviews. But he’s charming in person, exuding a laid-back skateboarder vibe accentuated by a shaggy haircut, skinny build and baseball cap and hoodie.
“I like to be concise,” he says simply, when asked why he didn’t follow up “Me rehúso” with a dozen singles, as most artists do these days. “And to be concise, you don’t need to be talking all the time. I’m a very, very reserved person.”
Ocean may be reserved, but he’s not shy about speaking his mind.
And over a can of pirulines (the Venezuelan cylinder-shaped wafers stuffed with chocolate and hazelnut) he succinctly explains why he took over two years between his mega hit and his album.
“Why not?” he asks. “At the end, music is music. I like to air the songs, and I wanted people to little by little see my way of seeing the world, my message as an artist and understand the concept of the album; the fact that I do everything myself.”
Everything is not just words and music, but also the beats and the instruments, which Ocean likes to record in his own home studio. Some songs took 30 minutes to do; others took days. All are airy and have dembow beats and synths.
Ocean says he thinks in colors, and every single cover has a different palette although the aesthetic is similar. “That’s my way. I try to land the melodies, the harmonies, the production to the color that the music takes me. Sometimes its scenarios, sometimes it’s just stories I build up in my head. They’re mostly little moments. Little details.”
While they have names lie “Babylon Girl,” “Muérdago” and “Gime,” they’re more danceable/romantic than whimsical. If he were to describe the songs in a single word, Ocean sums it up, succinctly of course: ‘Elegant.”