12. Tyler, The Creator – “Sandwitches” (Feat. Hodgy Beats) (from 2011’s Goblin)
Odd Future had solidified their persona as a crew after Tyler and Earl Sweatshirt’s one-two punch of Bastard and Earl, and built upon their principles with the Radical crew tape, and Tyler was looking to grow the movement even more with Goblin. The album had lots cult-like vibes with repeated chanting of phrases like “kill people, burn shit, fuck school” and some iteration of Wolf Gang blurted more times than any reasonable person would care to count. Hence, the simple hook of “Wolf Gang” that pulled you in no matter how much you resisted. During Tyler’s late-night television debut on Fallon, they used the song to introduce Odd Future to the wider world. Yaasin Bey (then Mos Def) was in the crowd and couldn’t help but be genuinely hyped, screaming into the camera before the show’s credits rolled. Tyler’s rhymes are tight, his youthful disregard and exuberance are way up, and the beat has a menacing punk energy to it that’s hard to deny.
11. Earl Sweatshirt – “Wool” (Feat. Vince Staples) (from 2015’s I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside)
Young Big Lips and Shyne Coldchain going in for 24-bar verses over a minimal beat? Yes, please. It takes a rare breed of rapper to keep you engaged when they throw form out the window and don’t even bother to reorient you with a hook. Luckily both Sweatshirt and Staples are cut from a special, similar cloth. There are few people that can keep up with Earl when he’s in destroy mode (ask Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, and Ab-Soul about “Really Doe”), but Staples goes bar-for-bar with him. Sweatshirt (as randomblackdude) ramps up the dramatics with piano hits that ring through the dense verses and add punctuation so the rhymes register sharply.
10. Earl Sweatshirt – “Hive” (Feat. Vince Staples & Casey Veggies) (from 2013’s Doris)
Seriously, can we get that Sweaty Staples project one time? Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples on a track together is magic, with Sweatshirt’s density balanced by Staples’ efficiency. They’ve been making music together for almost a decade now, and early evidence is exhibited on 2010’s Earl with “epaR.” Sweatshirt got a young Coldchain into rapping, and both rappers have only improved since then, so the songs get better and better. “Hive” is a prime example. Earl just goes completely nuts on the menacing, skulking beat, stuffing an incredible number of syllables and rhymes into every bar like fried rice in a take-out container. Then Coldchain comes in to execute all the bodies that Sweatshirt lined up with a lengthy verse full of subdued but potent energy, gunplay, and gangster bona fides. Casey Veggies lends his LA lisp on the hook in a return to his Odd Future roots to wrap everything up with a West Coast bow. It doesn’t matter what they call the duo, just get it cracking already.
9. The Internet – “Gabby” (Feat. Janelle Monáe) (from 2015’s Ego Death)
You’ll notice a lot of songs from Ego Death in the top 10; that album is no-skip, sultry soul. “Gabby” is one of the sexiest moments on the album due to its fluidity and nuanced approach to sexual orientation. Syd is openly gay, but Janelle Monáe has been subjected to rumors regarding her sexuality since releasing The Electric Lady in 2013. Monáe is aware that she appeals to both men and women, and has plainly stated that she wants to keep her air of sexy sophistication ambiguous in order to maximize and diversify her fanbase. Her mystery and Syd’s already potent allure combined with their obvious vocal talents and writing chops make for an irresistibly sexy romp. The sultry feel doesn’t take over the song’s arrangement, either. The combination of the deep, almost menacing bassline balanced by the slow-plucked chicken grease chord, and the perfect timing on the groove switch for the outro is just exquisite.
8. Domo Genesis – “Dapper” (Feat. Anderson .Paak) (from 2016’s Genesis)
Domo Genesis’ somewhat eponymous proper debut, Genesis, was slept on, but it was a solid outing. Genesis pushed past the stoner persona, elevated his bars, switched cadences and styles, and rhymed over an eclectic collection of beats. Often the lead single is far from the best track on the album, but Anderson .Paak can do no wrong, and this feelgood joint is as smooth as they come. Genesis rhymes with agility, weaving multis and subtly clever wordplay through that soulful Wurlitzer sample from Dexter Wansel’s “Voyager.” There aren’t many Odd Future tracks you can just two-step or zone out to, but this one is too easy to get your groove on to. To top it off, .Paak flips one of the best (of far too many) wet vagina lines of 2016 with, “Now I could turn a pussy to a kiddie pool/ And I could swim around until my fingers prune.” Smooth as eggs, as Dave Chappelle would say.
7. Odd Future – “Oldie” (from 2012’s The OF Tape Vol. 2)
Though members of Odd Future are all over each other’s projects, this is the one and only true posse cut. “Oldie” is a nice reminder of what Odd Future is about. Everyone stepped up their bars a bit on this song, and there are some nuggets that hint at each member’s individuality and what they bring to the crew. Tyler, The Creator bookends the track, taking on his usual leadership role with a couple of solid verses. Resident lyricist supreme Earl Sweatshirt turns in the best and longest verse, which happens to be the only verse he wrote while at the Coral Reef Academy in Samoa. Frank Ocean took a break from crooning to show that he could spit, turning in a clever verse that would foreshadow him coming out on Tumblr four months later with the brilliant triple entendre: “I’m high and I’m bi, wait, I mean I’m straight.” Domo Genesis, Mike G, Left Brain, and Hodgy contribute pretty good verses. The group’s clown and hypeman Jasper Dolphin picks up the mic for a surprisingly decent verse, and we even hear from Taco on the intro. Everything comes together for a cohesive 10-and-a-half-minute manifesto, and the video shoot is most likely the last time these people were all together in the same room, as the principal members would blow up soon after. The only thing missing is a verse from Syd — she could pull off a dope one if she wanted.
6. Earl Sweatshirt – “Grief” (from 2015’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside)
If it’s one thing young Sweatshirt knows, it’s grief. He’s been lamenting the death of his grandmother for years now, and her death haunts many of Earl’s songs. He’s generally a gloomy dude, but “Grief” takes his normal melancholy down into the darkest depths as the “final lament and epilogue.” Earl wrote the song during a prescription to stay indoors to remedy “medical exhaustion,” in which he slept “for, like, three weeks.” Few rappers can make a song this depressing, vulnerable, and heartfelt, have it not be utterly boring or mood-killing, and include some shit-talk with nothing but multi-syllable rhymes in complicated schemes. Rappers this far in their head and this wordy usually don’t make it very far, but Earl has perfected the art of sadness. “Grief” marks the furthest he’s gotten away from the early days of guzzling “death juice” and not giving the slightest fuck about his life. He does sorrow better than pretty much any other young rapper in the game.
5. The Internet – “Girl” (from 2015’s Ego Death)
This song wraps up the Internet’s appeal and intrigue in a sexy, smooth, groovy package. It took time to flesh out the full sextet, but their dynamic as a musically sound R&B jam band with a smoldering, sultry edge is well worth the wait. “Girl” is an occasion where Syd’s love of women is bolstered by the silky smooth sonics that each individual member of the band brings to the equation, and they coalesce into something exponentially greater than the sum of their parts. This song is a testament to the Internet’s ability to make good music, earning a place in the zeitgeist on the their own accord beyond the Odd Future affiliation.
4. Tyler, The Creator – “Yonkers” (from 2011’s Goblin)
OF stans will tell you you’re late if the first you heard of the collective was “Yonkers,” but this song is just undeniably good. The song itself was overshadowed by the video which is currently sitting at more than 87 million views on YouTube over a little less than six years, and it hit millions of views in its first two days online. With new eyes on the video came new minds wondering if Odd Future were a bunch of fake horrorcore misfits or if they warranted a serious look for their artistic merit. Usually when that kind of debate is started, something extraordinary sparks it. The “Yonkers” video is an anomaly if nothing else, but if the song weren’t at least decent, then the video would be merely an empty attempt at shock value. The song is much more than decent.
The track’s three verses in their entirety never let up on double entendre and defiant, youthful, violent angst. The first few bars alone contain a triple metaphor that manages to reference Tyler’s three split personalities on the album (the narrating therapist, Tyler himself, and Wolf Haley), three triceratops horns as dildos, and Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen who has three limbs instead of four after losing an arm in a car crash. The density continues with more metaphors galore, literal stabs at Bruno Mars, shots at B.o.B and Hayley Williams for “Airplanes,” pokes at Stevie Wonder, and even takes shots at Pitchfork. Tyler hasn’t put out a song as lyrically complex since. And with all that going on, the beat knocks with a bassline that descends into the depths of the underworld. This song is the starting point for any longevity Odd Future enjoyed.
3. Earl Sweatshirt – “Earl” (from 2010’s Earl)
Damn could this 16-year-old kid spit. He had already had a couple of projects and mixtapes coming into the game as Sly Tendencies and one third of the Backpackerz trio; it was apparent he could rap his ass off as a freshman in high school, but Earl and its title track were a completely different, more voracious beast.
The newborn Odd Future crew had dropped The Odd Future Tape, and it was mostly carried by Tyler, The Creator, Hodgy (then Hodgy Beats), Left Brain, and Inglewood upstart Casey Veggies. Veggies would leave the group shortly after to do his own thing, and he was arguably the best rapper in a mediocre group of rappers. The crew was really only a trio, and still searching for an identity at that point. Hodgy dropped the first official solo outing from any Odd Future member, The Dena Tape, but it was forgettable. Mike G followed with Mike Check, but that was just as dismissable. Tyler showed vast improvement on the buzz catalyst Bastard, particularly as a producer and less so as a rapper. Hodgy found his stride on Left Brain production with Mellowhype’s Yellowhite, but it wasn’t a transcendent project for the crew.
Earl reframed the collective as more than just a bunch of Tyler offshoots despite Earl himself being written off as an early Eminem disciple, and the title track defined not only the project, but also Earl as an artist. Most of the elements from this song are still intact in Earl’s latest songs — the dizzying rhyme schemes, inventive wordplay, ear for great samples, flow switches, and a subdued energy that still smacks you in the mouth without him acting hard. What’s changed, thankfully, is the talk about rape, hard drugs, beating women, and adolescent debauchery. But we wouldn’t have been listening for his maturation had the seed from “Earl” not have been planted, and Odd Future may have died before they truly got started.
2. The Internet – “Special Affair” (from 2015’s Ego Death)
Though a Grammy really doesn’t mean much from a critical standpoint, there is a fair amount of weight assigned to the fact that the Internet is the only Odd Future act to be nominated for the award besides Frank Ocean. This song is a huge reason why “Grammy-nominated” will be in all of the press releases for each individual member’s solo albums and their next full-length as a band.
It’s musical seduction at its finest. That irresistibly smooth bassline, Matt Martians’ cleverly syncopated drums, Steve Lacy’s soulful yet minimal guitar that’s chill-inducing when it comes in, and Syd’s feathery, gauzy vocals all come together for an exquisite lesson in coquetry. It’s something that no other OF act besides Ocean could pull off, and it’s distinctly their own. “Special Affair” is firmly rooted in R&B, resisting the influence of trap, punk, boom bap, and synthwork coursing throughout other Odd Future sounds. Straight-up R&B that doesn’t lean toward other genres is rare nowadays, and with this song, the Internet showed they hang with the best in their genre.
1. Earl Sweatshirt – “Chum” (from 2013’s Doris)
Earl has always been the most gifted lyricist of his crew — even at age 16 — but as many teenagers tend to do, he formed his identity based on his peers.
“Chum” was the first single from Doris, and it marked a complete change in Earl after returning from boarding school in Samoa. It was easily the most inward and revealing song he had released to date, and though we now know him as an introspective wordsmith who dazzlingly flirts with depression and agoraphobia, we didn’t then. Just two years before the re-introductory “Chum” was released, Earl guzzled “death juice” full of coke, tree, oxy, cough syrup, and beer in the video for “Earl.” The darkly shaded humor, teenage invincibility, and purposeful stupidity that defined Odd Future were solidified in that video, and Earl was integral in cementing the crew’s identity while finding his own as an artist.
As quickly as he defined himself and the group collectively with “Earl,” he shed that persona with “Chum.” The same rhyme skills were there, but they were clearly coming from a more focused individual, who was confident in himself outside of his crew. All of the ostentation and showiness was gone, and Earl was just a dexterous rhymer and rapidly improving producer (as randomblackdude) making songs about a life that was interesting without the theatrics. Doris still had moments where the old Earl would show up, like “Whoa,” but Tyler himself acknowledged the marked change in Earl on the intro:
Niggas think cause you fucking made “Chum” and got all personal that niggas won’t go back to that old fucking 2010 shit about talking ’bout fucking everything all — no, fuck that nigga, I got you, fuck that.
Tyler tried to keep the old Earl alive, but there was really no going back. Earl was too valuable of an artist to have his potential and artistry muffled in a group where talent and fuckery were closely knotted. He paved the way for Hodgy, the Internet, Pyramid Vritra, and everyone else to be serious artists and to be respected as such. All of that started with “Chum,” and that’s why it’s at the top of this list.