vivid LIVE 2011: Odd Future
If there’s one thing music critics love right now, it’s talking about Odd Future. And if there’s one thing Odd Future hate, it’s talking to the media. It’s a peculiar arrangement that’s fuelled the OF mythology to no end; without access to the buzzed collective, think-pieces about think-pieces are emerging, with rumours cast as facts before being spun into distorted expositions. “They lie a lot,” Hodgy Beats says of the music press, when I finally get the MC on the phone. “They’re losers. They have nothing else to do except lie.” There’s a long, pregnant pause as we both consider the implications.
It’s taken me weeks to secure this interview, and a promise to name an issue of BRAG after their ubiquitous catchcry (#SWAG, if you’re playing at home). They certainly don’t need to talk to me – Odd Future (Wolf Gang Kill Them All, or OFWGKTA) sold out their three Sydney shows in minutes. When I tell Hodgy he’s a hard man to get a hold of, he replies with a deep voice and genuine pride: “Thaaa’s right.”
Hodgy’s on a tour bus to Virginia with the rest of the Los Angeles collective; all up, the Odd Future gang is made up of ten-ish rappers, producers, skaters and artists, most under 21 years old. Until about eight months ago, they existed solely (and prolifically) underground and online; artist albums, mixtapes and countless videos uploaded for free, for a loyal but comparatively small following. But after their first and incendiary NYC show in November last year (which, judging by the breathless reviews that surfaced, was attended by every music writer that ever existed), they exploded with an incomparable velocity. There was the Jimmy Fallon appearance, the overblogged SxSW gigs, the covers on NME and Billboard, the European tour, and finally the deal they inked with Sony’s RED Distribution last month, to start their own label with 100% creative control. While this sort of hyper-sensation isn’t uncommon for DIY hip hop acts with social networking know-how (think Lil B and Soulja Boy), there’s something else about Odd Future that’s got everyone worked up. They’ve made a multi-faceted brand, all by themselves – and they’ve swagged it the fuck out.
Of course, there’s also the content. Odd Future’s three most prominent members – Tyler, The Creator, Earl Sweatshirt and Hodgy Beats (who also releases as Mellowhype, with producer Left Brain) – specialise in purposefully shocking, macabre and ultraviolent raps growled and spat over heavy, deformed beats, with surprisingly polished production. Couched in murder and rape fantasies, horror and homophobia, these are some of the most condemned lyrics since the early days of Eminem, an artist to whom all three are happy to pledge allegiance. Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (or as Tyler sometimes refers to them, Oh Fuck Will God Kill These Animals) have been referred to as “a skating band of child demons”, “entrancing and repulsive”, “staggeringly creative, gleefully antisocial … and two-steps-ahead-of-you smart” by the media. Ultimately though, they’re just a close-knit group of supremely talented, supremely smart and supremely bored kids, who jostle in studio for the most shocking raps before hitting the road for skate pranks and slap contests. And they’re having the time of their lives.
“I don’t even believe it’s hype,” Hodgy answers, when I ask how long he thinks they can ride this wave. “I just believe it’s people finding out about us. Fuck ‘hype’ – I hate that word. It’s stupid. I believe that when we’re done with music, that’s when some other 20-year-old kids that are doper than us take over. The next movement.”
Until then, media frenzy and moral panic prevail. A week before we speak, the collective’s charismatic ringleader Tyler, The Creator has been arrested in LA and caused an alleged “riot” in Boston while promoting his second solo album, Goblin. Four days before we speak, Sara Quinn of Tegan and Sara has posted an open letter condemning Tyler as “repulsive and irresponsible,” and denouncing the media and the artists who glorify him. (Tyler’s Twitter response? “If Tegan And Sara Need Some Hard Dick, Hit Me Up!”). And two days before the interview, the infamous Earl Sweatshirt has finally broken his silence.
A catch up on Earl: Right before the group hit cult hero status in the second half of last year, the prodigiously talented 17-year-old went AWOL. Rumours started flying, spurred on by Odd Future’s own ‘Free Earl’ campaign. Jail? Vacation? Boot camp? …Grounded? The campaign kept growing until just last week, when Earl allegedly sent The New Yorker an email through his mother, asking fans to stop chanting ‘Free Earl’ at shows – he’s not being held against his will and, with the chants quickly turning to ‘Fuck Earl’s Mum’, he’s fearing for her safety. “Nobody even knows who’s been in touch with him,” Hodgy tells me. “Like, we don’t even know where that came from, honestly. I mean, it could have been Earl, or it could have been his mum speaking out [on his behalf], you know? We don’t know anything – we don’t speak to Earl – I’m tired of talking about Earl. There’s nothing we can say about him being gone.” He’s clearly got his hackles up, but that’s forgivable. Like much of the collective, Hodgy had a rough childhood; kicked out of school, in trouble with the law, and raised by a single mum. Only 20 years old, he’s had a lot to adjust to this year. “Honestly, with us being in this type of industry, our personal lives can and will be invaded,” he acknowledges with resignation. “And that’s what we can’t, like, defeat.”
It’s hard to believe they hate the attention – after all, they’ve been courting it from the outset. They mobilise and engage with their fans continually, updating their Tumblrs, YouTubes, Twitters and Formsprings compulsively with a barrage of music, clips, skits and stunts, all wrapped up in a consistent and accomplished aesthetic. (Tyler is responsible for much of the group’s visual output, and the film clips are particularly compelling. Especially if you like watching a guy eat a cockroach and then vomit.) Just as compelling is the irresistible balance these guys have struck between outrageous content, undeniable talent and an apparently insane fanbase. The night before I call them, Odd Future walked off stage in Detroit after glass bottles were thrown at their beatsmith, the sole female (and sole gay) member, Syd Tha Kyd. “He missed horribly,” Hodgy deadpans. “But it was just – the fact that we’re performing and there’s someone throwing bottles that we clearly cannot see come at us. Obviously we got tired of it. Everybody got tired of it.” By all descriptions, their shows are explosive; BRAG’s own Blake Rayner came home from South by Southwest with a split lip he wore as a badge of honour. So what is it about Odd Future that makes people go so crazy? “We’re just punk rock,” answers Hodgy. “At least, our shows are.”
Hodgy’s sick, he hates interviews, and he’s just announced he’s giving up weed (“I’ve been smoking since I was twelve,” he tells me. “I’m just tired of that shit.”). So it’s safe to say he’s not in the best of moods. Our conversation’s cut short when he clearly loses interest, and I’m forced to finish with a stock standard question. What are Odd Future expecting from Australia? “Obviously a lot of kangaroos,” he answers, before a thoughtful pause. “I wonder if I’m gonna be able to ride one. I wonder if they have a certain location where I can get on a kangaroo and they can like, let me ride one.” After all of that, it turns out they’re just a bunch of kids looking for fun.
Where: The Studio, Sydney Opera House
When: May 31, June 1, June 2