Sunday, December 26, 2010

Comments on Odd Future

If you've been all up on the internet and such you've probably seen something about Odd Future in the past few months. If you haven't, take a peek at some of the videos below: they're pretty good. It seems, however, that most people are focused on the appeal/repulsion of their lyrical content. And yes, talking about rape is not something to be brushed off easily, but I think if we've come to grips with people like the Dipset practically glorifying misogyny, then it shouldn't be a problem when the horrifying lyrical content is clearly meant to be horrifying, rather than worthy of jealousy. If we're going to see the content portrayed in hip-hop as similar to a fictional conceit, it is easy to see that this is a situation where this concept is very applicable.

More importantly, focusing on this aspect as their most notable really only focuses on certain songs with a particularly scary sound. While other songs have similar lyrical content, their sound does not necessarily betray an attempt to frighten. Seeing this group as a reinvigorization of gangsta rap, as many have written, is pretty near-sighted. Part of what makes OFWGKTA so appealing is their versatility, being capable of making new twists on gangsta rap with songs like "French" and "Splatter", remixs with songs like "Drop" and "Orange Juice", and story raps with songs like "Super Market" and "Luper", all with a certain amount of energy that makes them all believable in their own way. Their best tracks, like "Assmilk", are basically everything, a mix of humor, absurdity, terror, and just plain weirdness. Even when they are clearly falling into a particular genre, its in a particularly ridiculous way. No other rapper, for example, has gotten a hand-job from Jesus at a Justin Bieber concert. And despite their versatility, all of their music has a particularly unsettling, chaotic quality that is their signature, which is part of the reason they get pegged as gangsta rap or horrorcore so often, even when the song, overall, betrays other aims.

So what really makes Odd Future a good group of musicians is that they are truly and intriguingly unique, as are the other rising artists of this year, like Waka Flocka Flame and Yelawolf. They have an ability to be experimental while still making songs that knock. The collective is, however, very much a product of the times, being more self-aware than basically anyone but Kanye, acknowledging the downfalls of their own sound and audience in their songs and understanding their own fictional roles in a very transparent way, often pitting themselves purposely against each other. And if they are ever being derivative, its clear that they are aware of it. Domo Genesis knows he's at least part stoner rap clone, and Tyler realizes that he has to make post-Kanye acknowledgements. When they have a childish "say sorry" fight in the middle of a song or Tyler stops the song to say "i'm not gay, faggot," its pretty clear that they know we're not going to take these things at face value. Everything they do is under their own scrutiny as well as ours, which is part of the reason why their choice to rap about rape is so stark, but also a good reason for us to take it with a grain of salt.

Most importantly, however, they have DRIVE. They clearly define themselves against an adult culture that they find unsavory. In recent months, I've become a little wary of rappers attacking phantom enemies in song, most notable recently in Jay-Z's verse on "So Appalled". While it can sometimes work, a lack of real enemies shows a lack of real innovation and spark in verse. When the members of Odd Future say "Fuck Steve Harvey", however, we can believe they mean it. And they have real enemies. Notable blogs like Nah Right and 2Dopeboyz have chosen specifically not to post about bedroom rapper-producers like Lil B, Young L, and Odd Future. Thus they choose to define themselves against an older black culture, one they see as not having treated them properly. They're not inspired by the drug trade, but the psychoactive drugs their very parents have given them. This inspiration is particularly nuanced, showing itself in multiple and unexpected places, in Earl's calm yet powerful verses and Domo's spaced-out fantasies as well as Tyler's terrifying growl. Overall the group's thirst for success has made their music into a sort of crucible, where all members compete against one another, making everyone stronger and more aware of his own particular talents. These guys are, frankly, the perfect combination for making good music in these times. They have talent, awareness, and a reason to use both.

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