Requiem for Odd Future: Profane, Provocative and Wild as Hell

By Sameer Rao Jun 12, 2015

Well, it’s official. While plugging his latest album, "Cherry Bomb," Odd Future founder and frontman Tyler, the Creator has confirmed that the band is no more. Both Tyler and the group’s main critical darling, Earl Sweatshirt, had hinted at the seemingly amicable breakup via cryptic tweets a few weeks back. And since then, the 15-member L.A. collective made up of MCs, singers, DJs, producers, actors, directors, sound engineers and a human mascot has been the subject of intense speculation and much retrospective praise. On Noisey, writer Ryan Bassil described the band (full name: Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) as part of a patheon: 

The grand necropolis of musical history holds few perpetual groups. Once a band calls it quits, they’re usually crammed deep in the chamber of the past and forgotten. A few survive in the public conciousness. Bands like Nirvana and the Ramones; rap outfits ranging from NWA to the Wu Tang Clan; and pop acts like the Spice Girls and N Sync. These acts outlive the necrosis of their careers, passing of members, and decline of botanically immaculate skin to exist immortally, bound by their intrinsic ties to the culture of their time.

Such high praise and sensational, near-histrionic mourning (a little bizarre, considering that the end of Odd Future has not meant an end to any of its MCs’ solo careers) obscures the problems at the center of the group’s entire ethos. Like many groups before them, Odd Future’s legacy is mired in controversy. In a 2014 piece Gigwise presented examples of Tyler, the Creator’s behavior that two of the band’s core problems—homophobia and sexism:

May 2011: Sara Quinn of pop duo Tegan & Sara writes a blog taking aim at Tyler’s "homophobic slurs."

"As journalists and colleagues defend, excuse and congratulate ‘Tyler, The Creator,’ I find it impossible not to comment," Quinn, who is openly gay, wrote. "In any other industry would I be expected to tolerate, overlook and find deeper meaning in this kid’s sickening rhetoric? Why should I care about this music or its ‘brilliance’ when the message is so repulsive and irresponsible?"

Tyler’s response? "If Tegan And Sara Need Some Hard Dick, Hit Me Up.” 

These issues show up in much of the group’s work, particularly Tyler’s. In his breakout hit, “Yonkers,” he uses homophobic slurs to trash then-ascendant MC B.O.B. In a subsequent single called “She,” he describes a stalking fantasy with allusions to necrophilia.

Ignoring these problems does a disservice Odd Future’s complex legacy—which, to be certain, is significant.

Since the group came together in about 2007, members and thier affiliates have released dozens of mixtapes and albums. The enigmatic lyricist Earl Sweatshirt, whose latest album "I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside" came out this year, added notable depth to the collective’s output. The introspective lyricist has described melancholy and paranoia with prescient vulnerability that offers a valuable counterpoint to Tyler’s put-on brutality.

The diversity in tone of the group’s releases contributed to a broader sense of their public identity. In contrast to the heaviness of some of their rhymes, the collective consolidated their branding diversity with "Loiter Squad," a sketch show on Adult Swim that revealed the group’s penchant for silliness and eccentricity. In one sketch, for example, non-musical Odd Future member Jasper parodies D’Angelo’s "Untitled." He seems to be ad-libbing before the camera pans out thanks to a strong studio reaction to his unexpected flatulence. Amidst that chaos, the parody loses none of its committment to the original video’s subtle details. This bit encapuslates the group’s simultaneous understanding of cultural nuance and committment to humor. Put this all together with entrees into fashion and festival curation, and you get a sense of how far Odd Future’s branding went— all done independently. By pissing people off the group earned a cult following that bought into an identity spread across many platforms. And they did this all before any of them turned 30. 

Perhaps most notably to the mainstream, Odd Future worked with and gave significant credibility to Frank Ocean, whose 2012 album "Channel Orange" marks a high point for contemporary R&B. When Ocean publicly announced that "Channel Orange" was in part inspired by a romance that he had with another man, it was celebrated as a turning point for how the hip-hop world embraces non-heteronormative artists. Tyler, in his Twitter reaction, stated that he was proud of his brother then added, "Im A Toilet." 

At the core, this is maybe the truest (if a bizzare) representation of Odd Future: an embrace of the changing tide without sacrificing any of its troll-heavy irreverence. They made songs and comedy abrasively, problematically, and with an astute realization of how controversy creates attention. There is no way to excuse the group’s outright sexism and homophobia even if they’re understood to be trolling, but there is a way to see these problems as part of the bigger picture. Odd Future’s members, who are young, irreverent and predominantly black, embodied a sense of confrontation that so much of the the broader music-loving world either seeks to commodify or completely dismiss. On lesser-known member Hodgy Beats’s "Alone," he addresses the pressure of others’ expectations on his freedom when he raps the following: 

You can’t define who you are, give fine-line print refinement
Motives for better timing, my motive’s forever rhyming
I open the forum for them, they’re waiting for me to chime in
And say what I said, Simon/I’m debating if I should sign in…

Majority of people are minority; underhanded, I understand it
Being taken advantage of ain’t the best feeling, is it?

That pressure from the culture at large that expects them to fulfill some broader trope—the gangster, the pimp, the classicist—compels the group’s "fuck you" attitude. And that attitude manifests in their best known songs. In Tyler’s “Sandwitches” (which, like “She” and “Yonkers," came off of his studio debut, "Goblin"), he implores the listeners:

Come on kids, fuck that class and hit that bong/Let’s buy guns and kill those kids with dads and mom/With nice homes, 41k’s, and nice ass lawns/Those privileged fucks got to learn that we ain’t taking no shit.

In the outro he adds, “And we don’t fucking make horrorcore, you fucking idiots/ Listen deeper than the music before you put it in a box.”

If you take Odd Future’s trolling as just that—trolling—then you get the idea that there’s more to their stance than just blatant ignorance. As immense numbers of hip-hop collectives languished in obscurity, Odd Future seemed to intuitively understand that a nihilistic public image would be the only way that they could stay in the public eye. Yet they’ve have done much to complicate their image of brutish ignoramuses in the years since their debut EP, "The Odd Future Tape Vol. 1," dropped. They’ve done it all with an almost-complete control over their presentation that few black artists are allowed. And Odd Future paved the way for artists such as Chief Keef, Run the Jewels and numerous others to make equally problematic and sometimes indefensible art that, regardless of its intentions, got a pop auduence to pay attention to complicated and outright abrasive aspects of black male identity. Some of their successors, like Lil B and Death Grips, have embraced eccentricity in art and style in a way that hasn’t been nearly as popular for artists of color since the ’90s. 

Overall, Odd Future created a new template for what hip-hop, comedy and youth culture could do, manipulating the old industry’s formulas to their advantage all the while. They managed to do this with a cavalier independence and originality that evaded categorization. 

Now, let’s see where the next generation of self-aware, irreverent and introspective young MCs take the torch.