Amid all the excitement generated by Odd Future pair Tyler, the Creator and Hodgy Beats’ show-stealing appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, nobody seems to have noticed that they sold out.
Not that there’s anything expressly wrong with that – it’s just interesting to note when a group that have built their reputation on the uncontrolled, self-consciously offensive speech abandon that schema at the first offer of a plush TV spot. With little or no material in their armoury that would be deemed suitable for network television, Tyler and Hodgy took to the NBC stage with an altered version of new single ‘Sandwitches,’ minus the four f-words contained in the first line and numerous instances thereafter.
In spite of Tyler’s liberating use of the entire set during his performance and an unusual diversion involving a gnome, the duo’s performance was notable for how tame it was in comparison to the group’s deliberately provocative material. Tyler’s debut mixtape, 2009’s hugely promising Bastard, runs the gamut of hip hop clichés from misogyny, homophobia and rape fantasies right through the trite devotion to his mom. The beats are simplistic and undeniably raw, but there’s an obtuse sense of melody on tracks like ‘Odd Toddlers,’ ‘French!’ and ‘Bastard’ that hint at the potential of this 19-year-old, husky-voiced artist.
The concept of a hip hop collective is one that is alien to most rock critics who are wedded to the ideal of the nuclear four- and five-piece rock band, but the temptation to compare them with the Wu-Tang Clan should be avoided. In style, though they reject the label, Odd Future have much more in common with the horrorcore rappers of the mid-nineties, particularly Wu-Tang alumni Gravediggaz and Esham, both of whom had a profound effect on Eminem, whose particular style is the most obvious influence on Tyler’s desperate rasp.
It’s worth remembering that Tyler, like the other members of the collective, has barely reached the age of seniority, and has two years to go before he’s legally allowed to drink under the United States’ hilariously outdated alcohol laws. His promise is evident to all but the least discerning ear, but his execution is undeniably juvenile. Fans will hear him ruthlessly scythe his absentee father with the line, “Fuck a deal, I just want my father’s email, so I can tell him how much I hate him in detail.” However his focus just as quickly wanders, and he’s soon excoriating faggots and lining up women as dispassionate fuck-stations.
Which is essentially the problem with Odd Future: they are only as complex as the standard rap lexicon allows them to be, which, with a couple of notable exceptions, is not very complex at all. Whereas Tyler is justifiably in awe of his mother, his relationship to women is not different than that of Tupac Shakur, who had similar reverence for his mother while treating every other woman in his lyrics as a sex object. Shakur had the benefit of a (tragically short) career to justify his conflicted attitude towards women. Tyler has had no such time, but he does have the records of those more complex artists, and in any case youth is no excuse for misogyny. Renaissance man he is not.
However youth is very much at the core of what makes Odd Future what they are. Above all, they are a group of angst-filled teenage males and they, predictably, appeal primarily to overstimulated teenage males – though, impressively, this demographic seems to transcend class and race. Their audience is, in many cases, younger than them and almost exclusively male. That’s very much the secret to their success: whereas modern hip hop has embraced r&b to the point where it’s almost unusual to hear a mainstream rap song without a soaring (female-sung) chorus, Odd Future are unabashedly and aggressively masculine. They don’t care that women don’t listen to or identify with their music: they don’t respect women, so they couldn’t care less if they don’t listen to them.
Odd Future’s male-dominance goes beyond the mere absence of women and the outward misogyny of their lyrics. Musically, Odd Future cede very little to the opposite sex: there’s very little groove or danceability to their songs. Lil Wayne’s lyrics may be similarly macho in outlook, but his music is sexy. Odd Future’s music is as primitive, aggressive and macho as heavy metal. Indeed, it would be no surprise to learn that the group were devotees of the devil’s music – they wore masks bearing the upside-down cross on Fallon, after all. Glen Benton would appreciate the sentiment, if not the extremity, of the gesture.
Their apparently genuine distaste for religion hints at a hitherto unrealised nuance, but for no much of their appeal hinges on their arguably controversial lyrics and genuine promise as musicians. As we’ve come to expect from internet phenoms, their fanbase is small but vocal, and extremely protective of its charge. Most observers will notice a kinship with fellow outcasts Insane Clown Posse: whereas Juggalos find strength and confidence in numbers, Odd Future fans have found similar unity of purpose in the anonymity and associated hubris of the online community.
It will be interesting to see how Odd Future’s online fanbase will develop as the group sidles towards mainstream success. Tyler will release his first solo album proper, Goblin, later this year on the world’s premiere indie label, XL Recordings, home of M.I.A. and Dizzee Rascal. The group’s appearance on Fallon is unlikely to be their last, and what have been sparse and geographically-dispersed performances to date are likely to become more regular and more localised as the group become more popular.
Nevertheless, Odd Future are unlikely to penetrate the mainstream in the same way as Wu-Tang did in the ‘90s. Even more so than the unashamedly nerdy Wu-Tang, Odd Future appeal to a very specific demographic of kids who have scant interest in paying for records, a fact tacitly acknowledged by the group when they began to issue mixtapes from the off without any real commercial plan. They’ll be a big live draw, for sure, but barring an about-turn from the immensely-talented Tyler, it’s difficult to see their buzz status extending much further than it has.
Not such an odd future after all.