The original Odd Future Tape — posted on the group’s Tumblr back in April 2010, supposedly first posted online as early as 2008 — is the first long-form document of the young rap crew who would become such a big, divisive, equally exciting and frustrating story not too much later. That original Tape isn’t very good. It sounds very much like what it is: A bunch of teenagers fucking around in parents’ basements, slowly figuring out where they might fit into the world. It’s telling that the sequel to that first tape would be the biggest and most important Odd Future release since Tyler, The Creator’s album Goblin last year. That album was an overlong mess with moments of brilliance, and it choked a bit on its own projected importance. In recent months, the rest of the crew has followed suit, releasing a ton of material but not a whole lot that captured the pent-up energy of the still-remarkable run of free online albums that landed the crew on our collective radar in 2010. After a ton of deafening hype and a few minor disappointments, it was time for Odd Future to think of how they got started, sitting in their little room. And amazingly enough, that’s what they’ve succeeded in doing on their latest.
The O.F. Tape Vol. 2 is a retrenchment, a return to the anarchic and nauseous lo-fi snarl-rap that introduced the group. No rappers or singers or producers from outside the group show up; the whole thing (aesthetically, at least) could’ve been recorded in Syd’s bedroom studio two years ago. The beats, mostly from Tyler and Left Brain, are queasy stumbling lurches that some out funky almost in spite of themselves. Tyler, obviously the crew’s mastermind and most visible member, doesn’t act as frontman on the album; instead, he’s happy to come off as just one important member of the collective. Hodgy Beats, actually, emerges as the MVP in some ways; he raps on 10 of the 18 tracks, more than anyone else. Taco and Jasper Dolphin, the crew’s resident self-consciously terrible rappers, get a chance to energetically parody hardcore rap the way that only those guys can on the kinda-hilarious Waka Flocka sendup “We Got Bitches.” Mike G gets a solo showcase for his understated hardness on “Forest Green.” MellowHype give one knotty, falling-apart banger and one disturbing, possibly ironic-relationship song. And on the triumphant 10-minute album-closing posse cut “Oldie,” Earl Sweatshirt quietly returns to the fold, delivering the sort of twisty, impressionistic verse that proves he’s still the best rapper in the group. (Opening salvo: “For contrast, here’s a pair of lips / Swallowing syrup and setting fire to sheriffs’ whips / Fuckin’ All-American terrorist / Crushing rapper’s larynx to feed him a fuckin’ carrot stick.” I mean, Jesus.) It’s all familiar in a way that feels, weirdly, almost comforting.
That impression is a bit illusory, though. There’s progress happening here, though it rarely announces itself loudly. For the first time, the crew fully integrates its non-rap components — Frank Ocean, the Internet — in ways that make sense within the whole. Frank Ocean’s presence within Odd Future has always felt something like a marriage of convenience, like he was an island of singer-songwriter maturity hanging out with these screaming skate-freaks because the arrangement was a mutually beneficial one. But here, he’s crooning alongside Tyler and Hodgy, utterly at ease amid the chaos — and “White,” his two-minute burst of loveliness, gives our ears a break at the perfect time.
Also, Tyler and his buddies, at least for now, seem to be done with rapping about raping fairytale characters and cutting people’s heads off. They’re not mature by a longshot. MellowHype’s “Real Bitch” certainly preys on squirmy ideas about gender. There’s plenty of ranting and screaming. But all of these guys are way better at rapping than the last time they all got together. A Domo Genesis verse, for instance, is no longer bathroom-break material, and Hodgy has grown into a dynamic and wild-eyed young star. Tyler, for his part, gets to gnash and bellow the way he’s always done, but he also gets circumspect about his newfound fame and just how fucking weird and uncomfortable it can be: “Fuck these parties, I roll awkward / I stand there, I don’t know what to do, man / I’d rather be at home with my crew in my new room” — this delivered, naturally, through his demon-voice filter. Tyler’s closing verse on “Oldie” is probably the closest thing to an Odd Future statement of intent that we’ve heard yet: “They say we ain’t acting right / Always try to turn our fucking color into black and white / But they’ll never change him, never understand him / ’Radical”s my anthem / Turn my fucking amps up / So instead of critiquing and bitching, being mad as fuck / Just admit: Not only are we talented, we’re rad as fuck.” He’s not wrong. When Odd Future are assembled and in the right mood, they’re still a tremendously exciting rap crew. The O.F. Tape Vol. 2 is an excellent reminder of that, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The O.F. Tape Vol. 2 is out 3/20 on Odd Future Records.