Odd Future, or Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, was an LA based group of skateboarding, bacon loving, do-it-yourself, kids who somehow made it big in the music industry, seemingly by pissing off everyone with a finely tuned moral compass. There’s more to this collective cult-rap group than meets the eye, and if you’re at all emersed in the hip-hop/rap scene, then you know about Odd Future. Maybe you’ve never heard any of their self-made, tumultuous tracks, or maybe you recognize them from their indicative ‘OF’ dripping donuts, or maybe you’re a fan of the group’s off the wall ringleader, Tyler, The Creator. However you recognize this hodgepodge group of kid rappers, their ability to polarize while popularizing is a noteworthy journey of collective creativity, personal self-image, or self-images, and a clear and potent ‘we don’t give a fuck’ mentality, that certainly left its mark on music.
(photo via OddFuture)
I’ll start with some background on the group. Odd Future originated in Los Angeles in 2007. The do-it-yourself group of teens and twenty somethings wrote and produced their own music in a makeshift studio residing in the guesthouse of group members Taco and Syd’s Los Angeles residence. The group released their first music project without the use of a major record label, making it available for free download on their website. Odd Future’s fame didn’t materialize over night, but eventually their sarcastic, anarchist, heavy, punk-rap tracks gained them a cult-following, causing a blog frenzy of attempts to understand the buzz around this quite literally odd group of kids.
(photo via OddFuture)
Through extensive internet research, interview watching, and social media stalking, one thing has become very clear to me: Odd Future does not want to be put in a box, and they won’t be. Whether it’s Tyler eating a cockroach, vomiting it up, then later hanging himself, in his 2011 ‘Yonkers’ music video, or the groups infamously aggressive, violent, sexist and homophobic verses, everything the group does seems to shock and offend people, and that’s the point. Many of the interviews I read asked the group the same question, re-wording the inquiry a million different ways, but all filtering down to the same general idea: “what do you think of people being offended by your music?” In which Odd Future members repeat the same sort of answers: “if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it”. And that’s the truth. Odd Future’s music is fucked up, it’s sadistic, it can be hard to listen to, and, for the most part, it’s fiction. The group even offers this disclaimer in their 2011 track ‘Radicals’:
“Random disclaimer! Hey, don’t do anything that I say in this song, okay? It’s fucking fiction. If anything happens, don’t fucking blame me, White America, fuck Bill O’Reilly.” – Tyler, The Creator via ‘Radicals’
Their music is like a journey through the subconscious, digging deep into the repressed, angry, animalistic corners of your mind, allowing you to momentarily be something you’re not. Tyler, and his fellow group members are constantly creating stories that feature alternate personas of their invention, most infamous of which is Tyler’s ‘Wolf Haley’, present in the 2011 track ‘Yonkers’:
“I’m Wolf, Tyler put this fuckin’ knife in my hand
I’m Wolf, Ace gon’ put that fuckin’ hole in my head
And I’m Wolf, that was me who shoved a cock in your bitch” – Tyler, The Creator via ‘Yonkers’
When I hear ‘Yonkers’ i’m immediately transformed into a fictional version of myself, one clad in black leather, setting fire to cities, and laughing while I watch them burn to the ground. It’s fucked up, but it feels great. Odd Future’s music allows creativity and imagination on the part of their fan base and listeners, because it taps into the parts of the mind that are deemed as inappropriate under our cultural moral code. These odd alternate personas created by the group members allow them to be anyone, while simultaneously being no one, exploring nightmares, daydreams, suicidal visions, etc., all under the safety of a superfluous identity.
(photo via OddFuture)
So, Why are people so angry about these fictional rap narratives? Like any movement, what Odd Future created is art, and whether or not the general public finds it palatable is of no concern to them. Ironically, other artistic movements can be massively controversial without receiving the same widespread criticisms Odd Future did. Movies and books portray sexist, homophobic, and violent storylines quite frequently, but are never outcasted as detrimental to society, primarily on the basis that they are fictional stories of the imagination. Well, so is Odd Future’s musical storytelling. It’s an experiment with character, storytelling and individualism, somewhat allowing a dissociation of the person speaking with the narrative spoken.
The members of Odd Future are all creatives, some film-makers, designers, beat makers, poets, etc., their music is their story, and they decidedly will not change it to please anyone but themselves. Aside from their musical, and artistic successes, this is one of their largest contributions to the music industry, their undying transparency about controlling their own self-image. The group has been demonized as excessively homophobic and sexist, yet many of the group members are quite fluid when it comes to gender and sexuality. Syd, Odd Future’s sound engineer, responsible for the production of the groups punk-rap beats, is an openly gay female. Group member Frank Ocean has also spoken out about the fluid spectrum of sexuality, writing a ‘love letter’ on his tumblr page detailing the summer he fell in love with another boy:
“4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide.” – Frank Ocean via Tumblr
In his latest album “Skum Fuck, Flower Boy”, an uncharacteristically slow and jazzy album, Tyler, The Creator also discusses his own sexuality, stating in his verses:
“Next line will have ’em like ‘Woah / I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004” – Tyler, The Creator via ‘I Ain’t Got Time!’
Odd Future member Mike G tweeted this statement about Tyler, The Creator, pertaining to Tyler’s sexuality:
“The homie not gay, he just likes dudes” – Mike G via deleted Tweet
The members of Odd Future exemplify an understanding of sexual fluidity that preceded its now heavy predominance in popular culture. Sexuality is much more tabooed among men than it is women, especially in rap and hip-hop culture, and neither Frank Ocean, nor Tyler, The Creator have ever come out starkly stating what sexual orientation labels they identify under, and they shouldn’t have to. Sexuality is a spectrum, and culture grubbers need to stop forcing creative, fluid, individuals into neatly representative boxes because of their own inability to understand a more fluid multi-sex attraction. Tyler’s not gay, he just likes dudes, and maybe women too, and if he does, why limit himself with inane titles just for societies comfort?
(photo via OddFuture)
The members of Odd Future upheld their individual personal self-images to the bitter end, and we should thank them for their bravery and perseverance of doing so while enduring a culture of criticism and hatred. The music industry is notorious for presenting censored, palatable artists, with stories and tracks that fit a perfect formula for exploitation and record sales. True self-images, and true artistic visions often get muddled and recreated when processed through the capitalistic machine that is the music industry. Odd Future decided to go the self-made way, fervently keeping with their individual talents, and unique artistic image, regardless of who it pissed off. Odd Future’s music is truly for the misfits, it spawned a generation of individuals who found strength and imaginative power in self-creation, personal storytelling and individualism. Fortunately for us, they truly left their mark on the music world by paving the way to a more Odd Future.