If you’ve never heard the phrase Odd Future, you probably don’t spend a lot of time reading about music on the internet. Which in this case is lucky, since the good- or badness of this group of teenagers from LA has been debated, discussed, and reblogged ad infinitum over the past few months, without necessarily including any real consideration of their music. Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All is a rap music and art collective, composed mainly of teenagers, with the twin goals of making art and making you talk about them. That second part has surely been achieved faster than even Tyler the Creator, the group’s leader, could have hoped. Luckily for us consumers, the music is almost as good as the controversy, and should last a lot longer.
Over the last year and a half, Odd Future has put out about a dozen mixtapes, all available for free on their website. [Beware: the content behind these links might be offensive, but it’s not meant to be taken too seriously.] Incredibly, almost every track has been produced by Tyler, an impressive show of prolificacy from an artist who can’t yet buy alcohol legally. Several of the wolf gang-ers were still in high school while the majority of their corpus was recorded, and the group’s online promotion is even more aggressive than the music itself. Which is plenty aggressive. Beyond making good, original music at such a young age and marketing it well, the key to Odd Future’s appeal is their angry, silly, violent, playful, and above all, provocative ethos. Members of Odd Future love skateboarding, fire, and upsetting you, and not necessarily in that order. They want to make you uncomfortable, and they want to enjoy themselves while doing it. In other words, their effect is basically that of a classroom full of class clowns. Or full of teenage Eminems.
The Odd Future media blitz was (of course) not accomplished solely through posting tons of good free music (which they did). In a week of brilliantly targeted internet manipulation and branding, Tyler released his first music video, “Yonkers”–a real showstopper, and maybe the best video of the year–hours after making an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the first TV spot for a group that had yet to tour the east coast. Tyler’s energetic performance with fellow wolf Hodgy Beats was everything that late night TV usually is not: electric, exciting, and bursting with wild energy. A few days later, the internet was abuzz.
All of which is introductory to what I really wanted to talk about, the hundred or so songs that Odd Future’s put out so far. To this point there are eleven mixtapes, three albums, and dozens of youtube videos that constitute the body of Odd Future’s work. Odd Future Tape and Radical feature all of the (rapper) members of the group, and are a good place for the uninitiated to get acquainted with the whole gang (Radical is better). The biggest OF release so far is Goblin, Tyler’s first solo album and the first real material OF album. It’s strange, long, self-referential, kind of spooky, and very personal–to the point that it’s the rare album that can be described as confessional shock rap. I’d also recommend Nostalgia, Ultra, which is somewhat of an anomaly in the OF catalog. It’s the debut of Frank Ocean, the only R&B singer in the group, and its appeal is definitely not tied to the balls-out OF aesthetic: it’s just an album of buttery smooth love songs that both your mother and your hottest friend might like.
My favorite wolves are Tyler, Hodgy, and above all, the mysterious Earl Sweatshirt. Earl is the youngest member of the group, and after recording a phenomenal mixtape and a handful of other songs in 2010, he disappeared. Tyler began a FREE EARL campaign, while refusing to answer any questions about his bandmate’s whereabouts. As his music blew up on the internet, Earl was MIA. By far the best lyricist in the group, Earl ranks as either one of the most exciting new voices in hip-hop or the greatest sixteen-year-old rapper ever, depending on who you ask. None of which will matter much unless he decides to make some more music. A couple of months ago, Kelefa Sanneh of the New Yorker found Earl, improbably, at a boarding school in Samoa. Through emails with the writer, the young rapper urged OF fans to leave his mom alone. Tyler has challenged the accuracy of the New Yorker story, of course.
I love Earl, and a lot of the OF catalog is really good stuff. Odd Future’s music is very raw, roughly equal parts clever and stupid, and pretty inconsistent, but most of all it is new and exciting, like a child is new and exciting. Through all of the background stories and internet hype and overheated controversy, it’s very easy to lose sight of the only good reason that anyone should care about Odd Future, which is for their music. But that’s clearly how Tyler wants you to come to the music, and the important thing is that you enjoy listening. Just don’t think about it too hard. Click through and check it out for yourself!
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