It’s easy to hate Odd Future. Of all artists in the music industry, bands, rap collectives, solo artists, etc, few are easier to blanketly show disdain for than Odd Future. Chris Brown maybe? Nobody really likes Justin Bieber at this point. But Odd Future really beg to hated.
And that opinion is duly noted. Yet the Los Angeles rap collective known as Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All is the nutshell story of hip-hop in the 21st century. Top to bottom, controversy to success, they perfectly represent a beautiful cross section of what rap has become, and what it should be, and what it was, and what it can be, for better or worse.
But we should start at the beginning, right? A couple of kids, straight out of high school, show up to Sydney “Syd tha Kyd” Bennett’s house (known as “The Trap”) and beg for some time in her make-shift studio. Among these kids are Tyler the Creator, Left Brain, Hodgy Beats, Jasper Dolphin, Matt Martians, and former-OFWGKTA member but frequent collaborator Casey Veggies. It wasn’t a full posse yet, but it was kids wanting to experiment in the art of hip-hop and beat making.
The end of high school rapidly approaches and new members arrive, including staccato deliverer Domo Genesis, prodigy Earl Sweatshirt, gold-mouthed Mike G, and R&B critical darling Frank Ocean. The releases of The Odd Future Tape in 2008 and Radical in 2010 made people take note, and the rise to fame was immediate.
At this point in the article, just remember, you hate Odd Future.
And believe you me, there were reasons to hate Odd Future. They were anti-commercialism at its finest. In three years, the collective had released two mixtapes and at least ten solo albums/mixtapes, among them Earl Sweatshirt’s debut Earl (which would lead to his mom sending him away to an undisclosed boarding school, leading to the internet rally of “Free Earl Sweatshirt”), the first part in Tyler the Creator’s trilogy of albums, Bastard, and albums by various subgroups like MellowHype (Hodgy Beats and Left Brain) and The Jet Age of Tomorrow (Matt Martians and Hal Williams).
“Don’t confuse my personality with my attitude. My personality is who I am. My attitude depends on who you are.”
– Frank Ocean
Of course their rise to fame, while requiring its own dictionary, is not that far different than any other hip-hop collective or artist. Gain internet fame for a mixtape, get signed with a label OR start a label yourself, then become a star. Odd Future followed all the steps, which came to a head in Tyler’s winning of Best New Artist at the MTV Video Music Awards. The issue was that Odd Future were/are hated because of their knack for controversy.
Kids, literally kids, starting chants like “Kill people burn shit fuck school” at their live shows and rapping things like “I’m stabbing any blogging faggot hipster with a Pitchfork” (“Yonkers”) or “Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome” (“Tron Cat”) is cause for concern. Keep in mind, these are literally kids, still developing their skills and, like sponges, are observing everything art culture has to offer. Quickly, Odd Future were attacked for their use of the word “Faggot” and for their violent portrayal of women in their music. Rightfully so, as well. No one should defend that that violent imagery is acceptable; it’s 2013 and we as a society should know better. Odd Future should know better. But it’s not Odd Future’s fault ENTIRELY. The issue of misogyny and homophobia in hip-hop has been around since, well, maybe the inception of the genre. Here are some things to consider about hip-hop, as a WHOLE:
More than any other genre, it is male driven and male controlled. You better hold on to Nicki Minaj, because there aren’t many female rappers out there to hold on to.
The first ever rap song to reach the Billboard Top 40 was Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”, which featured the homophobic slurs “I said he’s a fairy I do suppose / Flyin’ through the air in pantyhose”. That was in 1979. Tame by today’s standards, but the precedent stands.
Dr. Dre has a song called “Bitches Ain’t Shit”. I think that sums up the lyrical view on women in hip-hop.
You can blame Odd Future all you want, but the reality is that they were grandfathered into a culture that was already breeding these ideologies. The Lil B’s and Azealia Banks of the industry are few and very far between and it’s only with the rise of both these artists and maybe Macklemore, among others, that there is BEGINNING to become an acceptance of women and gay rights in hip-hop. You should put the entire industry on trial before you singularly hate Odd Future, as potentially unhealthy for the problem as they are.
And they are unhealthy, but what goes overlooked is how progressive as a singular unit Odd Future is for not only hip-hop but also music in general. Consider the following when discussing the misogyny and homophobia of Odd Future:
Odd Future producer Syd tha Kyd is one of the only (and I mean ONLY) female producers in all of hip-hop.
Syd tha Kyd, if you were wondering, opening identifies herself as a lesbian.
Frank Ocean became the first MAJOR music star to come out of the closet last year.
To put it under a microscope for a moment, Odd Future and their operation are shockingly more progressive than, well, almost anyone else in hip-hop. If there was true misogyny and homophobia, on any level let alone on the violent pedestal their music elevates, we likely wouldn’t have two openly gay musicians and one of approximately five female producers in all of the industry harboring themselves in OFWGKTA. Both musicians, and the group itself, have actively come out and downplayed the power of the group’s words with the classic retort of, “Really? They’re just words”.
And let’s be honest, can you blame them for any of this? We have a tendency within the musical and cultural landscape to push something to the brink of exploitation, and then criticize it when it finally does break through. Punk rock began (for simplicity) with the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash. It evolved into Bad Religion and the Dead Kennedys. Then we got to Misfits and Bad Brains, and with each progression came a group of people in the mainstream that were offended. Go back and listen to The Ramones… it’s fairly tame by today’s punk rock standards.
This is, quite simply, the way music works. It’s a cyclical function. We continue to evolve or re-evlove a genre until someone makes it offensive, and then like a shrew, we cast them out and stone them and quietly wait for an artist to retreat back to basics. Hip-Hop had lost the shock value. It was about time someone brought it back.
But I get it. You still hate Odd Future.
Odd Future, from the word ‘go’, were never looking to make friends. They constantly get in altercations with photographers, fist fight fans at shows, get in Twitter battles online, and take shots at celebrities both in their music and in interviews. In the beginning it was shocking. It was different. Rappers have always been difficult but now there was a collective that, as one single entity, was doing and saying whatever they wanted with no regard for anyone else. And it’s harder to cast out twelve people than it is one.
“Do what the fuck you want. Stand for what the fuck you believe in and don’t let nobody tell you you can’t do what the fuck you want. I’m a fuckin’ unicorn. Fuck anybody who says I’m not.”
– Tyler the Creator
You know who else did and said whatever they wanted with no regard for anyone else? The Rolling Stones. The advent of rock and roll was, in its very nature, off putting and shocking. The advent of punk rock was shocking and off putting. The beginning of hip-hop was off putting and shocking. Odd Future are, in many ways, transcending hip-hop into some neo-punk 21st century brand of rap where antiestablishment sentiments and disregard for “the culture” and “social etiquette” are meaningless. The comparisons to punk rock almost beg to be made on many levels, especially when an Odd Future concert looks like a Circle Jerks show circa 1981.
This punk/hip-hop dichotomy doesn’t excuse their actions, but I think it certainly gives it all a context. When was the last time we were shocked listening to hip-hop? Lyrically it has been years since parents got upset that 50 Cent had taken us all to the candy shop to lick his lollipop. And the misogyny? The homophobia? Those elements have been lingering on the surface of the hip-hop community for years and years and years, practically since the genre began. Odd Future, for better or worse, have become a catalyst for change. In a positive way? Maybe not. But in a negative way? Unless you’re that deeply sensitive to the words in their lyrics, no. Odd Future, to my knowledge, have never gang banged a pregnant woman or burned down a gay man’s house. And now there is self-awareness in the genre, partially BECAUSE of the outcry of their music, towards analyzing hip-hop through a deeper scope. Odd Future’s extremism has revealed the flawed subtleties that rappers have been getting away with for years, “Rapper’s Delight” included. And I can only hope that as the group gets more popular (a major label debut by Earl later this year should help with that) that some of these issues, particularly Syd The Kyd’s plea for there to be more women in hip-hop and producing, are answered.
Add on their label, their clothing line, their various social media outlets (Tyler’s Vine account is great), and their TV show Loiter Squad on Adult Swim, and you have young people doing exactly what young people in this country used to do: Rebel and have fun. Youthful ignorance is a part of the human experience. Odd Future is just living it out on a public forum, and in the long run potentially doing more good than bad.