By Franc Sayol
In the first part of this article, we spoke about Odd Future as a collective united by a common strategy of noise-making. Now we focus on the individual members, starting with Tyler, The Creator, the wolf that came to eat the world. In order to fully understand the Odd Future phenomenon, it’s essential to dive into his complex creative mind. Because, despite the fact that collectiveness is essential to the group, it wouldn’t make sense without the figure of Tyler, The Creator.
Born in 1991, named Tyler Okonma, he is the leader, ideologist and central figure of the collective. At age seven he was already inventing imaginary records and drawing his own sleeves for Dr. Dre’s “2001”. Today, at twenty, he composes, produces, raps, directs videos and is responsible for all of the clan’s imagery. A creative force, completely self-taught and fed by the rage of years of solitude, rejection and incomprehension. Apart from his eventful academic life (he went to twelve different school in twelve years), apart from all the girls who rejected him and the people who never believed in him (influential blogs 2DopeBoyz and Nah Rightfirst), if there is one thing that marked Tyler’s personality, it was his father abandoning him. A figure he never knew and who has become the fuel that fires the engine of his uncontrollable creative drive. Because, apart from the countless disses he dedicates to him in his songs, showing his dad that he doesn’t need him is Tyler’s biggest motivation to get to the top. But apart from the need for “vengeance”, the fact he is a bastard child has a major influence on the factor that, along with his music, is taking him to stardom (if he’s not already there): his volcanic personality.
Hyperactive, witty, naughty and personal (which could include random insults), Tyler is a complex and contradictory person who, on different levels, is a pure and unpolished reflection of the alienation, disaffection and absolute relativism of the post-modern age. “I'm a fucking walking paradox / no, I'm not” is the first verse of “Yonkers”. A sentence which, although in this case it refers to a dialogue between himself and his alter ego Wolf Haley, is the best possible definition of someone who writes songs about snorting cocaine but declares himself straight edge, who fantasises about rape and watches Cartoon Network for hours on end, who says he’s the son of Satan and admires Justin Bieber, who provokes avalanches during his live shows and gets bored at parties at the same time. The same way he jokes on Twitter about how he’s going to forget about his friends when he’s famous, but later call all of them to collaborate on “ Goblin” (XL Recordings, 2011). In fact, his busy Twitter account is proof of a personality who’s always oscillating between tenderness and irritation.
Tyler is a self-made man on all levels. The only thing he got for free is his impressive and rough voice, undoubtedly influenced by his raging asthma. Apart from that, he was a lonely young man who, thanks to the Internet revolution, has been able to shape himself, infinitely curious and eager to learn. He taught himself how to play the piano because he saw Pharrell (his hero) do it in a video. “My own role where niggas that record and that can play keyboard,” he says on “The Tape Intro” (the first song on the first mixtape). On “Fin” he quotes, like Daft Punk’s “Teachers”, every person and artist who has inspired him, in a list that includes many friends and figures like Ralph Lauren, Marshall Mathers, Dave Chapelle, Terry Richardson, Hitler, Mussolini and Salvador Dalí, plus “all the porn in the world.” Musically, he is equally omnivorous. Apart from Pharrell, his other big hero is Roy Ayers, while his daily menu features generous doses of French jazz and bands like Portishead, Washed Out, Beach House and Broadcast. Preferences, which, along with the way of expressing himself in interviews (when he’s up for it), show we’re dealing with someone who’s more than just another crazy ball-breaker. Tyler is nothing more than a creative spirit who, like everyone, has a dark side. The difference is that he shows it to the world, in all its rawness. That’s why he’s capable of releasing a record like “Goblin”, his second album. A dense, complex and confessional piece of work that is hard to compare to anything in present hip-hop.
Despite his volatile attitude, unlike other stormy personalities in rap, Tyler seems to be focussed (no joke) and with a well defined plan. A plan which, apart from music, includes a humorous show for Adult Swim, the first (and presumably not the last) appearance on TV of Odd Future. The thing is, paradoxically (we’re talking about a group typecast by many as horrorcore, although they reject the label), humour plays an important role in the sound of Tyler, The Creator. You only have to see the promo videos for such a dark album as “Goblin”, in which he plays Thurnis Haley, an old golf fan who sings the praise of his favourite sport.
So we’re dealing with a polyhedral figure with magnetic charisma who, if everything goes to plan, will lead his crew to the top of next decade’s hip-hop. And all that, trusting only in his talent, instinct and work ethic. Simply being a 20-year old doing what he always dreamed about. Someone who, even though he has collaborated with them already, still has posters of The Neptunes hanging on the walls of his bedroom. A boy who is experiencing success but doesn’t want to stop living like the fan he’s always been. That’s why he says money and fame don’t interest him, that everything he does, he does because he likes it. To which we could add the unyielding will to show the world (his dad first) he’s going to go where he wants to. This is only the start, of course. But, for now, the boy who got the bad grades hasn’t even reached drinking age and he has already built a cult empire. And no-one is going to take that from him.
The Best of Odd Future (mixtape selection )
But it’s not all Tyler, The Creator in Odd Future. There are other interesting efforts released by the collective and they’re still available for download on their website. Below is a guide to find the best pieces of the group leading rap into the future.
“The Odd Future Tape” (2008)
The mixtape that started it all. They posted it in April 2010, but they say they already released it in 2008, and that the songs were recorded in 2007. Featuring Tyler, The Creator, Left Brain and Hodgy Beats, accompanied by production team Super 3 and Casey Veggies. Behind the demo-like aesthetic you can already see some of the characteristics of the crew, especially in the contributions by Tyler (also appearing as Ace), who sounds surprisingly mature and is already showing his preference for vocal manipulation. The other participants stay within the parameters that can be expected from 16-year old kids. The sound isn’t so coherent and impressive yet (the ultra-violence only appears moderately) and many of the present artists are not there, but songs like “The Tape Intro”, “Bitches Brewin’ ”, “Pimp Slap” and “Commercial” are already promising.
Tyler, The Creator: “Bastard” (febrero 2010)
This is where things become serious. Entirely produced by Tyler, it’s one of the most straightforward and autonomous works rap has delivered in the past few years. A collection of brutal tales about his dad, rape and all kinds of drugs snorting, fed by rage, on which Tyler already has matured his sharp voice, adding the demonic component to his venomous flows. Musically, raw and apocalyptic beats are mixed with deep and cosmic passages, a sound that is now typical for the young musician. With contributions by practically all of the group, this is a coherent effort, with a very defined sound, in which Tyler’s ability to add humour to his harsh scenes is surprising. All in all, an essential piece.
Earl Sweatshirt: “Earl” (marzo 2010)
Earl Sweatshirt (real name: Thebe Kgositsile) is 17 years old and, according to his friends, the best MC of the collective. A lad who seems absentminded, with a twisted mind and a natural gift for rhymes that are as intricate as they are spot on. Like Tyler, he likes to rap about rape, cocaine and murder, using the foulest language imaginable. The smartest kid of the class at the service of evil instincts. The great thing is that, after the first, let’s say, moral impact, you realise that the truly impressive thing about this work is how talented and resourceful the then 16-year old boy was. Produced by Tyler and Left Brain, among others, the beats are rawer and more explosive than ever, with a few exceptions, like the silky “Luper”. Videos like “Earl” and, most of all, his mysterious disappearance, have made him a cult hero on the web. Now that we know where he’s at, we only have to wait for his reunion with Tyler. If they keep making music like this, they’ll be unstoppable.
MellowHype: “BlackenedWhite” (octubre 2010)
The second effort by Hodgy Beats and Left Brain, presents them as a fully working entity. Surely, Hodgy’s talent shines more as Tyler’s squire, but here he’s sharper than ever, and with glorious beats. Because Left Brain must be one of the best beatmakers of his generation. With a cosmic and psychedelic vision in the spirit of Dilla, here he offers a collection of misty beats which, on tracks like “Hell” and “Right Here”, reach majestic levels. Hodgy raps about girls, weed and killing cops. After “Goblin”, it will be the second effort by the collective that will get an “official” release, on Fat Possum, which is why it’s no longer available for download on Odd Future’s website.
Frank Ocean: “Nostalgia, Ultra” (febrero 2011)
Frank Oceanis 23 years old, but he’s already a veteran in the industry; he’s written songs for Brandy, John Legend, Justin Bieber and was signed by Def Jam, although they ignored him completely. When he fled the scene, he got in touch with Odd Future and he gave them “Nostalgia, Ultra”, a refined piece of reflexive and sensual R’n’B about relationships, dangerous girls and wild parties. All that over shiny beats taken from known hits like Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing”, MGMT’s “Electric Feel” and even The Eagles’ “Hotel California”. None of the other members of the collective are on it, and both because of its sound and its contents, it’s a rarity in the group’s discography (more in the vein of The Jet Age Of Tomorrow’s galactic funk than of the straightforward rap of his mates). But what it has in common with the collective’s sound is the brutal honesty with which he talks about the world around him: in his case, it’s the work of a young artist experiencing the ups and downs of the Los Angeles music industry. It’s also the record that shows the wolves can sing, too, the record all OF fans should play to their girlfriends .
Odd Future will be playing at San Miguel Primavera Sound 2011 on Saturday 28th May. San Miguel Primavera Sound 2011 takes place on 25 and 29 May at Poble Español, and from 26 to 28 May at Parc del Forum in Barcelona. Tickets are on sale here.
PlayGround is a media partner of Primavera Sound In this second part of our Odd Future coverage, we focus on the key figure of Tyler, The Creator, the epicentre of the collective and possibly a great revolutionary of current hip-hop. As a bonus, a selection of the Californian collective’s best mixtapes.
Review: '' Goblin''