Does The World Need Odd Future?
For my money, the best non-Fargo show on TV right now is You’re The Worst, the FXX comedy about two deeply fucked-up people trying to figure out how to be in an adult couple, mostly because they know they’d be doomed if they were on their own. Aya Cash, the show’s female lead, plays a music publicist who reps an obnoxious, colorfully dressed rap crew clearly modeled on Odd Future. (She mentioned Stereogum a few episodes ago, and I was unreasonably happy about it.) One of the show’s running storylines involves the group’s breakup. Cash’s character convinced the rappers to stage a feud to get press attention, and it worked. But now, they’re all really pissed at each other, and she’s totally unable to control it. But while this whole storyline has been playing out on TV, something funny has happened. In a total life-imitating-art twist, the real members of Odd Future have gone through a just-as-childish falling-out — one that they squashed in less than a day, but one that points toward what you’d have to imagine are real fractures in the group.
Earlier this year, Tyler, The Creator was making cryptic comments on Twitter about Odd Future being “no more,” and when people freaked out about it, the collective reaction of the various Odd Future rappers was something like this: What, you didn’t figure that out already? And it’s true: The members of the group seem to be going in different directions. Tyler’s recent album Cherry Bomb didn’t feature any guest appearances from other Odd Future members, and neither did Earl Sweatshirt’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. Frank Ocean has been missing in action for years. Meanwhile, onetime O.F. B-teamers like Hodgy Beats, Domo Genesis, and Mike G are continuing to make music, but they’re not getting anywhere near as much attention as the guys I mentioned earlier.
At Tyler’s Camp Flog Gnaw festival this weekend, Hodgy performed as part of an Odd Future B-team group, which had to be, on some level, a letdown for everyone involved. Hodgy and Tyler said angry things about each other onstage, and for the next couple of days, they said more angry things about each other on social media. But by the time Monday was over, they’d made up, somehow breaking the beef-to-reconciliation speed record that Young Thug and Metro Boomin set just last week. We’re in uncharted territory with that stuff, as rap allies are breaking apart and coming back together in head-spinning time thanks to the speed that Twitter and Instagram afford. These guys don’t even have time to make songs about each other before everything is cool again. And in the case of Tyler and Hodgy, the Instagram video that they posted together is the most charming, charismatic thing that either of them has done in ages.
The moment when Odd Future first showed up was a genuine moment of cultural excitement. Tyler’s Bastard, the group’s 2009 breakthrough, was a dark and troubling rap record, and all the rape and murder and drug-talk seemed to reflect a certain pain that was fully evident in Tyler’s grumbling-gremlin delivery. But it was goofy and lively and inventive, too. It didn’t follow any set blueprints. Its greatest bile wasn’t directed at women or gay people or even Tyler’s absent father; it was reserved for the established rap bloggers who didn’t know what the fuck to do with them. And as Tyler and the rest of the group captured the imagination of the press and picked up steam, they took on a hope-for-the-future mantle that wasn’t really reasonable.
Nobody who understands rap music really thought Odd Future would be the next big thing, that they’d take over the genre’s mainstream. To pull off something like that, you have to make hits, and that’s something these kids weren’t interested in doing. Even their biggest anthems — “Yonkers,” “Sandwitches,” MellowHype’s “Fuck The Police” — consciously got in their own way, tripping over themselves to maintain some awkwardness when they could’ve just banged. Odd Future were more interested in awkwardness than they were in bangers. But they had mystique, especially with the then-mysterious absence of Earl Sweatshirt. They had a furious live show. And they had a scrappy, ragtag unity that made them easy to root for, even with all the terrible things that they were saying.
Of the six years I went to SXSW, the most exciting was easily 2011, the year that Odd Future came down and took over. I’ve never seen anything like that, all that energy surrounding one group of kids. The kids in question were loving it, running wild all over that motherfucker and enjoying their moment for all it was worth. They played about a million shows over that five-day stretch, and all of them felt like riots. And they came off like a mob, too; it was just just Tyler and his buddies from back home. Hodgy seemed to be composed of pure electricity; after watching him a couple of times, I really thought he was about to become a star. Mike G would lurk at the back of the stage and then step up, whenever called upon, to deliver these great little verses. Domo Genesis was a big goofball. Syd stood in the back and looked vaguely amused at everything that was happening. Tyler would get into disputes with photographers and then start bellowing shit about how “my wolves will kick your ass,” and he seemed like he meant it. The kids assembled at all these SXSW shows — the ones who’d road-tripped down from colleges around the country, not the critics and industry professionals who also flocked to these shows — treated them like gods. It was really something.
Beyond that initial moment, though, most of the great Odd Future music has come from people who were on the group’s periphery. Earl came back, had a dark night of the soul, and made Doris. Ocean came out, discovered his inner Stevie Wonder, and made Channel Orange. And nobody else in the group quite lived up to the potential that that SXSW moment promised. There have been some great Odd Future songs, but there’s been a lot more bullshit. Tyler is talented enough that he probably could be making classics, and there are certainly people who love his jazz-addled ADD rap. But when I listen to any of the albums he made after Bastard, I hear someone who loves fucking around too much to really buckle down and make something incredible. In a way, the fact that Tyler and the other Odd Future associates have come as far as they have is amazing. Tyler gets to play near the top of the bill at festivals. He gets to have Kanye West and Lil Wayne appear on one of his songs. He gets to hang out with Pharrell, his hero. He gets to have his own festival and his own terrible Adult Swim show. But he hasn’t become great. And as he drifts further and further away from that Odd Future core, it seems less and less likely that he’ll ever become great.
That Instagram video of Hodgy and Tyler suggests that it doesn’t have to be this way. These kids still have talent, and they’re still kids. And the sort of young male friendship you see in that video — two guys who can bust on each other while still showing a protective warmth toward one another — are what’s been missing in all the music that’s come from the Odd Future core in recent years. That’s the quality they showed in their video for the endless posse cut “Oldie,” probably the best thing that Odd Future have ever done as a group. I’d love Tyler and Hodgy and the rest of them — perhaps minus Earl and Frank, who seem to be on to other things — to spend some time watching that video, remembering the feeling that was in the room that day. They can have it back. And if they don’t find it again, the world will keep spinning. There are too many already-great rappers in the world for us to spend too much time worrying about the ones who could be great.
1. E-40 – “Gamed Up” (Feat. Rayven Justice)
How is he still this good? It’s not fair. It shouldn’t be happening. The Bay Area originator has been cranking out rap albums at an alarming rate since 1993, and he’s still capable of coming out with something that slaps as hard as this. He could’ve been a pimp at the age of three! He’s not talking about John Cena, he’s with hyenas! He’s smoking like he got three lungs!
2. G Herbo – “Lord Knows” (Feat. Joey Bada$$)
A young Chicago head-knocker teams up with a young Brooklyn traditionalist to rip apart a submarine sonar-ping beat from leading young leanwave architect Metro Boomin. It shouldn’t work, but it does, since they all find the same energy, the same wavelength. And think about this: If you added up the ages of Herbo, Bada$$, and Metro, you still wouldn’t reach retirement age. Rap is in good hands.
3. Lushlife – “The Waking World” (Feat. I Break Horses)
When the first shoegaze chords come in, I think music has started playing in some other tab. But no: It’s an rap/indie rock fusion that actually feels inventive and new rather than a demographic goose chase. Lushlife’s delivery is so East Coast fundamentalist that he can get away with these fanciful musical flights and his music will still sound like rap.
4. Fetty Wap – “Rich Today” (Feat. Kazzie, Montana Of 300, & Snootie Wild)
When you figure in the presences of Fetty, Montana, and Snootie, this track is a summit meeting of America’s most exciting young Auto-Tunes sing-rappers. And the fact that Fetty, a bona fide newly-minted pop star, is still making songs with these grimy motherfuckers is cause for celebration.
5. AZ – “Back To Myself” (Feat. Soshy)
AZ sounded grizzled and wistful and nostalgic 20 years ago, so now that he’s soberly canvassing his career regrets, he has a real gravity about him. The song is generic R&B cheese, but AZ still raps like an old master, which is what he his.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
When ya man is literally a bird. pic.twitter.com/myFfHyPKFq
— Otto Von Biz Markie (@Passionweiss) November 17, 2015