Odd Future Teeth of the Storm
Published Jul 25, 2011No one in the last 18 months has garnered as much attention, controversy, buzz and hype as the Odd Future collective. At the same time, few acts in music history have been as challenging to get a grip on. Odd Future is not its biggest voice, Tyler, the Creator. The presence of out lesbian Syd Tha Kid does not automatically dismiss accusations of sexism and homophobia. Earl Sweatshirt's disappearance is not a conspiracy any more than Frank Ocean's unwillingness to do press is. Odd Future is youth, it's enthusiasm, it's a new paradigm and an old story. It's a moving target, for which we can only capture a moment in time. We look who the players are, how they got here, and spend time with one of the collective's key creators.
Odd Future Timeline
Thirty Minutes with Hodgy Beats
Odd Future Bios
Odd Future Timeline
It makes sense that most of the press referencing Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (better known by the acronym, OFWGKTA) is from 2011; this was the year the group moved from niche sneakerhead message boards and rap blogs to the offline world. But the 11-member, L.A.-based rap collective has been in formal existence since 2007. We track Odd Future's rise from their origins as a loose collective of high school friends to rap's biggest meme.
November 2008: The Odd Future Tape shows up online, featuring current members Tyler, the Creator, Left Brain and Hodgy Beats, and former affiliate Casey Veggies. The songs were recorded on a webcam microphone between 2007 and 2008 and two of them, "Odd Toddlers" and "Slow It Down," would go on to be featured on Tyler's attention-grabbing debut Bastard.
December 25, 2009: Tyler releases the self-produced Bastard for free on oddfuture.tumblr.com. It would wind up on Pitchfork's "Top 50 Albums of 2010" list.
March 2010: Earl Sweatshirt, the 16-year-old runt of the crew, drops the terrifyingly proficient Earl as a free digital download on Odd Future's chaotic Tumblr page. Only 25 minutes long, it cements Earl as Odd Future's young, lyrical savant.
May 2010: Earl-fueled curiosity results in even more attention just in time for Radical, the group's second collaborative album.
July 26, 2010: A fish-eye perspective music video for Earl's title track appears online. Earl sits in a barber chair, rapping between gross-out shots of the crew skating, loitering, and bleeding in public: rap fans of all stripes, from 13 year-old fanboys to old head bloggers, freak out.
September 2010: One such blogger, Noz of CocaineBlunts.com, gets Odd Future a cover line (and accompanying story) in avant-garde UK music mag The Wire.
Halloween, 2010: BlackenedWhite hits the internet and introduces rapper-producer duo Hodgy Beats and Left Brain to a rapidly rabid fan base. Less than a week later, OFWGKTA play sell-out shows in London, England and New York City – their first outside the L.A. area. Crowds in both cities wild the fuck out, garnering the group comparisons to traditionally angsty genres like punk and horrorcore. "I don't really think people take me seriously," Tyler tells the New York Times, "but Middle America probably would." The band is still unsigned.
February 2011: The offline world gets exposure to the Odd Future circus. A few days after the stark, slick video for Tyler's "Yonkers" drops – and Kanye West dubs it the video of 2011 – taste-making British label XL Recordings announces it's signed him to a one-album deal. One week later, Tyler and Hodgy cause TV mayhem with a Late Night With Jimmy Fallon performance backed by house band the Roots and a stage-crashing Mos Def. R&B affiliate Frank Ocean ditches the label route and self-releases Nostalgia/U.L.T.R.A. to immediate praise. Tyler meets Bieber in a TwitPic seen around the world.
March 2011: Odd Future land their first cover: Billboard Magazine. The photo includes Syd Tha Kyd, the group's engineer and sole female member. SXSW proves to be a publicist's dream: Diddy introduces a showcase, Erykah Badu joins them on stage, Nardwuar executes the best interview with the group thus far, Tyler stage dives onto a fan's gleeful face.
April 2011: In a feat of incredible Facebook stalking and lyrically tipped off by a new Hodgy and Domo Genesis collaboration, "TANG GOLF," hip-hop magazine Complex finds the conspicuously absent Earl at a military school in Samoa. His presence is confirmed via a recent photo taken by a visiting U.S. ambassador. Tyler's reaction is predictable: "Fuck Complex." Odd Future play Coachella and one of the group's biggest stated influences, Pharrell Williams, accompanies them on stage. Afterward Tyler tweets, "I've Waited For That Moment For 9 Years. Still Can't Believe It."
May 2011: Tyler makes his label debut with Goblin, which sells 45,000 copies in its first week. Kelefa Sanneh dedicates 8,000 words to Odd Future and the mystery surrounding Earl in the New Yorker. In emailed quotes, Earl says he is not in Samoa against his will and calls for an end to the "Free Earl" movement, which he feels wrongly villainizes his mother. He also adds, "You'll hear from me when I'm ready." There is some speculation as to whether the quotes came from Earl himself, or if therapists at the school influenced his writing. Two days before Odd Future play their first Toronto show – which sells out so fast kids are hawking Xboxes for tickets – Tegan and Sara pen an open letter slamming Tyler's misogynist, homophobic lyrical content. Tyler's response, via Twitter, was to offer the sisters "some hard dick."
June 2011: Frank Ocean becomes less of a mystery – he appears in videos for Tyler's "She" and his own, trippy "Novocane." Rumours of working with Beyonce are solidified; he nabs a writing credit for "I Miss You" on the singer's latest release 4. Chris Brown, attempting to stay relevant, starts Twitter beef with Ocean and Tyler. Rapper the Game inexplicably intervenes to calm things down, tweeting, "@fucktyler the homie & @frankocean just starting what can be a long successful career. Don't f--k it up by beefin!"
July 2011: Fame begets re-mastered re-issues for MellowHype and Frank Ocean. Mississippi garage punk label Fat Possum drops BlackenedWhite, and Def Jam (which Ocean has been long signed to) reworks Ocean's free EP into Nostalgia, Lite. Tyler's first outside collaboration takes place with the Clipse's Pusha T for "Trouble on My Mind." The video features Pusha and Tyler in matching outfits – including Tyler's trademarked pulled-up tube socks and Vans – wreaking childish havoc around Los Angeles. LGBT, domestic violence and rape victim advocacy groups set to protest Odd Future's presence at Chicago's Pitchfork Festival are invited to bring booths into the fest instead – effectively diffusing tension. Odd Future goes a step further and hands out cupcakes to the volunteer organizers.
Thirty Minutes with Hodgy Beats
It takes multiple failed attempts over the course of a week to get Hodgy Beats on the phone. Sure, the scrawny, tatted up rapper – born Gerard Damien Long – and his MellowHype producer-partner Left Brain (Vyron Turner), are touring England with their Los Angeles-based crew Odd Future. No doubt there are press engagements, in-stores, and much-needed skate breaks to take. But when Hodgy finally does answer the phone, late afternoon in a Manchester hotel room, he confirms what I suspected all along: "There's not much in our schedule that we don't want to do – except for interviews. They've got to corner us for those otherwise we'll just run!"
Maybe that's part of the "fuck everybody" ethos that 20 year-old Hodgy says is MellowHype's manifesto (not to be confused with Odd Future's separate mantra: "Kill Them All"). But when he can steer an interview, I think he secretly likes them. After mumbling through procedural topics about how he met Left Brain ("in high school, at a mutual friend's party") and his first time rapping (at six; "my cousin wrote a rhyme for me and told me to rap it"), he sees his chance to veer off topic and speak openly.
London is cool, I wouldn't move there though. London is boring," he says, all world-weary just nine months into a professional career.
"Whoa," I refute. "I've never heard anyone say that."
To me it seems like London sleeps," Hodgy counters, before putting on a smarmy, fake-Brit accent: "Oh, it's nine-thurtay. I'm going to take my arse home." He sounds like Jonah Hill in that dopey Forgetting Sarah Marshall scene with Russell Brand and, laughing, I maintain that London is still a world epicentre of cool.
"Um, but you sound like you're from England or something," he interjects coolly. Because I sense he's trying to flirt away the monotony of back-to-back press obligations, I indulge in kind, telling him I was born right there in Manchester, a really long time ago.
Like all kids who are super new to being a 20-something, Hodgy balks: "Oh so you're, like, 30 then?"
Dismayed, I quickly, stupidly fib. "Nah, 25." (I'm 26) And he's audibly relieved – "Oh, that's okay then" – like I would have been at his naively invincible age.
The back-and-forth is a loose, forgettable moment of connection for someone like Hodgy, whose life is now constantly in motion. But in the context of what's known and propagated about Odd Future – that they're anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-everyone-and-everything, really – it's revealing. And just a few days after we speak, before performing at Chicago's Pitchfork Festival, Odd Future members will bring cupcakes to domestic violence and rape victim advocacy groups set up on event grounds.
It's important to point out that Hodgy, who has a distinctive pipsqueak bark and inventive flow, is often in direct, unflinching contradiction of his own lyrics. "I'll push this fucking pregnant clown into a hydrant stuck in the ground," he menaces on glitchy, grim, "Sandwitches," alongside Tyler, the Creator. "I step through the stomach, replace the baby with some fucking pounds." It's gruesome and vivid, but for what it's worth, I also learn later – via Twitter – that Hodgy is a proud, soon-to-be father.
I don't read it, I don't pay attention to it, I don't care," says Hodgy of Odd Future's well-publicized controversies. "Odd Future is bigger than the music." A vehemently flimsy dismissal for sure, but it's the day before MellowHype's acclaimed second album BlackenedWhite is re-released on dusty Mississippi label Fat Possum and Hodgy is in too good of a mood to care.
MellowHype's first recorded song, "Rotation," is lurking in some far off corner of the internet. Easier to find is Yellowhite, an unassuming, laidback first-go, released in early 2010. But BlackenedWhite is the critical favourite in MellowHype's miniscule canon. Minus Earl Sweatshirt feature "Chordaroy," which couldn't be cleared without the missing rapper's consent, the re-release was packaged to showcase Hodgy and Left Brain's growth. "We did new songs so you can hear the difference since we've grown musically and mentally," he explains. What remains is a fondness for slowed effects, BPM so low it gives their voices squelching, cryptic depth. So do high-energy, assaultive lyrics, questionable, death-obsessed content, and cameos from their friends.
Left Brain is constantly producing pitch-shifted, drum assaults on tour, and though Hodgy prefers to write and record simultaneously, he describes their work ethic as "very productive." Upon returning to L.A., the pair is ready to work on a follow-up, tentatively titled Numbers, and Hodgy's solo, Damien.
Home is a bigger sore point than controversy. Hodgy says he misses being able to constantly make music without distraction. Writing raps, which began as a challenge, turned into a way to connect with others: at first, with a singer father who ran a barbershop and was never around, then later, with high school friends Tyler and Left Brain. "We never had any problems… it was just always easier than difficult," explains Hodgy of MellowHype's almost-immediate partnership. "We were just two kids with a dream that wanted something to work and were ready to find a way to make it happen."
It's funny to talk with someone whose life has drastically changed in a relatively short period of time. Without time to absorb the excitement, maybe that's why Hodgy remains rather clear-eyed about the spoils of success: "It's cool to make money and know that you have that type of security, but it's not there to go to your head and shit." Flashy isn't his thing, he says, adding he's working on getting together a 401k-retirement fund.
And what else will life bring? Hodgy sounds mad zen describing a peaceful existence writing music for others and playing instruments, like the guitar, which he is currently learning on the road. "I'm going to just be playing the bass guitar, the acoustic guitar, the electric guitar, and the drums, and the harp. And I'll be fucking wonderful," he drifts. "I just want to be in my own world."
Odd Future Bios
A nebulous web of L.A.-based late teen and early 20-somethings make up the majority of Odd Future – there have been claims of 60-plus members. Here's a primer on seven of the collective's hardest working members.
Tyler, The Creator
The superfluous comma begets the intricate inanities that make Tyler Okonma the ringleader of Odd Future. By far the group's most vocal and outre force, Tyler has a crush on Disney starlet Selena Gomez and calls fellow Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt his best friend. Discovered to have attended 13 different L.A.-area schools as a kid, Tyler's manic energy and curiosity seem to find a release in music: he's appeared on almost every Odd Future release as a rapper, producer, or both. Tyler's third solo album, tentatively titled Wolf, is due in 2012.
One half of MellowHype, along with producer Left Brain, Hodgy Beats (Gerard Damien Long) is widely considered one of the crew's most lyrically gifted members. Known for his wild stage dives and personable flow, Hodgy's intent on pursuing a solo album in the near future and is a magnet for rap icons: he'll be featured on upcoming studio albums by Nas and Pusha T.
Vyron Turner, better known as Left Brain, is MellowHype's rapper-beatmaker with a fondness for shattered effects and slowed melodies. You might have also seen him smoking a blunt next to blog darling Kreayshawn in the video for "Gucci Gucci."
Over Tyler's spacey production, oft-monotone Domo Genesis (Domonique Cole) comes across as your quintessential weed rapper. His acclaimed solo record, Rolling Papers, was released a full seven months before Wiz Khalifa's Rolling Papers dropped, courting minor controversy online.
Syd Tha Kyd
The proverbial lynchpin on which charges of Odd Future's misogynistic, homophobic tendencies get dismissed as trumped up: Sydney Bennet is not only the group's female engineer, but an out lesbian. Before the group started working out of professional studios, they would record at her house. A bona fide strong chica, Syd has a loyal online following and dispenses recording advice via Formspring and Tumblr.
Only 16 when he recorded and released the incisive, hypnotic Earl, Thebe Kgositsile is the most elusive member of Odd Future. It was recently discovered that Earl, son of South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile, is currently living in Samoa at a military school for "at-risk youth." His future with the group is up for debate, but his gifted lyricism and imposed exile have made him a cult figure.
Fed up with the innerworkings of Def Jam, signee Frank Ocean (Christopher Francis Ocean) released his own songs – featuring heavyweight production and major label sample sources – via his website in March 2011. Older than most of his Odd Future affiliates, Ocean has been playing his position netting writing credits on Beyonce's latest, 4, and features on the upcoming Kanye West and Jay-Z project Watch The Throne.