I hate Odd Future. I also reluctantly love Odd Future. Sometimes. But the young rappers of the LA hip-hop collective thrive on just that reaction.
On the one hand, the group puts out near genius swaggering and bravado-filled tracks. De facto leader Tyler, The Creator‘s song “Yonkers” is exemplary – he rides a down right nasty beat to all the right places, delivering lines like “I’m a fuckin’ walkin’ paradox, no, I’m not/Threesomes with a fuckin’ triceratops.” As a result, the song’s more gruesome lines – e.g., “I’ll crash that airplane that faggot nigga B.o.B. is in/And stab Bruno Mars in the goddamn esophagus” – seem palatably unrefined in their honesty. Paired with the energy Tyler and Hodgy Beats showed in an epic performance of “Sandwitches” on Jimmy Fallon, one could overlook the sheer horror in their lyricism.
But then, on the rest of Goblin, Tyler spits lines so vile about raping and killing, slurs that sound so obviously from the heart, that no amount of talent could make the record listenable. On “Transylvania“, for example: “Goddamn I love women/Daydream about penis being in ’em/Meet them with a big grin, with a Mac-10/Rope, katana and then I skin ’em.” All Odd Future’s youthful energy, at times like these, shows itself as something that needs containment. And maybe a muzzle.
Recent album OF Tape Vol. 2‘s 10-minute closer “Oldie” combines all of that paradox into one song, putting my particular bipolar response at the center. It becomes obvious – especially in the haphazard party video they released with “Oldie” – that Odd Future just is a group that deserves respect and vitriol.
More specifically, they should be hated for the exact same reasons that too-talented NBA rookies are. They are young and they obviously don’t give a shit about doing things in a way you’d be happy with. But none of that ability changes the fact that they’re simultaneously and infuriatingly annoying – nor the fact that they’d be better if they stopped trying to prove they’re better than your rules.
In the last verse of the song, Tyler raps with too much self-assurance:
I started an empire, I ain’t even old enough
to drink a fuckin’ beer, I’m tipsy off this soda pop
this is for the niggers in the suburbs
and the white kids with nigga friends who say the n-word
But then he follows it up with lines so honest and so touching that you start to question how bad of a guy he could be. Maybe he is just misunderstood. Why else would he dedicate the song to:
the ones that got called weird, fag, bitch, nerd
cause you was into jazz, kitty cats, and Steven Spielberg
Whatever else Odd Future are doing, they’re celebrating the fact that they’ve made a name for themselves on their own terms. Few others have had the sheer audacity to drop such terrifying lines while wearing anti-Christ symbols and risk the response. And fewer could do so to critical acclaim. Tyler sums things up in “Oldie”‘s last lines:
just admit it, not only are we talented, we’re rad as fuck
But with that, Tyler makes obvious something that’s been true of Odd Future all along: they’re too focused on breaking all the rules to really use their talent. It’s a remarkably adolescent thing to get so distracted. And like most adolescents, they’re dicks. But that’s a phase we all (hopefully) grow out of. When Odd Future reach that point, they’ll be pushing their beautiful oddities without the unnecessary shock value that detracts from their songs. Until then, we have “Oldie” – a song that no adult can listen to without a patronizing “I remember when I was like that…”.