Q&A: How Odd Future’s Syd the Kyd and Matt Martians Invented the Internet
The psych-pop duo on being out-and-proud and living off waffles
Odd Future, hip-hop troublemakers and stars of our December issue, are expanding their musical nebula into realms far beyond foul-mouthed tantrums and nostalgic R&B smoothies. Enter the Internet, the crew’s new kaleidoscopic pop outfit consisting of Matt Martians (of beatmakers Jet Age of Tomorrow) and trusty DJ and engineer Syd the Kyd, two best friends and roommates who just released a hallucinogenic video for first single “Cocaine”. The space-aspiring pair will digitally release their debut album, Purple Naked Ladies, on December 20. For the occasion, SPIN sat with the duo in the basement of the Roseland Theater in Portland, Oregon, and discussed the Syd’s role as hip-hop’s first out-and-proud superstar and how you’re never too famous to live off Eggo waffles.
When did you start making music?
Matt Martians: Sophomore year of college. I just turned 23 a few weeks ago. I started making music when I was 18. When I grew up, my brother [Mitch Martin] was OutKast’s A&R, so I got all the new different music that nobody else had. College just wasn’t for me… might as well buy some keyboards. That summer I saved up like $2,000 and bought all the equipment I needed. I got a Roland Fantom, Korg M3, ProTools, and a new MacBook… and I didn’t know what I was doing when I got it. So I was working on my old PC and that was slow as dirt. When I first started, I used to think I sucked. Tyler was one of the first people to dig what I did. I remember the first thing he said to me was on my MySpace. He hit me up and he was just like, “Cool.” One thing about Tyler, locally he’s always been kind of famous. Now, he’s nationally famous, but locally he’s always been kind of, “Oh, Tyler’s cool. Oh, Odd Future.” People always loved it. I found him on a Neptunes forum that we both used to visit, so we kind of both had this mutual respect.
So when did you first start doing Jet Age of Tomorrow?
Matt Martians: Jet Age of Tomorrow is basically beats I used to send Tyler and Hodgy and them, that they thought were just too weird. I thought they were incredible, and they thought they were incredible, but were just like, “I can’t rap over this, it’s too fast, it’s too ethereal.”
When you first started making music, did you know what your style would be?
Matt Martians: I’m very influenced by the Neptunes, very influenced by Sa-Ra, Timbaland, so I knew it would be somewhere in that realm. People compare it to Neptunes all the time in articles. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t influenced by the Neptunes. They’re a huge influence on all of Odd Future.
Also, um, who the hell isn’t influenced by the Neptunes.
Matt Martians: They were so different, they were doing what OF is doing, but eight years ago. Which is being different. That’s why a lot of people like Tyler, because they can relate to him. Tyler wasn’t the man for the longest. It used to be like, “Oh I don’t know this guy, he looks kinda weird.” But I think it’s a testament to just a leader in general. A leader is somebody who you know they stay gung ho about what they believe in. And a lot of people will join your cause if they see you’re passionate.
Odd Future feels like a family…
Matt Martians: Tyler’s the most popular, but everybody’s equal. Nobody treats anybody any differently. It’s really uncanny how this happened because we’re all — [yells out the door to Syd the Kyd] Yo, Sydney, don’t smoke without me, dog! — we genuinely all care about each other. Tyler works with a lot of known people, but he doesn’t play off it. He makes his friends famous. So now everybody thinks Syd’s cool, everybody thinks Mike G’s cool, because he puts ‘em on. I think it’s best to bring the people that you started with up because you can trust those people a lot more.
When did you and Sydney start working together as a project?
Matt Martians: Me and Syd always hang out, that’s my nigga. Our manager [Christian] Clancy was like, “Why don’t you all make music together since y’all are always together?” We stayed in my bedroom for a week and made what was the beginning of the album. The album is two halves. One was made in our old house, when I first moved here and we were all broke, and the second half is at our new house, when we kind of had a little bit of money.
Did you talk a lot about the type of music you’d like to make before you made it?
Matt Martians: Yeah, we’re pretty close. All our music is real life situations that we both go through. While I’m singing it, it will be, “Well this girl did this to me, so this makes sense.” Or she’ll be saying the same thing and we’ll create a whole song out of it. Not even real emotional, it’s just therapeutic.
Syd the Kyd: It kind of feels good to make something that you’re proud of and it’s also very real to you.
How does it feel to put that emotion out there like that?
Matt Martians: That’s how you’re supposed to be.
Syd the Kyd: And at the end of the day, I’m not gonna tell you who it’s about necessarily. I’m not gonna give too much away. But it tells you just enough, it tells the story. It’s just really short and sweet and to the point.
Matt Martians: It was in the moment, too. [“Love Song”] couldn’t have been made other than the time it was made and that’s what’s so special.
Syd the Kyd: It was made on our living room floor.
So you live together?
Syd the Kyd: Yeah, with Mike G.
Matt Martians: So we kinda hang a little bit tighter.
Syd the Kyd: I got my own bathroom. We’re on the same wavelength.
Syd, did you really just start singing recently?
Syd the Kyd: See, I’m not a singer. I sing, but I’m not a singer. I’m just a producer who sings on her own songs because I can’t find anybody else who sounds like me. Who can sing with my voice better? I haven’t found that person yet so I just do it myself.
So the “Cocaine” video. It was brave of you to go out like that.
Syd the Kyd: I just feel like if I’m gonna do this, I should use it as an outlet to inspire people like me. ‘Cause there ain’t nobody inspiring out there. Especially now that I’m getting more accustomed to the whole fame thing and the attention, because that was the hardest part. For one, with my mom, my parents in general and the amount of me that they see in the public eye, and just trying to be considerate of their feelings and try not to disappoint them. But at the same time be myself, which was hard to get to a balance. I felt like I was wobbling in the middle, getting used to the fans and the attention. I feel like I’m at a comfortable enough place to put myself out there now. I still won’t want to answer any questions [about my sexual orientation], but in a sense I won’t need to.
It was hard to adjust to being better known?
Syd the Kyd: Very hard. Especially because of the questions I was getting, I was getting asked things that I wasn’t necessarily comfortable answering sometimes, and I didn’t have to answer them. But even just getting asked that so many times, you just start to look at people like come on. Seriously? And you just start to get aggravated. It’s just something you’ve got to get used to.
Your parents felt weird about you becoming famous?
Syd the Kyd: Not necessarily, more like what I’m famous for. The group at first was a big issue, the lyrics and all that. But then they came to know everybody in the group as more like sons, rather than these little kids. I guess it ran long enough and they just had to realize that I’m gonna do what I want regardless.
But the Internet is pretty different from a lot of the rap stuff in Odd Future.
Matt Martians: There’s nothing out like the Internet right now, Clancy says, and I actually agree. It’s a bigger deal, and I think with Sydney somewhat “coming out of the closet” unintentionally to the public…
Syd the Kyd: Well, I don’t care, I know who I am. [Laughs]
Matt Martians: I think if anything it’s gonna be more popular, because people are gonna grab onto that, especially with the stigma of Odd Future being homophobic. Which is funny because all of us, we’re probably close to the least homophobic people you could ever meet.
Syd the Kyd: For one, Matt and Mike G live with a homo. And Tyler acts so gay! [Laughs] The thing about the content and all is that, when I first heard it, I was the same as everybody else — like, whoa! He’s cussing every five seconds, I never heard anything like this, what’s going on? But I really liked the music behind it, and I really liked the way he was rapping. I was just curious so I kept listening. And the more I listened, the less I listened to the curse words and more to what he was really trying to say. In that sense, that’s what really sold me on the whole thing before I was a part of it. That’s the reason I didn’t charge them to record in my studio. By the end of that, I was behind them a hundred percent. Because I was totally desensitized and a much happier and different person. I walked around and was no longer offended by anything that what someone I didn’t know my say about me. My self-confidence grew. A lot about me just changed for the better. I think too many people are offended by stuff that doesn’t matter… Another thing about Tyler is that in 10, 20 years, nobody’s gonna be able to pull anything out of their debit cards to blackmail him with or discredit him in any way because he’s been honest from the start.
When did you start getting into music?
Syd the Kyd: I remember my first albums: Brandy’s first album and Usher’s My Way. But I didn’t always wanna do it until like eighth grade that I wanted to grow up and do music. Before that, I wanted to play basketball. My dad’s whole family is deep in music, because his brother’s a pretty well known producer in Jamaica [Mikey Bennett, who co-wrote Shabba Ranks’ “Mr. Loverman,” among others]. So I grew up going to a lot of reggae concerts. And my mom went to school for DJing and engineering. She dropped out to get a job because she was discouraged, because at the time, it was a very male-dominated industry. She was a huge lover of music as well like she kept it around me as long as I can remember.
Is she proud of you?
Syd the Kyd: It was interesting, because there was a lot of give and take. I’m in the public eye now with the group and people who say a lot of shit about religion and all that shit. And she’s proud within herself but she’s not gonna go bragging to her friends about me with that because she doesn’t want to put it in their face. But when it came down to me choosing whether I wanted to go to school or pursue music now, when I have the opportunity to, she told me, “Whatever you do, succeed. And take what you can, because I passed up my opportunity.” So she likes seeing it happen. She’s my hardest critic too. I don’t even like playing her my music, because she’ll like parts but then other parts, she’ll be like, “You could have done that there.”
As roommates, do you and Matt share food or are you the kinds of people who write your names on your cereal boxes and stuff?
Syd the Kyd: [Laughs] We all go to the grocery store together as a team. There was a lot more cooking going on when there was a girlfriend in the house, but now that there’s not, we sort of just Eggo it. We all eat most of the same stuff. It’s just the simple shit, Eggos and cereal, pastrami. I introduced them to pastrami sandwiches, because my mom taught us how to make pastrami sandwiches when we started staying home alone so we could feed ourselves and there wouldn’t have to be no bullshit. So some pastrami, some pepperjack cheese and some bread? Ooooh! Swag it out.
More From SPIN’s December 2011 Issue:
• Live from the New Underground: SPIN Celebrates Hip-Hop’s DIY Moment
• Photos: A Close-Up Look at Rap’s New Underground
• G-Side Launch a Hardscrabble, Regular-Dude Revolution
• An Insanely Obsessive Infographic Tries (in Vain) to Diagram the Hip-Hop Galaxy