If the saying ‘You’re as young as you feel” is true, then seeing Odd Future on the Jimmy Fallon show for the first time in 2011 made me feel like I had one foot in the grave. I’m talking about in bed by nine, joint-popping, starting each phrase with ‘these young people…”-type old. Though my initial impression of their sound quickly made me feel out of my element, upon closer examination, I definitely heard the talent. Odd Future represents a generation of young artists for whom YouTube is the school talent show. Instead of waiting until they reach a certain place of industry and interpersonal maturity before the masses know who they are, they are maturing and growing right in front of our eyes.
This is helpful to remember when listening to Wolf, the third LP by OF’s charismatic frontman, rapper, producer and award-winning video director Tyler The Creator. Tyler is 22 now, almost five years older than he was on his debut album Bastard, and while this growth can be heard in his content and production, he is the same Tyler that he was at the time of his debut, only with new problems (overzealous stans, a mortgage and a broken heart, to name a few).
Part review and part analysis, here’s a rundown of my impressions of Wolf:
Jamba- I’m here for the beat. Tyler and Hodgy Beats are as charming as anyone can be using gay pejorative language (more on that later) and making repeated requests for naysayers to fellate them.
Slater- Tyler (as one of his alter-egos Sam) admonishes journalists for their obsession with him, while pointing out the fact that he’s Straight Edge, no matter what his lyrics might suggest (“Y’all on my dick more than my index when I take a pee/Came up with ”Rella”, ain’t touch a bag of weed). The beat is downtempo, and the change-up with crew favorite Frank Ocean towards this end makes this one of my new zone-out tracks.
48– This track is on repeat. Of all of the tracks on the album, it is the most indicative of what Tyler’s production and rhyme scheme will be with continued development and mentoring from the likes of Nas and Pharrell. With the help of Frank Ocean and inspired by an interview he had with Nas in 2011, Tyler tries on the shoes of a young drug dealer. It’s refreshing and impressive to hear Tyler tell the story through the eyes of a persona that has sprouted many prominent rappers before him, Nas included, and which is so far removed from his own experience.
IFHY– This track reminded me of She but less creepy. The video for this song, directed by Tyler, has a lot to do with why I love this song so much. The I-Hate-How-Much-I-Love–You narrative is a familiar one, but self-conscious emo musings over insane drums and kicks and some of the best production of the album, with a jazzy bridge by Pharrell, allow this track to pass the old-head test.
Treehome95- Jazz piano and Erykah Badu. This album is a break from the tone of the rest of the album, and while it’s a great track, it keeps the album from being as cohesive as it could be. I’ll give Tyler a pass because I can imagine the Pisces dreamy love-fest he had with Erykah creating this track.
There are other solid tracks on the album, but if I were making a Tyler The Creator Mixtape for old heads, these are the songs from Wolf that I would include.
For anyone who thought that Frank Ocean’s letter confessing his romantic relationship with a man would get Tyler to cool out on using the word f*ggot, they are sorely mistaken. Tyler makes reference to his friend’s sexuality a few times on Wolf, (ex. “Life ain’t got no light in it/Darker than that closet that nigga Frankie was hiding in”- Cowboy), and on the album and in interviews, has held up Ocean’s and Syd tha Kyd’s affiliation with Odd Future as clear evidence that he isn’t homophobic, no matter how many times he may use the word f*ggot.
While pondering this problematic but common misconception (“I’m not racist/homophobic/ otherwise oppressive, my best friend is ___”), I wondered where were the groups of protesters decrying Tyler’s use of the word “f*ggot,” or his often violent narratives involving women? Are they too busy tearing Rick Ross a new one for his bone-headed date rape lyrics? Does Tyler’s persona as an upstart make him easier to shrug off? Has the word truly lost some of the sting since GLAAD called for a protest of The Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem? Well, one difference is that while Tyler makes light of same gender-loving people and behavior with the word, he doesn’t call for violence against LGBT people, or makes blatantly hateful statements using the word (vs. Eminem’s “Hate f*gs/The answer’s yes” line from the song “Criminal”).
Another factor that works in Tyler’s favor, that makes Tyler’s use of inflammatory, pejorative language, narratives of bad boyfriend behavior and clear jabs at bourgeois sensibilities (“And tell Spike Lee he’s a goddamn nigga”-Tamale) so much easier to digest than Eminem, Onyx or the other comparisons that Tyler and his OFWGKTA comrades receive? The fact that as popular as the gang has become, with the exception of Frank Ocean, Odd Future is an independent act that receives no major radio play. They are clearly underground, and designed for a specific audience. No major label/media conglomerate is shoving them down our throats. Thus, we don’t need to agree with everything they produce or represent. Tyler and the gang have carved a rare niche that allows them both mainstream credibility (Kanye West loved the video for “IFHY” so much that he took his own website down and replaced it with the YouTube clip), and underground freedom.
I hope the youngins in Odd Future relish this for as long as they can.
Bonus: Tyler and the crew are also behind the Adult Swim series Loiter Squad. They parodied The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and gave me my life for at least the next month.