I turned the television to Jimmy Fallon, influenced by a Twitter timeline full of excitement for this group that was about to hit the stage. How “odd” could a group that called themselves Odd Future be? The next three minutes left my eyes wide, my jaw slightly ajar, my mind trapped in a swirl of confusion. What just happened? What did I just witness? The way they moved, the way they rapped, the production and stage presence, these weren’t rappers but two convicts that escaped Arkham Asylum. Mos Def screaming swag into the camera like a man possessed by the Holy Based Ghost said it all. I like to think that’s the first time he ever uttered the term, touched by the energy of something so unbelievably bizarre, in his big bag of words, the most youthful and modern came to the surface.
I remember hearing J. Cole’s Warm Up and feeling amazed. I remember playing Wale’s More About Nothing and feeling impressed. That night after watching Tyler and Hodgy perform, I remember feeling shocked. They were my age, fresh from the halls of high school, and making the kind of music that puts fear in the hearts of outdated adults. Naturally, I dug deeper into the group and quickly learned that Tyler was unbearably annoying, vulgar, outspoken, loud and obnoxious but he continued to impress me with his creativity. The video for "Yonkers" is technically simplistic, but the results made an impact that the big budget visuals can only hope to achieve. I thought he ate that roach, there’s a part of me that still does. I was disturbed and impressed, that’s what made him special, he brought imagination to the forefront.
Earl is the second member of OF that put me in a state of awe. The Earl album wasn’t rapping, it was slaughter, the Grim Reaper slinging his scythe through dirty synths and burning basslines. For a kid knee deep in his early teens, the imagery he painted was grotesque, off-color, cringe worthy lyrics, but the flawless flow, and wordplay proved that there was an amazing rapper up under the mountain of disturbing obscenity. His disappearance made him into a myth, his existence was questioned. It was the best accidental marketing in history. All eyes were watching the unfiltered leader’s antics, and searching for the prominent pupil. Odd Future were disrupting the peace, cultivating a following, pissing off parents, pissing off everyone, all while passing on labels. Shock value is funny, your time in the spotlight is only extended by how often you can steal attention with outlandishness. There wasn’t much said about the lesser known members, they were just “homies” that got to be features. This collective of immature kids that teetered on the line of rap group and anti-establishment punk rock group wasn’t expected to last.
When I speak about Odd Future now, the responses often consist of, “They’re still around? Isn’t their 15 minutes up?” Funny, when the negative headlines disappeared, people assumed their relevancy deteriorated. This is true for most, but there’s always exceptions. The tasteless kids with upside down crosses, that causally dropped F-bombs and treated the rap industry as their monkey bars have all undergone an interesting maturity. They never cared about how the outside world perceived them, which is maybe why they're been able to slowly but surely bend the outside world to their will.
Syd The Kid went from the quiet tour DJ to the lead singer in neo-soul band, The Internet. There was never any indication that she could sing, but simply assisted in the background. To my surprise, Syd and producer Matt Martians released a studio album, Purple Naked Ladies, and it showcased a style of music unexpected from Odd Future Records. The subject matter wasn’t outlandish or ominous, sonically it was ambitious, her soft vocals floating through dreamy, psychedelic soundscapes. It’s refreshing easy listening, which reached new heights on their sophomore effort, Feel Good. It’s a leap forward, the addition of band members helps raise the musicality, and Syd sounds refined, more confident in her voice. Chad Hugo, Thudercat, Jesse Boykins, and Yuna are all involved. These aren’t names associated with recycle bin gargle, The Internet's quality can’t be overshadowed by Odd Future’s past. They’ve toured with Mac Miller and also solo, discovering their own fans, and becoming a much bigger act than I ever imagined.
I’ve always liked Domo Genesis, he wasn’t on Earl’s level, but he could rap fairly well. He reminded me of Curren$y, a cool stoner that can do more with words than talk about the ganja. Out of all the rappers in the collective, Dom has been the most embraced by hip-hop. In 2012, he came together with The Alchemist for No Idol, 11 tracks that further proves Domo isn’t just a childhood friend that carries Tyler’s weed. He’s also featured on Freddie Gibbs & Madlib Piñata, Prodigy’s Albert Einstein, Step Brother’s Lord Steppington, and Dilated People’s Directors Of Photography. He’s improving, while being embraced by the right circles that will further assist his refining.
Then there’s members of Odd Future that I’m not very fond of. Hodgy Beats and Left Brain have put out two albums as the duo Mellowhype; personally, I’ve never been a fan of their union, as a separate entity I found them more intriguing. Hodgy’s Untitled EP is his strongest body of work as a rapper, not a single beat from his Mellowhype cohort. Songs like Domo’s "Arrival," and Earl’s "Chum (Remix)," makes me want more placements from Left outside the group. Mike G is another that has never been on my radar, but has created an interesting following with his music and DJ Sets. Mellowhype has recently dismantled, Don Cannon and Hodgy just released a Dena Tape 2, and Mike G just released Award II and will be hitting the road with Left Brain. It’s interesting seeing how they have begun to spread their wings as individuals without straying too far from the nest.
The return of Earl Sweatshirt is one of those moments that will go down in hip-hop history. There will never be another, how many artists will drop a prominent album, get sent away to Samoa before receiving the acclaim, and return to a world where you’re a superstar? Who in hip-hop shares his adjustment struggles? He came back strong, not exactly the Grim Reaper, versus like "Oldie," "Super Rich Kids," and "Elimination Chamber" proved that he isn’t the horrorcore kid, but still a microphone monster. I’m a bit disappointed in his debut. Doris is a good album, the highlights outweigh the flaws, but it left me wanting more. I have high hopes for his follow-up, how can you not be excited when you hear him on Mac Miller’s "New Faces V2," Flying Lotus’ "Between Villains," and the mysterious "45"? He’s finding his voice, there’s few young men that rappity-rap on his caliber.
And then, of course, there's Tyler. There's always been Tyler, seemingly always will be.
To my surprise, Tyler The Creator’s Wolf was absent from a lot of album of the year lists in 2013. It was everything that Goblin wasn’t: Focused, polished and not drenched in immaturity. A record like "48" shows he has an appreciation for hip-hop storytelling, "Bimmer" should’ve been on radios and "IFHY" has Pharrell doing a perfect imitation of an angel singing. It’s not just the music, as a video director Tyler is the definition of underrated. I praised Childish Gambino’s visuals, but in terms of creativity, Wolf Haley is on his heels. Tyler’s entire catalog of videography is full of videos like "Tamale," "She," and "Domo 23." Instead of re-creating "Yonkers," he’s only becoming more inventive with his ideas, the video he directed for D.A.'s "Glowing" is absolutely amazing. From the theme, color correction, and overall execution, it's arguably his best thus far. He’s acclaimed, but is rarely recognized for constantly pushing audio and visuals.
I’ve touched on their growth as rap artists and musicians, but Odd Future as a business is astounding. We praise Chance The Rapper for his independence, point to his touring and pushing merch as the key to his financial freedom without a label. Well, that’s exactly what OF has been doing, but on a larger scale. The clothing brand, Golf Wang, has been booming for years, while each member has their own merch that gets sold online and during tours. The Odd Future’s Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival has become one of the most popular and acclaimed music festivals, each year they raise the ante, and supplies fans an experience they can’t receive anywhere else. Not to mention, their Cartoon Network series, Loiter Squad, is actually funny. The sketch comedy show has been successful, three seasons deep, and looks to still be going strong. Amazing that Taco and Jasper went from telling Tina to perm her weave to Adult Swim. They also have utilized Dash Radio to create a 24/7 commercial free channel. All of this without the machine, reaping all the benefits of staying true to their independence. Christen and Kelly Clancy are the backbone of Odd Future’s success, a power couple that used their resources and understanding of the industry to create a foundation to build a kingdom upon. Good management is hard to find, but nothing is more beneficial than having someone believe in your vision wholeheartedly.
Tyler the Creator is a visionary, this is the future he hid away in notebooks during high school. He’s living the very dreams that seemed so far away when everyone suggested going to college and getting a job. Not only did he build a kingdom from nothing, he’s assisted all the friends that believed in his ideas. Large collectives might have two or three members break through, but rarely do we witness the entire team find their own lanes. Not just the core members, Vince Staples, Kilo Kish, Casey Veggies, their beginnings all trace back to OF. Frank Ocean has sadly separated himself from the family, but before Odd Future, he was Lonny Breaux, the unappreciated songwriter wasting his talents in Def Jam's dungeon.
If you ever watched the controversial Mountain Dew Ad that Tyler made, you’ll realize during this maturing metamorphosis he isn’t conforming his most eccentric ideas. That’s what I find most inspiring, they haven’t lost the “odd” factor. They'd now rather shock you with imagination than obscene lyrics and radical interviews. They’ve also accepted that not everyone is supposed to love them, they cater to the ones that do. Even if hip-hop never fully embraces them, their grind and D.I.Y approach should inspire all upcoming rappers and all creative. The escaped Arkham convicts have taken over Gotham, they beat the system, this is their future and there’s only one thing left to say…
[By Yoh, aka Unicorn Yoh, aka @Yoh31.]