Tyler, the Creator’s song “Bastard” from his self-titled 2009 debut was my first introduction to L.A.’s Odd Future crew. For the uninitiated, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All is a SoCal hip-hop collective comprised of rappers Earl Sweatshirt, Hodgy Beats, Mike G., Domo Genesis, and Tyler, along with singer Frank Ocean and producers Left Brain, Syd, and the Super 3.They’ve been around since 2008, and have released a slew of mixtapes, most of which are available for free at their website (with the exception of “Bastard,” but if you do some digging on the internet you can come across a live download link). They’ve also been getting a lot of hype lately, especially after a crazed performance on Jimmy Fallon’s show and the imminent release of Tyler’s follow-up, “Goblins”.
Here’s what you need to know about Odd Future. They are young: the oldest member is 23, and the youngest is of driving but not voting age.They are twisted, rapping about killing people, sodomizing the Virgin Mary, and all other forms of depravity (although Tyler repeatedly claims he doesn’t do drugs, so maybe that’s a road too far for O.F.). They are inventive rappers, taking a cue from both the Lil Wayne school of alien flow and MF DOOM’s complicated and insane wordplay. They also have good beats, grounded in the hip-hop/electronica that is flourishing in L.A. The end result is that Odd Future feel much more formed and unique that any other hip-hop crew out right now, especially in their age range. They aren’t doing the same ol’ same ol’ street rap and they don’t sound like backpackers.
“Bastard” starts off with Tyler unleashing a harangue of f bombs at Nah Right and any other blogger that won’t give him the time of day. He says “fuck” like he’s relishing it, like he’s using it as a weapon. The song unfolds as a therapy session between Tyler and a therapist, with Tyler unloading his disturbed mind as he talks about his absent father, his problems with girls, his struggles with school, and why he acts the way he does, rapping over a lone piano:
“I roll with skaters and musicians with an intuition
I created O.F. cause I feel we’re more talented
Than 40-year-old rappers talking about Gucci
When they have kids they haven’t seen in years, impressing their peers
With the same problem, the only way to solve them
Is to go to Father’s Day convention with a gold revolver
Life’s a salad I’m a toss it eat that shit up, Rick Ross it
Shit it out, bag it up sell it, I’m so damn rebellious
Cause my mother let me do what I want
She wasn’t careless, protective she was the bear
The shit is so bare, my diary isn’t hid
My father didn’t give a fuck so it’s something I inherit
My mother’s all I have so it’s never meet the parents
When dad left all my line decided to fucking share
This confused boy, I wanna hug all ya
Soy is not the choice, I’m bad milk… drink it”
He also drops some Eminem-worthy lines about chopping girls up because they won’t go to homecoming with him, which was my first glimpse into the troubling misogyny of the O.F. crew.
Tyler recorded “Bastard” when he was 17, and like all of the Odd Future work, a lot of it feels like an inside joke between teenage outcasts. The problem is, their idea of funny is pretty disturbing. For starters, everyone is a faggot. They use the term like Snoop uses “bitch,” and while it is used as a high school put-down versus conscious criticism of homosexuality, it’s still a homophobic slur and they use it way, way too much. Tyler also exhibits an intense hatred of females, and this is where the album went off the rails for me. I don’t like it when rappers are sexist and misogynistic, but you can’t be a hip-hop fan and not let at least a few “bitches” slide. What I can’t abide by, and what is totally unacceptable on this album, is Tyler’s many, many references to rape. He repeatedly brags about being a rapist, dropping lines like “When I rape a bitch, I hold her down and get my best nut” and “Leave a bitch breathless/ but what the bitch don’t know /is that I’m a motherfucking sellout and a rapist” and “you call that shit rape but I think that rape’s fun.” Tyler would probably say that he’s just joking around and doesn’t really mean it. His defenders would say that he’s a nerdy high school kid who is venting frustration about the opposite sex into a sick fantasy that isn’t meant to be taken at face value. Fuck that. Rape is never funny, and it’s never acceptable to brag about being a rapist, even as a joke, even when Tyler’s point is to be as wrong and shocking as possible.Tyler’s repeated boasts about being the kind of scumbag loser that would use sex as an act of violence are not edgy and shocking, just really, really indefensible and unfortunate.
O.F.’s rape talk hasn’t stopped the hipsterati from creaming their skinny jeans and gushing all over their Macs to lionize the crew. I can’t help but feel that the fact that O.F. are so depraved is a big draw for the hipster crowd, a group of white, middle class guys (a category which includes myself) who are bored with listening to young black men rap about dealing drugs and killing each other. Now they can listen to them rap about raping women, which is much more shocking and transgressive, and if you don’t get it than you just aren’t down. The whole thing leaves a terrible taste in my mouth.
Of course, there’s another reason why Pitchfork and their ilk are so excited about Odd Future: questionable/unacceptable lyrics aside, they are the best rap crew to come around in years. The beats are stellar throughout, a combination of electronica, crate-digging, and left-field freakiness. Hip-hop producers have painted themselves into a corner recently; synth-driven street rap is sounding tired, the old-school throwbacks are sounding anachronistic, and the pop hybrids of Kid Cudi and his ilk lack rawness and aggression. Odd Future finds a way forward, offering beats that stay true to hip-hop while not sounding like much else on the market.
Tyler is a creative, inventive rapper. He doesn’t go for criminal swagger, but he also doesn’t go for emo-rap sensitivities. He complains about his fucked-up life with an anger that borders on sounding unhinged, all the while laughing about it. He’s also pushing boundaries, offering take on hip-hop so dark it’s almost horrorcore: the video for “Yonkers” has him puking and then hanging himself.
So I’m split: on one hand, Tyler, the Creator and the Odd Future crew are making some of the most interesting music in hip-hop today. The beats are solid, and Tyler is a good rapper. His frequent references to rape was a deal-breaker though. I can’t condone it, and I can’t fuck with a rapper who would rap about it. I’m hoping Tyler has grown up since he recorded “Bastard” and when “Goblin” drops in May, it won’t contain the same references to sexual violence. Tyler is too talented to be wasting his rhymes on such idiotic bullshit, and I don’t want to listen to him rapping about it. I’m taking “Bastard” off my hard drive and hoping O.F. have less reprehensible subject matter in the future.