Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All
$25. 8 p.m., Sept. 8. Oakdale Theatre, 95 S. Turnpike Road, Wallingford, oakdale.com
The sudden rise of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All from unknown rap group to strapped-to-a-rocket underground demi-gods reads like a publicist's wet dream. Forming circa 2007, the collective remained a no-name until 2010 — at which point they completely blew up. Alongside more ordinary accomplishments such as selling out shows and making songs everyone races to hear, the collective have their own major label imprint (Odd Future Records on Sony), a goofy Adult Swim show (Loiter Squad), well-attended "pop up shops" they erect in cities on tour and use to sell expensive merch, and, later this month, an entire OF-themed carnival taking place in their hometown of Los Angeles. Odd Future are no longer a gaggle of skaters and smart asses doing music for kicks, they're a bona fide empire.
While worthwhile music is important to any musician's success (and Odd Future do know their way around a rhyme), that rarely creates and sustains the popularity of OF's magnitude. You need personality and narratives to market, which the collective have in spades. Seeing as there's dozens of notable facets about the group — their antagonistic lyrics, their young ages, their defiantly tacky fashion sense, the variety of characters in the outfit, etc. — it was practically impossible for them to fail with the proper push.
The group's had no greater advocates than the music media. OF have been on the covers of SPIN, Billboard and notable UK mag NME, and written up by Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice and far, far too many other outlets to list here. (Throw us on the pile.) Since their 2010 emergence, they've become a subject everyone must have an (ideally strong) opinion on, and the chatter has expanded at a phenomenal rate. One conversation spawns another, which spawns another, and so forth.
Although traits such as those listed above are why writers started drooling over Odd Future in the first place, the many contradictions within the group are why they still care. OF's world has grown increasingly tangled with time, and as more information and interviews come in, their fire grows more complex and harder to kill. Let's look at three examples of this theory in action.
They're lowbrow but not. Ask someone who knows Odd Future about what they rap about and the first things to come up will be rape, violence, drugs and hate. That answer comes with good reason, as this is unshakably unsavory music built to promote their motto of "Kill people, burn shit, fuck school." Like a curse word crudely carved into a classroom desk, their songs don't pretend to be artistic or thoughtful or mature. They're statements that scare with their bluntness and total disregard for authority.
At the same time, Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Hodgy Beats and the rest of the OF rappers frequently come off as smart enough to realize the offensiveness of their words but don't care to change them for any number of reasons. A line like Hodgy's "I'll push this fucking pregnant clown into a hydrant stuck in the ground" is used both as a dark satire of misogyny and an expression of how he feels all at once.
Enough outlets have realized and embraced Odd Future that it'd be more shocking to not go to bat for it now. In November 2010, The Village Voice ran "On Odd Future, Rape and Murder, And Why We Sometimes Like the Things That Repel Us," a blog explaining why listeners can indulge transgressive fantasies with music and justifying why it's cool to support OF. The following February, NPR posted a piece of their own called "Why You Should Listen To The Rap Group Odd Future, Even Though It's Hard," praising them for their volatility and ability to say whatever they want. If a rock group gleefully wrote about rape and left it at that, they'd be ripped to shreds. Yet since Odd Future have framed their work in a clever way, they've earned an elusive free pass from critics.
They're homophobic but not. Speaking of speech, NME reported that OF leader Tyler, the Creator used "faggot" and variations thereof 213 times on his 2011 record Goblin. Around the same period, Tegan and Sara — an indie rock band made up of two lesbians — publicly denounced the misogyny and homophobia in Tyler's music. His Twitter response? "If Tegan And Sara Need Some Hard Dick, Hit Me Up!"
Yet Tyler also told NME, "I'm not homophobic. I just think 'faggot' hits and hurts people. It hits. And 'gay' just means you're stupid. I don't know, we don't think about it, we're just kids." OF have accepted homosexuality in their ranks, too, as producer Syd tha Kid is openly lesbian, and after coming out as bisexual recently, Frank Ocean has received love from his comrades. Granted, using this as a defense isn't different from an "I have black friends so I can't be racist" argument, but the juxtaposition still speaks to the theatricality and intricacy of the group's approach.
The press know everything about them but don't. Between so many songs, interviews and articles, the music media should be fed up with OF talk. Yet there's always more angles to discuss and more mysteries to probe. Two examples: In 2011, no one knew why crucial member Earl Sweatshirt had gone missing (no less than The New Yorker investigated this), and this year, Ocean's revelation has been reported, analyzed and celebrated en masse. While those two occurrences are surely just happenstance rather than part of concerted marketing plans, the unpredictability and excitement surrounding OF has worked in their favor marvelously. As long as they keep supplying question marks and exclamation points, all that coverage has no reason to subside.