Odd Future - Introducing the unhinged heroes of hip-hop...
Los Angeles rap collective Odd Future are on the brink of big things – but can they achieve world domination and still hang on to their power to provoke? By Gillian Orr
Friday 13 May 2011
The devil doesn't wear Prada, I'm clearly in a white tee," announces Tyler, the Creator, at the end of the title track from his new album, Goblin. No-one has ignited more conversations over the last six months than the 20-year-old figurehead and leader of the controversial hip-hop collective Odd Future. Ranging from 17 to 24-years-old, the young alliance of MCs, beatmakers, producers, artists and skaters are currently unavoidable, their shocking videos, scathing lyrics and raucous live shows polarising audiences and critics alike.
Formed in Los Angeles in 2007, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (to give them their full name) have secured their status as one of the most talked-about acts around by pressing everyone's buttons and repeatedly crossing the line. With zero concern about what anyone thinks of them, the ten-strong crew has a reputation for being unpredictable and unhinged. As well as being remarkably talented.
Members of Odd Future are quick to point out that they choose to act out as a way of avoiding growing up and dealing with the responsibilities of adulthood, meaning that they can, at times, come across as an X-rated version of the lost boys.
But there is little innocent about Odd Future, and the group certainly divides opinion – one camp citing them as the most thrilling thing to happen to hip-hop in years, the other believing that they are a bunch of overrated homophobes and misogynists.
With lyrics such as "Let's buy guns and kill those kids with dads and moms" and "Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome", their output isn't for the faint-hearted. Their detractors argue that the group's lyrics can incite hatred and violence, but Tyler points out that he is merely playing a role and telling a story. "OK, you guys caught me," he raps on Goblin. "I'm not a rapist or a serial killer. I lied. I try too hard, huh?" For him it's a performance, an act.
But vulnerability exists there too. An absent father might not be the most original narrative, but when Tyler's first album, Bastard, isn't about violating women, it's confronting the man he's never met ("I just want my father's email/ So I can tell him how much I hate him in detail".) On the new album, he addresses his history with depression: "I'm just a teenager who admits he's suicide prone/ My life is doing pretty good, so that date is postponed for now".
In an attempt to justify the obsessive media coverage that they are currently pulling in, The New York Times remarked in a recent piece, "Odd Future has become the flashpoint for reigniting the culture wars in hip-hop for a generation that hasn't previously experienced them, that didn't realise culture wars were still a possibility."
But while much of their output is raw, dark and vitriolic, the group itself often projects a colourful, humorous aesthetic and a lighter side that suggests that they are merely bored young people trying to wind up and offend as many people as possible, just for the sake of it.
Until recently the collective – which also includes the likes of rappers Hodgy Beats and Earl Sweatshirt, producer Left Brain and R&B singer-songwriter Frank Ocean – shunned record labels, preferring to self-release their albums and mixtapes, making them free on their website, lending them a thrilling sense of nihilism. Of course, it didn't take long for the major labels to come calling and while some deals have been made, Odd Future have been able to keep an almost unprecedented level of creative control.
Tyler signed with British label XL Recordings (home to the likes of Adele and The xx) for the release of Goblin, and Odd Future recently confirmed that they have partnered with RED Distribution/Sony to form their own label, Odd Future Records, which will cover all acts associated with the group and allow them the same level of creative freedom they work under now. Their manager said in a statement, "RED and Sony know that it's in everyone's best interest to maintain the group's authenticity and control. They built it, they deserve it."
The recent struggle between the collective's authentic insular, anything-goes universe that they have created and its potential corruption via record labels and exposure to the mainstream was perfectly captured in a skit earlier this year for the comedy website Funny Or Die, in which a moronic record-label exec sucks up to the group, played by themselves. "I want to work with you and I don't want to change a thing," coos the exec. "Except for a couple of things... First of all, the name Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All is so long, what am I reading? A novel? Why don't we shorten it and just make it Fun Time Gang?"
Odd Future often appear in these type of online shorts. In fact, the internet has played a vital role in their rise and it is a domain they know how to exploit. Their self-produced, unsettling and disturbing videos became viral hits when they were uploaded onto YouTube, no doubt due to the excessive amount of blood, vomit and violence they feature. It should come as little surprise that the group are allegedly producing a television pilot, described by one insider as a mix between Jackass and Chappelle's Show.
An empire surely awaits them. But only time will tell if a bunch of LA skate-rats can achieve the huge success that they hint at wanting, without compromising the misanthropic attitude that drew people to them in the first place.
Tyler, the Creator's new album, 'Goblin', is out now on XL Recordings (www.oddfuture.com)
Meet the gang: a who's who of the crew
Tyler, the Creator
Tyler Okonma is the group's figurehead and biggest personality. An unpredictable 20-year-old prone to depression, his public persona somehow flitters between unstable sociopath and loveable goofball. Despite the crew's reputation for shocking and snorting, the gravelly-voiced leader of the pack doesn't even drink.
One of the youngest of the crew, his continued absence is the source of much debate, with suggestions of his whereabouts including boarding school, boot camp and juvenile detention. Although Odd Future refuse to confirm anything, make what you will of the frequent cries of "Free Earl" that can be heard at their gigs.
A duo comprising rapper Hodgy Beats and producer Left Brain, their first album, 'YelloWhite', is available for free download on the Odd Future website and they are planning on re-releasing a remastered version of their second, 'Blackenedwhite', through Fat Possum this summer.
Syd Tha Kid
The sole female member of the crew, Syd is in charge of engineering the beats. The fact that she is a gay woman has been a line of defence against those who accuse the crew of being misogynistic and homophobic.
Last year Domo Genesis, the group's delegated stoner, released 'Rolling Papers'. Less dark and more laid back than other Odd Future releases, it's filled with mellow grooves, despite most of it being produced by Tyler.
The crew's very own smooth operator, 24-year-old singer-songwriter Christopher Breaux released his first experimental R&B mixtape, 'Nostalgia, ULTRA', earlier this year, drawing comparisons to the likes of Drake.
Rapper Mike G remains one of the most overlooked members of the crew, and less is known about him. His work, such as his mixtape 'Ali', stays closer to classic gangsta rap than much of the rest of Odd Future's output.
The younger brother of Syd Tha Kid. The pair come from an affluent family and a lot of the early recordings took place at their home. Taco has been responsible for a number of the music videos, including "French", taken from Tyler's album 'Bastard'.
Jasper the Dolphin
So far the least prolific member of the crew, Jasper's rapping features on 'Goblin' and he has expressed his plans to release his own record some time this year.
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