The case against Odd Future
Here’s why you don’t need to see this controversial hip-hop group at Pitchfork.
Bologna slices leave marks on cars. A glass Snapple bottle, aluminum foil and cement cleaner make a simple, loud bomb. I know these things because I was once a bored, insensitive 18-year-old kid, not that dissimilar from the members of L.A. rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. After school, a few of us would gather to record obnoxious hardcore cassettes with our band, Stihspid—Dipshits backward. One tape’s cover featured the image of a Buddhist monk setting himself ablaze. We called it Kentucky Fried Dead People.
Let’s say these antics happened today, not in the early 1990s. We capture our pranks and punk songs on YouTube. Some hip blog like Gorilla vs. Bear sniffs out a track. Then Pitchfork writes about it. Stihspid moves up the indie food chain until we play Coachella, where we jump around and scream, as we are energetic, naive and have a profound lack of ability.
This is not far off from how it happened for Odd Future. Tyler Okonma (a.k.a. Tyler, the Creator) is the 20-year-old alpha male and principal producer of Odd Future, a collective of a dozen or so teens and barely twentysomethings, who also go by OFWGKTA, Wolf Gang or its spoonerism Golf Wang. Much about Odd Future is fluid and irreverent. Its members have cartoon names, like Hodgy Beats and Jasper Dolphin, and a wide array of hip-hop and R&B styles, ranging from Frank Ocean’s innocuous crooning to Tyler’s gothic, minimalist beatmaking.
Odd Future has eschewed the decrepit industry circuit of touring, retail and radio. The crew gave away its albums online and built a fanbase via social media. But none of this is revolutionary. This is not the reason The New Yorker, NME, The New York Times, Pitchfork, NPR and other esteemed outlets have run glowing profiles of Odd Future. No, the group is buzzed about because of its vile, homophobic and misogynistic lyrics. Well, misogynistic is putting it lightly. Beer commercials are misogynistic.
“By the way, we do punch bitches.” “Gun to her head make your bitch massage my shoulders.”—Jasper Dolphin and Tyler on “Bitch Suck Dick”
In Odd Future songs, women are beaten, killed, raped and treated as nothing more than ejaculate receptacles. But mostly raped. On “Tron Cat,” Tyler spits, “rape a pregnant bitch, tell my friends I had a threesome.” Rape is a predominant theme of Goblin, the first album Tyler has offered in physical form on an official label. The record was released by XL Recordings, home to Adele and Vampire Weekend, and debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard charts.
Here is the most common defense of Odd Future: You should not be outraged because they are doing nothing new. (Eminem and Biggie pulled similar antics more than a decade ago.) But you should be amazed at how groundbreaking they are. Look past the rape. NPR titled its essay, “Why You Should Listen to the Rap Group Odd Future, Even Though It’s Hard.” (A common misconception among music snobs is that accessibility is a weakness, that you are somehow more erudite and sophisticated for being able to withstand aggressive music.)
“Odd Future’s willfully repugnant lyrics…are designed to nettle cosmopolitan listeners.”—Kelefa Sanneh, The New Yorker, May 23, 2011
“Some of these guys [writing about Odd Future] take a casual interest in black men killing other black men on record on a regular basis with nary a cry of morality. But as soon as women or homosexuals become the target it’s a talking point.”—Andrew Nosnitsky, npr.org, Feb 22, 2011
The NPR article attempts to twist an intolerance of rape into an act of hypocrisy, while the New Yorker writer suggests it’s just a case of being uptight. In the latter piece, Tyler’s mother dismisses the haters: “If people want to take that shit [that Tyler says] seriously, about whatever, then that’s on them.” Yeah, lighten up, square. If he’s not actually raping, what’s the damage? A few pages deeper in the article, Sanneh observes an Odd Future concert. A 16-year-old fan climbs onstage. The crowd yells for her to take off her shirt. She refuses. The other fans chant, “Slut! Slut! Slut!”
“Tyler, as a person, normally seems really fun—goofy, sweet, enthusiastic, lively, full of humor.”—nymag.com, May 10, 2011
“I’m not homophobic. I just say faggot and use gay as an adjective to describe stupid shit.”—Tyler in The Guardian, May 7, 2011
When I read about Tyler, I can’t shake the feeling I am reading about a puppy. He doesn’t know any better than to piss on the carpet, chew your new sneakers and insult your gay friends. Sure, there is something charismatic about his unbridled adolescence. Odd Future makes juicy, relatable content for moody teenage boys. Tyler rants about how much he hates school; he fights with his family; he wrestles with chronic masturbation habits. But as someone who no longer makes bombs out of Snapple bottles, I fail to see how any middle-aged journalist would find these topics interesting or insightful. He is a kid who is pushing buttons to get famous, not to provoke thought. He asks us to ponder rape, suicide and jerking off as much as Charlie Sheen provides insight into winning.
And the music itself? Odd Future’s records are average at best. Tyler’s flow brings to mind Ludacris with a charred larynx. The bare beats are cheap knockoffs of Pharrell Williams. Goblin grinds on for an excessive 80-plus minutes. An anemic centerpiece, “Radicals,” even fails to deliver its mantra—“Kill people! Burn shit! Fuck school!”—with gusto. As the track opens, Tyler hedges his bets: “If anything happens, don’t fucking blame me.” Nothing says anarchy quite like a disclaimer. You need not loathe Odd Future just because it is vulgar. You can write the group off because it is cruddy.
Odd Future plays Pitchfork July 17 at 3:20pm on the Red stage.