Once on the cutting edge of social and political commentary, lately rap music has become boring and stagnant. Rappers like Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame make millions by pairing pedestrian lyrics with grandiloquent beats. Lucky for disillusioned listeners, there is now Odd Future, an unconventional rap crew out of Los Angeles made up of 11 teenagers.
Odd Future, also known as OFWGKTA, or Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, has gained major hype in the rap scene, both for their avant-garde rhymes and their unusual business practices. All 10 of Odd Future’s albums and mixtapes have been posted for free download on the group’s Tumblr. They have resisted major rap labels’ undoubtedly impressive courtships, choosing instead to remain independent artists with complete creative control over their work. The success of this method is a testament to the impact that the Internet has made on music, as this small crew of teenagers can produce, record, and distribute their own music across the world all with a single laptop. The success of their records only fuels their hate for the industry, and adds to the almost punk vibe of their image.
Although there music has quality, Odd Future does have a gimmick—youth. No member of the group is older than 23, and some, like Earl Sweatshirt, one of the team’s most prolific writers, are only 16. (Unfortunately, following last year’s release of his impressive LP EARL, Sweatshirt has been locked up in a juvenile detention facility. The gang often laments his absence in their blog and YouTube posts.) In a way, Earl is the underground’s own version of Lil Wayne—his rhymes are abrasive and his swagger off the charts, much like the 16-year-old Wayne. But in place of Wayne’s over-the-top production and megalomania, Earl favors minimal electronic drums that cannot overpower his gritty flow.
Odd Future’s unofficial leader is the mystifying Tyler the Creator, who at 19 has developed a unique voice and style many artists struggle for decades to find. His super-bass voice drives introspective rhymes about growing up in a broken family and about his own insecurities. Tyler is the only Odd Future rapper who moves past the rest of the crew’s braggadocio and into true lyrical narrative, and he is helping pave the way for the rest to grow as musicians. His rhymes attack the status quo proudly, and he has said of the group, “I created OF because I felt that we were more talented than 40-year-old rappers talking about Gucci.” Tyler’s rapping is, above all, full of the iconoclastic rebellion of adolescence, aiming at the complacency of modern rappers.
Today’s rap charts are dominated by bumping dance anthems with little true lyrical or musical value. Many rappers are decades removed from street life but are still quick to rap about it. Odd Future stands out because they are completely connected to their aesthetic—from their blog to their YouTube channel, they are in total control of their sound and image. While Rick Ross raps about hang gliding in Costa Rica, Odd Future rhymes about ditching class and skateboarding. Odd Future’s rise to fame—Source named them as one of the hottest mix tapes of last year—reminds audiences that underground rap is alive and thriving. While many are content to be force-fed the top-40, it’s nice to know that there are still those willing to stand out, critique the status quo, and demand more.
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