Somewhere between the awkward left coast suburbanite charm of Beck’s debut album Odelay, bizarre mid-90s New York City horrorcore rappers the Gravediggaz and the angst ridden graphic sexuality of Onyx’s 1993 debut Bacdafucup and all of their varied inspirations and proceeding acts lie the concept and bizarre guide to the brink of pop success of California hip hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA). The crew performed at a sold out U Street Music Hall on Monday evening, an event that didn’t so much exist as a harbinger of things to come, but rather a display of teenage angst that opened eyes to what the revolution that will shake pop music to the core will sound like.
Odd Future aren’t great yet. They’re very much the opposite, actually. Their shows would be best compared to say, watching the Teen Idles performing jangly, uneven punk rock at Fort Reno Park in the nascent days of DC punk. There’s energy, charisma, meaningful cultural statements and catchy beats and melodies. However, all of those are entirely tempered with heaping spoonfuls of youthful stupidity. These are teenage kids, borne of an era where young black teens have culturally ascended to the point where if they want to ride skateboards, make blasphemous religious statements and advocate raping invalid grandmothers that the level of shock surrounding these actions is considerably less than at any other point in the history of shocking and horrific behavior at the fringes of racial politics and pop music. Getting 300 kids to scream “WOLF GANG” isn’t exactly turning the universe on their ear, but strangely enough, watching rap’s most charismatic front man of the moment Tyler the Creator sign a teenage girl’s forehead bespeaks a certain pop excellence and future success.
The eleven member crew is often compared to the similarly large posse dynamic of the Wu-Tang Clan. This comparison is ridiculous at this point, as at a similar point of development for the Clan, the group already had developed an iconic and instantaneously branded “W” logo, and were well along their way to developing a marketable stage presence. At this point, Odd Future played a huge gig in DC in front of 300 kids who knew every word of every song when they lack a major label release nor have had any significant mainstream television exposure. The fact that they don’t have t-shirts or any merchandise available exposes them in many ways as being wet behind the ears teenagers just having fun who stumbled into the spotlight. Not appearing as a more prepared and well oiled machine as they prepare to embark on their rise to mainstream success was a certain failure.
Their material outside of Tyler the Creator’s huge mainstream introduction “Yonkers,” which includes a gritty and visceral video clip that has experienced a viral explosion, is merely okay. It’s more emblematic of a general shift in teen/young adult culture than anything that is really iconic. In releasing a slew of mixtapes, Tyler, as well as the either away at military school, imprisoned or marooned at sea Earl Sweatshirt come off as Jim Jones (of the non-ballin’, People’s Temple Cult Gang Kill Them All variety) for a lost generation of kids who have been exposed to entirely too much entirely too fast, their brains a scrambled sea of megabytes, Adderall and Tumblr posts. Again, screaming “SWAG,” comparing yourself to Led Zeppelin and engaging in scatological wordplay is cool, but there needs to be serious investment by Tyler’s label XL Recordings in branding, hook writing and elocution classes to help the group ascend to, achieve and maintain mainstream credibility and a top status as a pop act that is entirely deserved.
Tyler the Creator, his friends and their sea of adoring fans exist in that lovely post-teen universe where the large majority of your actions are largely deemed inconsequential for punishment or judgement by the universe. However, in now signing a label deal and engaging in tours, they’re now squarely under the magnifying glass. Will they stare back and appearing larger than life tell pundits like me to “fuck off and swag them out,” or will they cower like ants under the intense spotlight and get burned? Either way, I’m happy my grandmother is dead, though I fear what Odd Future would do to her bones.