Release Date: March 20, 2012
Label: Odd Future
The barbarians stormed the gates to build pop-up shops shilling $60 hoodies emblazoned with cats and donuts. Odd Future had 12 million syllables spilled about their ascent, but every would-be oracle was wrong. They were neither rapists nor messiahs, neither heralds of punk rap nor the next Wu-Tang. Yet the Clan and the Wolf Gang did share similar ends: a fixed identity as insider-outsiders, a subversive mass cult at the fringes of pop culture, an enduring reputation as sell-outs with integrity.
You can’t trust Tyler, the Creator. He is a master of the mindfuck as explained by Puff Daddy in Get Him to the Greek: You don’t see it, but he is fucking your mind. For the last two years, he’s fulminated against Odd Future being considered horrorcore, underground, and even a hip-hop group. Mind you, Mellowhype released a video (“64”) with more snakes and Satanic imagery than Alice Cooper at an Aleister Crowley meet-up; crew is booked at underground-rap carnival Paid Dues; and Tyler’s biggest cameos have been on Game and Pusha T records. But give the kid credit. He’s waffle-crisp-smacking proof that if you scream loudly enough with furious conviction, you can get people — especially the media — to believe almost anything. No one wants to be the next contestant on that Tweetdeck screen.
What’s unique is the way that a group with no radio play or significant major-label backing has revolutionized the aesthetics of hip-hop. Waka Flocka Flame regularly weighs in as an arbiter of swag. Shrapnel-spitting rappers Random Axe have discovered the joys of Photoshop. Right before his Vice Party melee, A$AP Rocky rocked enough tie-dye to open up for the String Cheese Incident. Kurtis Blow Jr. switched up his style from sub-Drake to sub-human, swathing himself in blood and blow-up dolls. All that’s left is for Jedi Mind Tricks to call their next album The Psycho-Biological, Chemical Sexual Pyramid of Swag.
But everything’s fresh when you’re 15 years old. This is Odd Future’s genius, their crutch, and their excuse. If you point out that their structure, marketing, and continued reliance on shock-value tropes bears trace similarities to the Wu, D12, Living Legends, Army of the Pharoahs, and Hieroglyphics, you are ancient and out of touch. If you think they can’t write hooks, you are a bitch on Team Aubrey. Tyler’s attitude is basically Abbie Hoffman’s — an arsonist rebelling against what he calls “old ass niggas.” (In this scenario, the Roxy Nightclub in West Hollywood is the Chicago Democratic Convention.) But he is more talented and would never tell you to steal his book: You should buy it for $29.95 on oddfuture.com, while supplies last.
No matter what Tyler tells you, he is Odd Future. Subtract him from the crew and you might as well go listen to records by the Doors after Jim Morrison died (or D-12 songs without Eminem). His status as a self-described walking paradox extends to the albums themselves — especially The OF Tape Volume 2. Tyler’s personality is so oversized, profanely charismatic, and naturally wired to the frequencies of every teenager who flips off photographers that the rest of the crew’s rappers can seem anemic by comparison.
And if it’s possible for Tyler to do anything quietly, he’s quietly become a very good rapper over the past 12 months. His guest spot on the Game record was one of its few memorable moments, and he’s perfectly synthesized the off-color pop-culture mockery of his model, Eminem. Topics lampooned here include Khloé and Lamar, Casey Anthony, MC Lyte’s sexuality, Jerry Sandusky, and Sean Kingston’s jet-skiing accident. It doesn’t hurt that Tyler lives up to Guru’s truism: It’s mostly the voice. Despite occasionally lifting flows straight from The Marshall Mathers LP, Tyler’s demolition-derby rasp lends him artistic license. When nasal-drip Asher Roth did the same thing, he was given the Guerilla Black treatment.
That’s not to say that Hodgy Beats and Domo Genesis can’t rap. They’re solid, old-model underground MCs. The main difference between them and the late-’90s Fat Beats 12-inch crowd is that they rock Supreme and Jordans instead of Jansports and Timbos. It only takes 30 seconds into the tape’s first song for Hodgy to talk about his flow and how he “spits fire.” At one point, he calls himself a “Flexosaurus.” It’s the sort of thing that no one but purists would care about if it wasn’t emblazoned with the Odd Future brand. After all, few teenage white hipsters are bumping the Sean Born album (even if they should). Mike G’s showcase “Forest Green” is totally fine, but incapable of interrupting A$AP Rocky’s regency as the king of geographically adrift rider music. The only outright terrible non-joke song is “Real Bitch,” wherein Mellowhype and Taco do their best to blot out the legacy of Betty Friedan.
There are just enough bright spots to make this all worthwhile for those too old to wear BAPE. Frank Ocean might be the best hook man since R. Kelly, and on his lone solo appearance (“White”), he sketches a singular strain of soul equally indebted to Stevie Wonder, Prince, and Coldplay. Both Left Brain and Tyler are improving as producers, exploring the Slurpee-bright funk lurking between Sa-Ra, Dam-Funk, Madlib, N.E.R.D., and Toro y Moi, though both seem more intent on creating mood, atmosphere, and pretty chord changes than making beats that are ideal for rappers.
The album’s most promising moment is its last: “Oldie,” a 10-minute posse cut that marks the blistering return of Earl Sweatshirt. Fittingly, the song’s accompanying video is the most joyous moment the group has produced since Tyler jumped on Jimmy Fallon’s back. It’s Odd Future at their best, blending eccentricity, rebellion, and weird humor, with the fearlessness of kids convinced that there are no consequences to their actions. At their worst, they are guilty of every adolescent’s biggest fear — being boring. The OF Tape Volume 2? It’s far too long, built for the die-hards, yet with a few spectacular moments. It’s the swag generation’s version of D12’s Devil’s Night. Then again, you don’t have to like it — the kids are gonna love it.