“I ate one roach and I made a lotta money.”
It's the kind of boast you expect from a Fear Factor contestant or an eccentric Vine celebratory, not a rapper. Tyler The Creator used that line on his sophomore album, showing that he was well-aware that the grotesque imagery and disturbing lyrics of “Yonkers” created the whirlwind that took the music industry by storm. Shock value blessed him and Odd Future with cult-like notoriety and cast them as the untamed, crude outlaws here to piss on every rule and break every law. When the music video broke the internet the labels came running because that’s what virality will bring you - men in suits, big promises and long contracts with tiny font. I recall the feverous desire that rippled through the industry to sign the gang of wolves but I was shocked to find out that Jay Z wanted OF on Roc Nation.
Domo Genesis told Rosenberg during his late night interview that the moment he realized that things were getting crazy for Odd Future was when they had lunch with Jay Z. This is before Tyler’s debut album, so it had to be early 2011, when the group was well known for being a rolling tumbleweed of madness wherever they went. Rosenberg's surprised to discover that the rambunctious lunatics that were a terror for journalists and any adult over 35 went from eating roaches to fish tacos with Shawn Carter. At the time Jay was 42-years-old, married, more business man than Marcy Projects hustler. What in the world could they have talked about? After doing a little digging, MTV interviewed Hodgy and Left Brain back in March of 2011, and they also mention this lunch. It’s mind-blowing that Jay Z brought Odd Future into his home, served them tacos, and tried to sign the most radical rap group since the Insane Clown Posse.
Remember, J. Cole told Complex in 2009 that Roc Nation was supposed to be a pop music label, and in many ways it is now. J. Cole and Jay Electronica were the only rappers on the label at the time, and only one of them has ever released an album. Willow Smith, Rihanna, Rita Ora, they all make sense housed under the Nation’s roof. Odd Future though, the kids that said, “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school,” were not exactly whipping hair and umbrellas. Cole’s The Sideline Story wasn’t even out yet, he'd spend years trying to find a commercially acceptable single. Can you imagine Roc Nation telling Tyler he had to make a “Work Out”? Or replacing Frank Ocean with Trey Songz on “She” for radio play? It would’ve been a disaster. I can’t see Odd Future signing to Roc Nation and having an actual future in music.
He loves Odd Future and their punk rock vibe. He sees their anger as a general “aversion to corporate America,” particularly as far as it has despoiled the planet. “People have a real aversion to what people in power did to the country. So they’re just lashing out, like: ‘This is the son that you made. Look at your son. Look at what you’ve done.’ - New York Times circa 2012
Even though they didn’t sign, Jay Z spoke highly of Odd Future in his 2012 New York Times profile. Obviously, his admiration is what brought Frank Ocean in to lay down his shining vocals on Watch The Throne's "No Church In The Wild.” Easy to forget Frank is a member of Odd Future. Tyler also noted that the song “Smuckers” from Cherry Bomb was originally for The Throne. It was a beat he made in 2011 that was revamped, still getting a verse from Kanye and replacing Shawn Carter with Dwayne Carter. Also, Jay Z and Tyler are both in the increasingly legendary “Aziz Ansari photo.”
It somehow never registered with me before how close Jay is to the new generation of rappers. Not just Odd Future, he tried to sign Joey Bada$$ right after the NYC emcee started making noise. Neither chose to sign with him and both are doing better than fine. It makes you wonder, with Jay Z being such a big fan, what would’ve happened if Odd Future did sign with Jay Z? Not only would they have had a huge machine behind them but a stamp by a well-respected voice in the game. They also would’ve risked dulling their edges for acceptance, seeking out radio to avoid sitting on shelves, and having more hands in their pot of earnings.
Still, there are rewards that come with risk. Vince Staples, an OF affiliate, is doing great things and he’s on Def Jam. I don’t think Sprite would be sponsoring him if he wasn’t. By their choosing or the workings of fate, different artists travel different paths, but it’s fun to imagine how the future would unfold if Odd Future had ended up with Jay. Who knows, the way that labels love to wear out a good thing, maybe Tyler would still be eating roaches and stabbing Bruno Mars.