The Odd Future Tape Vol. 2 leaked on Thursday night, and on Friday I pitched my editor at Capital to do a review, which he accepted. I spent the weekend listening to it, being a little underwhelmed, and then listening to the insane ten minute group-encompassing song “Oldie” on one-track repeat for two, three, four, five times in a row. It is the best song on the album.
So, like, I feel responsible to account for all the time I’ve spent listening to Odd Future, sort of like accounting for all the comic books and re-runs of Cheers you might watch over summer vacation or something. Because, like, the thing is, I criticized the critical coverage of the group back in the fall of 2010, made a sort of half-hearted defense of them for No Jumper last March, and then wrote a sort of condemnation (more an examination) of them for Feministe last May. The thing is, I’m proud as hell of all those pieces. I’ve tried to be nuanced with how I handle the group. I think that’s right.
The other thing is, a lot of people don’t believe you need nuance for a group that’s so blunt and single-mindedly nasty. They think that all this critical hand-wringing and sort of theoretical posturing takes you out of the lived experience of homophobia, misogyny, and rape culture that pervades our popular art. And those people are right, too.
After listening quite a bit to Odd Future’s first proper major label album, my thoughts on the group have developed even more. I was sort of a fan of their early work — Radical, EARL, the first BlackenedWhite, Bastard — it was really exciting and interesting to me. But I could not really tell why. And now I think I can tell why. The Odd Future Tape Vol. 2 is pretty disappointing, which is quite a surprise: I had absolutely zero expectations for it, so how could I be surprised?
The thing is, and I got to it in my review of Odd Future Vol. 2 on Capital, where I called that early stuff “pure dadaist teen emoting” and “genius-level outsider art rap”: I stand by that. I’m just not super interested in hearing the PG-13 version of Odd Future, which leads me to believe that the earlier stuff is better, which makes me wonder why that is, which, well yeah. It’s weird, but after listening so much to them, off and on, for years and years now, I’m not outraged or disgusted by them. I’ve seen the slightly more grown up version of them, and it’s a little less interesting because they don’t have those stupid, half-formed teenage zombie brains. That shit was a singular phenomenon, and it was stomach-turning and gross, but it was singular and captivating. If you really hate it, and if you hate that it exists, I totally support you. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, necessarily, but I’d say it’s some of the more notable music made this decade.
I’m extremely skeptical of the critical abandonment of Odd Future. Have we really all of us twenty- thirty- forty-somethings grown up so much over the last eighteen months?
What’s really sort of sold me on Odd Future v2.0 is seeing them last night. I was lucky enough to write the concert up for Pitchfork, and it was awesome! I never caught them the first time or two around in the city, but from what I read this was nothing like that.
For one, to slay the obvious elephant in the room, there was like a fifty-fifty split of white people and people of color. It wasn’t just ironic hipster rap bloggers. How could it be? Hammerstein holds like thousands of people. For two, it was kids. Teenagers. Odd Future is more popular than I would have ever imagined. They may only sell like 70,000 albums this week (at best?) but they have tons and tons of fans in the area, and they’re all in high school it seems. For three, there were tons of girls there, and it did not seem like a terrible experience for them. Like, I saw tons of girls singing along to all the songs. I saw girls moshing. I don’t know. It was an incredibly positive experience.
(Some stray experiences: Teens and tweens apparently love Adult Swim programming. I saw a kid in an OF tee a block away from the venue, stood near him before the show started, and then saw him lose, then break, his glasses at the end of the night. Half way through, I got hit on the head and one of my earplugs fell out. There were a million security guards and tons of checkpoints to get in, but tons of people were smoking weed. Tyler had a broken arm, and he was still the most charismatic performer I’ve ever seen. Earl needs some practice, but if you see him live in like two months I’m sure he’ll be the best rapper there by quite a bit. Frank Ocean does not look like how he sounds.)
So I don’t know. I honestly can’t tell if my aesthetic sense is all Momofuku’d out and requires intense and intenser stimuli to excite it. But those earlier Odd Future tapes no longer offend me, I don’t take them seriously as anything other than a pure expression of a middle stage of development sort of like Rimbaud or something. And from seeing the crowd’s reaction all through the night, the kids there who knew every single fucking word to every song, even the Domo Genesis songs, I couldn’t help but get caught up in it. It was… odd. (Sorry.)
To conclude: I don’t think Odd Future as it is will exist in another year or three. As they mature, they’ll get worse then maybe better. But most rap lyrics are (to be honest) not really that inspirational or, you know, normatively good anyway. (Most song lyrics are not really that inspirational or normatively good.) But Earl is going to be a super-duper star. Tyler is going to be a super-duper star. Frank Ocean is going to be a star. Hodgy and/or MellowHype could be stars. Man, Earl can rap.