Odd Future: Youth and Young Manhood
, March 8th, 2011 03:35
After Tyler The Creator signed to XL recently, John Calvert decided to sift through hundreds and hundreds of tracks to bring you the best - and most distressing - music from the Odd Future collective
"This connection to rough or coarse behaviour also ties in to modern psychology. In psychological terms, you might think of a person's struggle with lycanthropy as a struggle to come to terms with - or get rid of - his more primitive nature. When a man becomes a werewolf, his primal instincts, which aren't necessarily considered to be appropriate, take over."
Tracy V Wilson, 'How Things Work'.
Both strange and frightening are the wolf gang.
By around the age of 30 the future begins to look odd, and the next generation even more so. Sometimes it takes a baby-faced, 17 year-old borderline sociopath in a hair salon to tell you your number's up. Or seven more just like him; a skating band of child demons from Crenshaw, Los Angeles, who right now are the most exciting hip hop act on the planet.
Taking to the LA streets on a cocktail of pills, powders, cough syrup and weed, Earl Sweatshirt and the wolf gang run riot on the video for 'Earl'. They stack on their ollies, collapse on the pavement, scream, bare torn gums, scrap, and play games with fake blood. They simulate pulling out their hair, teeth, and on one occasion a fingernail, eventually lying on top of each other in a mass heap of overdosed corpses. Both alien and alienating, the promo coveys a world faster, harsher and more dangerously alive than the average pace and weak clarity of normal adult living. It screams 'We're next, here's the door'. Every generation wants to be the last, as Chuck Palahniuk writes. To watch these post-everything, for-nothing teens go at the world, it occurs they might just see the job through.
Fucked for innocence, flush for drugs, "Black Ted Bundy[s]/Sick as John Gacey" (Vince Staples), here lies the homophobic, religion-hating, woman-hating Odd Future. Theirs is a kind of shockcore grand guignol; Droog-rap founded on stubborn, off-sync beats and deformed, bug powder production - elephantine, electric and coursing with 'all the dread magnificence of perversity'. Imagine if Butthole Surfers hallucinated a purple Jaberwocky with the head of Eminem and the third-eye of any number of trailblazers; Flying Lotus, Madvillain, RZA, Liars, John Coltrane, DJ Screw, PiL, Boards Of Canada - all are ripe for a 'swagging'.
Sure to inspire universal condemnation is their penchant for a truly reprehensible subject matter. On nearly every cut, and with obsessive zeal, they rap about rape; the fantasies gratuitously detailed, sickening yet sometimes nihilistically comic. It's indefensible and chillingly inexplicable, and inevitably the hand-wringing will arrive in a torrent. The air of amorality is overwhelming, the pay off quips wince-inducing at best ("It's not rape if you like it bitch") but the thrills are endless - if very, very guilty. But, when it comes to living art through your favourite artists, to coin a phrase: 'Would you rather be a snake or a poisonous snake?' Odd Future? They'd rather be wolves. Either way, evil always wins, so 'dominate yourself' as Pissed Jeans would prescribe. "I'm bad milk" says founder Tyler, the Creator "...drink it".
In the growing number of interviews with Odd Future they make sure to pour scorn on nearly everyone except their beloved Waka Flocka Flame, taking aim at the Backpackers, black pop, LA's homegrown 'Jerk Rap' craze, gangsta screwfacery, hip hop bloggers and hipsters ("Ain’t no hipster mista/Fuck you in your yellow skinnies"). As Simon Reynolds has pointed out, there's a likeness to Big Black, who also enjoyed baiting the right-on liberals with repellent content, disregarding the right-wingers as soft targets. Odd Future, however, have a quite different (arguably more deserving) quarry in the faux-hemiam millennial hipster. Their condescension of hip hop culture, evinced by the likes of Spank Rock or The Cool Kids and dating back to Weezer, deserves a response like the Odd Future phenomenon, which in its extremeness defies clever-clever parody. Despite Tyler's best efforts, though, they will subscribe by the busload, instigating a sort of cultural gentrification. It'll be interesting to see how far this coterie of cool-hunters and cultural nomads will go before ironic detachment begins to look like tacit approval, when his little brother (or cousin, or friend, depending on who you listen to) Earl Sweatshirt is writing lines like this:
"Hurry up I've got nuts to bust and butts to nut/And sluts to fucking uppercut. It's OF, buttercup/Go ahead, fuck with us/Without a doubt a surefire way to get your mother fucked/Ask her for a couple bucks, shove a trumpet up her butt/Play a song, invade her thong/My dick is having guts for lunch/...As well as supper, then I'll rummage through a ruptured cunt."
Spitting bullets from under his salon hairdryer on the accompanying video, adoring concubine fawning to his left (look again and it's a disembodied mannequin’s head) Earl Sweatshirt is ready to think you out of existence. He is to Odd Future what Jay Adams was to the Zephyr team – the youngest, the most blazingly talented and possessed of god-given flare. He's also by some margin the most sinister, playing off Tyler's bludgeoning production with casual, pustular scabrousness. It's fun to imagine quite how the fat-backed top-earners will approach guest rapping and collaboration with Odd Future, after the teens inevitably go global. In their current form it's difficult to see where a Jay Z or Kayne West figure would fit. Even Dr Dre would seem out of his depth in the brave new world of OF. Whoever it is that steps up, the chances are their star will be subordinated to Tyler's uncompromising vision, while the wolves close in from all around. Maybe Miley Cyrus is interested?
As well as acidly iconoclastic, the collective are hyper-creative. Of a total of 250 tracks available on Tumblr, around 150 are sensational, especially that of the sub-2 minute efforts - dislocated, coarsely effective offensives, super-charged by a 'try anything' love of experimentation attributable to their tender ages. They design their own art work, which ranges from the innocuous, to obscene porn shots, bloody-nosed babies and cracked-mirror images of little girls. The fissures are reminiscent of scars from extensive brain surgery, or the blurred vision which results from prolonged exposure to their tumour-activating beats.
So, how to make sense of Odd Future? Post-YouTube teen cynics with little left to discover at an early age, they bear the scars of an anomie endemic to a generation of hyper-connected childhoods. Which, from the evidence of OF's music, makes those 90s-born kids pretty combustible. It's almost like 'idle hands' syndrome, which incidentally is the very same theory served up by baffled sociologists to explain the monstrous acts described by Odd Future.
Beneath the horror stories, though, you can detect the cold facetiousness peculiar to middle-class American kids – a trait perhaps less prevalent amongst their underprivileged peers, whom prematurely burdened with adult responsibilities live the trials of hardship through '4real' hip hop, rallying behind talk of overcoming adversity and 'thug life' authenticity. When asked by Syffal what he wants to promote, Tyler's answer was simply "hate" (and his act). In the Southern rap tradition they've exchanged reality for the beyond; regional identity, oppression and the acquisition of wealth for Ritilan and Jeffrey Dahmer. There's little talk of smooth sexual prowess and Lamborghinis. There's no objective to speak of at all, in fact, or anything approaching legitimate disaffection. Only a cruel contempt for generally every human being they've encountered in life or online – part and parcel, you feel, of the inured, hard-edged disposition native to big city adolescence.
It might be argued they're just a bunch of teenagers playing at a effectively meaningless type of hooligan art. But that would be remiss of how anciently primal Odd Future sound. The more you listen, the more Tyler grows in stature, and the longer his shadow, the evanescent wickedness of young masculinity arousing before finally raging. It's the type of senseless black culture bomb that would have Alex Haley turning in the grave Odd Future are about to dig up. Whether the product of advanced desensitisation or the modern disease's final disaster ("Plenty of us are bastards. Most of us." Hodgy Beats told the New York Times), what argument can there really be against the zeitgeist? Either way they've touched a nerve this last year - a naked lunch served cold to the establishment and the hop-hop royalty in equal helpings.
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All are Tyler, the Creator (aka Ace, evil alter ego Wolf Haley, The Creator), screwed down dranker Mike G, the blunted-out Domo Genesis, star-in-the-making Earl Sweatshirt, Hodgy Beats and Left Brain (whom together are Mellowhype), singer Frank Ocean, The Super 3 aka The Jet Age of Tomorrow and producer Syd. Each party have released solo albums, available free on Tumblr (eleven between them in the last year including the covers heavy Radical and the original self-titled mix-tape). An even greater mystery than the whereabouts of Earl Sweatshirt (missing, presumed grounded) is the last name on the list - a silhouetted figure rumoured to take the form of a female. All but uncredited on the site but glimpsed on the periphery of their videos, she plays an unspecified but reportedly despotic role in production. In a recent interview Mike G described 'Syd the Kid' as "the brains of this shit."
Currently trending on Twitter and set to debride contemporary hip hop in the next year and all years, here's eleven of Odd Future's best. Enjoy your immolation, let it hurt... the future often does.
1. Tyler, The Creator (featuring Hodgy Beats) – 'French'
Less of a promo and more of an uprising, the spectre of Larry Clarke looms large on 'French', as the kids, basking in moral misery, partake in a kaleidoscope of abject skulduggery. At only one minute and 44 seconds long 'French' remains one of the great lifestyle introductions in video history, rubbing shoulders with the likes of 'Nothin' But A G Thang' and 'Lap Dancer'. When Tyler explodes onto screen you get the creeping sensation you're watching history in the making. One of the best 'What the fuck was that?!' moments in recent memory.
The "Oh No, Mister Stokes" line is in reference to Chris Stokes, the music producer alleged to have molested Raz B and other members of R&B boyband B2K (of 'Bump Bump Bump' fame) when under his stewardship. Mocking your revulsion, Tyler simply turns his eyeballs backwards into a rather disturbed noggin.
2. Earl Sweatshirt – 'Earl'
Produced by Tyler and Left Brain, the second track from the prodigy's 2010 album requires a strong stomach, even for the most hardened of death metal lyricists. For all his puerility, though, the school-age rapper weaves phonetic pyrotechnics into his producers' bellowing, toneless overdrives. A speaker-busting tour-de-force.
3. Mellowhype – 'Gram'
From their impossibly strong BlackenedWhite collaboration, on 'Gram' Hodgy Beats and Left Brain feed their brand of stoner-funk macabre through a fitting Wurlitzer with the batteries dying. The discombobulated cycle of snares, kicks, and a pitched-down dog sample represents the avant garde side of Odd Future; more Flylo than Eminem.
4. Tyler, The Creator – 'Splatter'
Reams of nightmarish imagery, Tyler at his most venomous and fat beams of Cronenburg-ian horror synths churning in the background like Wendy Carlos unconscious on her Moog - it doesn't get any more squeamish than 'Splatter'. "Someone tell Satan I want my swag back" Tyler growls before bringing matters to a merciful close with a leering 'Abracadabraaaaaaaaaa". If you can't be good, as the old adage goes, at least be good at it. Thrilling stuff.
5. Domo Genesis - 'Kickin' It'
More studio trickery from Left Brain (with Tyler in tow). Domo Genesis' heavy-eyelids flow dovetails perfectly with the production on 'Kick It' (christened 'dystopian weed rap' by The Fader), reminiscent of Outkast's 'She Lives In My Lap' and co-produced by the besuited dwarf from Twin Peaks. Genesis has been been likened to both Curren$y and up-and-comer Wiz Khalifa, whose forthcoming album is also titled Rolling Papers, sparking accusations of plagiarism from Tyler on Twitter. The situation was quickly resolved, however, after Khalifa sampled Alice Deejay's 'Better Off Alone' for chart-bound 'Say Yeah', prompting widespread laughter and some pointing.
6. Tyler, The Creator – 'Oblivion'
From the Radical album, here the self confessed "depressed emo faggot" chokes up something altogether unique. A throwaway, two-and-a-half-minute descent into loathing and overt self-loathing, 'Oblivion' is driven by an relentless beat, turning the screws rightly. Part sadomasochistic atonement, part primal reverie - after the bizarre and distressing opening skit, Tyler proceeds to reverb his voice into nothingness (or 'oblivion'), yet continues with a desultory stream-of-consciousness rap.
Most unnerving is his voice, which appears somehow different - gruffer and more intense. In other words, he sounds possessed. Stranger still, all his talk of conquering white meat, taking white drugs, murdering his manager with an iron, and his unexplained declaration “I'm just a white boy with no remorse” concludes with “I just need someone to talk to”. Extremely creepy. And they say Kayne West is conflicted. With Hodgy Beats in tow, the teetotal, fiercely atheist 19-year-old made his national television debut on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon this February the 16th past, performing his new single 'Sandwitches'. As was predicted the notorious green balaclava received an airing.
7. Earl Sweatshirt (featuring Vince Staples) – 'Epar'
Runner-up for best cut on Earl, 'Epar' contains the very best line from any Odd Future track hitherto - the much-quoted "You're Fantasia and the body bag's a fucking book". By way of explanation, the lyric comes after Earl spots the remains of Vince Staples' latest kill, stashed where he hides the "marijuana in the condom". Staples warns him "Don't touch it, or even look/You're Fantasia and the body bag's a fucking book"; the former X-factor winner is reportedly illiterate. M.I.A since July and due to miss Coachella in April, it remains unsure if and when Sweatshirt will turn up, but a 'Free Earl' t-shirt will shortly be available on the Odd Future site. And in case you didn't twig, 'Epar' is rape spelt backwards.
8. Tyler The Creator - 'Yonkers'
More abandonment angst, more schizophrenia, more vomiting. Released by XL Records who signed the teen on Valentine's day, 'Yonkers' is the first single from Tyler's imminent LP Goblin. Amassing 100,000 views per day since its unveiling, the accompanying video is written and directed by the teenager, a young man not yet old enough to know the meaning of compromise. With the cockroach and the telepathic (or 'intra-diegetic') rapping there's a tang of William S Burroughs about it, while the spry arrangement fits perfectly with the verité touches and clean monochrome. Winner of best line goes to "Swallow the cinnamon" or the 'sin-of-men'.
9. Mellowhype - 'Dead Deputy'
Another inspired cut from BlackenedWhite, the exhilirating crunk lite of 'Dead Deputy' showcases Hodgy's rapping and Left Brain's signature production style. Incorporating singing and melody, the LP is comparatively leavening, but grimy enough to accommodate the dark influence of Tyler on two tracks. Left Brain energises the verbose rhymes and crunk-holler "Kill 'Em All, Kill Em All" with a technical sophistication lightyears beyond his age.
10. The Jet Age Of Tomorrow – Journey To The 5th Echelon
Jet Age's spangled, retro-futurist 5th Echelon has more in common with Odd Nosdam than Insane Clown Posse. Tonally in diametric opposition to the future as predicted by their associates, but no less odd, this subtlety beautiful album of acid-fried circuits and listless grooves reveals Tyler to be a shrewd scout and Odd Future as an act with both eclectic dimension and a seemingly endless supply of talent. There's some rape and murder on there too, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt. From a 19-song giant, the highlights include 'Want You Still' featuring a star turn from skeezy sweetie-pie Kilo Kish, and warping candy cloud 'Her Secrets'.
11. Tyler, The Creator – 'Sandwitches' (live solo performance)
The Odd Future anthem, performed last Christmas in The Roxy, LA. Setting the tone for the punkish pow-wow that ensues, it begins with the Marshall Mathers-esque line "Who invited Mr 'I Don't Give A Fuck'/Who cries about his daddy on a blog/Cause his music sucks'. It's another disquietingly candid slice of self-laceration from Tyler, whose father left home when he was a baby. Factor in the menacing build-up (worsened by the stage lighting, illuminating the black hole where Tyler's face should be), that abominable two-note motif, and the crowd's chant of "Wolf Gang...Wolf Gang", the cumulative effect is something akin to The 1933 Nuremberg Rally, with Christmas decorations. There he was, Mr Hitler, ablaze with consolidated power and on the crest of total domination. The similarities are uncanny.
Tyler, the Creator's next album Goblin will be released on XL Records.