Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All is performing rap on its terms
The group of skateboarding, freewheeling rappers from Los Angeles are redefining the genre. The group is performing at the Coachella festival.
HIP-HOP COLLECTIVE: Members from left include Mike G., Tyler the Creator, Frank Ocean, Syd the Kid, Left Brain, Domo Genesis and Hodgy Beats. The Los Angeles-based group will be playing Coachella for the first time. (Kirk McKoy / Los Amgeles Times)
Like most Internet contagions, the ﬁrst germs of information spread via viral video. Directed by the crew's founder, Tyler, the Creator, the clip for a song called "French" felt like Larry Clark's "Kids" updated for the "Jackass" and American Apparel generation: full of skateboarding, vomiting, automatic handguns and suggestive maneuvers with a plastic Ronald McDonald statuette.
FOR THE RECORD:
Odd Future: A profile of the rap collective Odd Future in the Arts & Books section elsewhere in this edition omits the names of two albums released by members of the group since its London and New York shows in the fall. In addition to the three albums mentioned, the collective released Mellowhype's "Blackendwhite" and the Jet Age of Tomorrow's "The Journey to the 5th Echelon." Since the group's beginning, it has also produced a variety of other albums, singles and mix tapes. The error was detected after the section went to press. —
Its semi-sequel, "Earl," featured 16-year-old Earl Sweatshirt rapping about rape, homicide and drinking "six different liquors with a Prince wig plastered on." His deadpan dystopia featured blood, a beauty salon, a blender full of weed, booze and pills, seizures and more skateboarding — and may have prompted the high schooler to be shipped to boarding school.
Circumventing the major rap gatekeepers, Odd Future appeared in articles by British tastemaking magazine the Wire, influential music site Pitchfork and lifestyle platform the Fader. At home, lauded producer Flying Lotus, a vanguard of the Low End Theory beat scene, began evangelically tweeting about them — and an October booking at the storied club soon followed. Shows in London and New York won more admirers, including endorsements from Mos Def, Kanye West and Sean "Diddy" Combs.
Since then, the wolves under the Odd Future banner have released a handful of singles, and three albums — Tyler's "Bastard," Sweatshirt's "Earl," Frank Ocean's acclaimed R&B-fusion mix tape album "Nostalgia/Ultra" — all released free on the Odd Future Tumblr site. The onslaught has culminated in mobs of moshing teenagers wearing "Free Earl" shirts — a riff on his rumored boarding school sentence — and hollering "Wolf Gang" at every sold-out show.
FOR THE RECORD: A profile of the rap collective Odd Future in the April 10 Arts & Books section omitted the names of two albums released by members of the group since its London and New York shows in the fall. In addition to the three albums mentioned, the collective released Mellowhype's "Blackendwhite" and the Jet Age of Tomorrow's "The Journey to the 5th Echelon." Since the group's beginning, it has also produced a variety of other albums, singles and mix tapes.
The video for "Yonkers," which found Tyler eating a cockroach, vomiting and ultimately putting a rope around his neck and appearing to hang himself, earned 5 million views and MTV rotation. The limelight also shined on the surrounding cast, whose names sound ripped from an Afro-Futurist comic book: Domo Genesis, Hodgy Beats, Syd the Kid, Frank Ocean, Mike G, Left Brain, the Super 3, Taco and Jasper the Dolphin. Self-professed computer nerds, they all have blog and Twitter accounts that they actively employ.
None are older than 23, but their sensibilities are shockingly sculpted for a rap crew of any age — an iconography forged on upside down cruciﬁxes, the occasional swastika, Kodachrome colors, skate culture and a slashing irony. They love bacon, cartoons and Eminem. They hate comedian Steve Harvey, school and dance rappers.
One of the most feverishly discussed acts at the South by Southwest music festival in March, Odd Future makes its Coachella debut Friday, just 15 months after it joined YouTube. It has created a cult without offering a creation story, offending thousands of people in the process, and has been compared to the Sex Pistols, Eminem, Wu Tang Clan and Nirvana.
"They aren't user-friendly, and that's been lacking in hip-hop for the last 20 years," said drummer and hip-hop expert Questlove of the Roots. He compares them to gangsta rap and hard-core punk. "Lyrically, they channel the ﬁrst Geto Boys' record, and their attitude, music and presentation bring a similar dark aggression. Odd Future is the new Bad Brains, but I think the mainstream will embrace them even more."
There will be ample opportunity. Earlier this year, Odd Future signed a deal for a pilot on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block — a live-action skit show in the vein of "Jackass" and "Chappelle's Show." XL Recordings, home of indie darlings Vampire Weekend and British provocateur M.I.A., signed a one-off deal to release Tyler's commercial debut, "Goblin," due May 10.
Even Poetry magazine chimed in last month with an essay on the collective. "Is OFWGKTA offensive?," asked writer Bethlehem Shoals. "Yes, but they're also undeniably funny, sad, and, somehow, devoid of moral gravity in a way that's both silly and nearly surreal."
The wolf lair is in the back house of a 1920s Spanish-style home in the Washington-Crenshaw district. Like the music itself, the Odd Future studio is organized chaos: drum kits and guitars, a John Coltrane poster, a TV that looks like it's never been turned on, books, DVDs and CDs, with a comparably pristine recording room.
The space belongs to the parents of Odd Future's 18-year-old producer and engineer, Sydney Bennett, a.k.a. Syd the Kid, but the graduate of the Hamilton High Music Academy started renting out her homemade studio several years ago. Word spread rapidly, and one day in 2008 a dozen Odd Futurists appeared outside her window.
She was headed to In-N-Out Burger but told them if they were still there when she returned they could work. "Hodgy, Left Brain, Tyler and their friends were still there when I returned," she said. "We recorded seven songs that night, and they never stopped coming."
Before that, the group existed largely as subversive-minded skateboarders lingering around the Supreme store on Fairfax Avenue, rebels uninterested in mixing in with the city's main three rap circles: gangsta rap traditionalists, skinny-jeaned jerkin' rappers and what Tyler called "post-Drake clichéd Slauson rappers."
Tyler is at the center of Odd Future, a 20-year-old who declared last year on his Formspring account that his goal was to "make great music … be the leader for the kids who were picked on and called weird, and show the world that being yourself and doing what you want without caring what other people think, is the key to being happy." That's as close as you'll find to a mission statement for Odd Future.