Neil Kulkarni on Odd Future
Editor’s note: Neil left the following as a comment on the furore caused by Wallace Wylie’s Odd Future article. I thought it was too brilliant to be left languishing there, so got his permission to run it here. It’s fucking Kulkarni, y’all.
by Neil Kulkarni
I wrote this a while back for DJ Magazine, it never ran. Since then I’ve got tremendously bored with Odd Future (as I indicate here) but what the hell, here’s what I thought way back in 2010. I’m not saying I’d recant it all now, but jeez, their sctick has got awful dull of late.
ODD FUTURE WOLFGANG KILL THEM ALL
“Welcome to my home
the place that I hate
the place that I love
the planet of the apes
the place that I loathe
the boy minus father
equals boy minus heart
My cup runneth over
with sith lord dark side of the force
in the trunk of a Porsche tryna butt fuck Yoda
shotgun; drop T, earl flow shogun”
Jabbing with a pen while you faggots getting toes done”
– Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All, ‘Fuck This Christmas’
Nothing kills mystique in pop more than over-explication. In the internet age, hiding yourself, only revealing shards and fragments over time to build a sense of intrigue is nigh on impossible. When someone, or something, manages it it’s a rare delight indeed and it’s something that LA hip-hop crew ODD FUTURE WOLFGANG KILL THEM ALL (or OFWGKTA) have been throwing down slowly for two years now. A loose-limbed collective of kids, skaters, artists, filmmakers, MCs & beatmakers, what’s most startling about them isn’t that they’re old seasoned veterans playing a wise-assed game in reinvention, or that they’re pop intellectuals putting together a hip collage of previous rap transgressions. OFWGKTA have very little to do with the past and everything to do with right fkn now. They’re kids. Not Disney kids or showbiz kids or even kids with a dream. They’re kids with nightmares. They’re nightmare kids who know life’s a nightmare. And they don’t wanna wake up. They want to drag you in with them. A 10-strong Crenshaw-borne crew of readers, ranters and rapscallions they defy categorization, create their own new blueprints every time they drop, and though they seem almost designed to tick boxes for critics, have hoodwinked and out-thought those critics every step of the way. This is music that makes me feel old, thank fuck. Remember music that you simply couldn’t figure out, that you couldn’t link to anything else, but you knew you loved? Odd Future are some of the only people making that kind of music as we face down the world’s end. For all the words slung at them, Odd Future are where you have to stop talking and listen, and read, and watch, and submit. Welcome, and wake up to, THEIR Cooper-black fonted world. The lyrics above are from their just-dropped Xmas single. It is, genuinely, diabolical.
“Next thing you know we’re on earl’s burgundy carpet
and she’s kicking and screaming for me to fucking stop it (scream)
‘look, you know it’s not rape if you like it, bitch
so sit down like a pretty ho and don’t fight the shit’”
Earl Sweatshirt, ‘Epar’
Fittingly most can’t pinpoint the first time they heard OFWGKTA, more likely they’ll never forget the first time they SAW Earl Sweatshirt’s video for his track ‘Earl’. You get used, surfing YouTube or Vimeo, to watching music videos that don’t stick with you, that get flushed from the memory as soon as they’re done. This was a video that haunted you, not only for it’s jarring imagery of kids getting wasted and then falling apart (literally – the most memorable scene featured someone removing their own fingernail with a pair of pliers), but also cos of the astonishing mental combustion going on in Earl’s (“black Ted Bundy, sick as John Gacy”) stream-of-fuckedness lyrics and the molten futurist soundscape conjured up behind it.
With biographical information scant, and the scent-trails of their twitter-feeds and blogs only adding to the confusion, people clutched at straws to find antecedents and influences. Wrongheaded old farts pointed to 90s horrorcore, cineastes pointed to Larry Clarke and Harmony Korine. What separated OFWGKTA from all of this was their utter resistance to being pinned down to ANY lineage bar the one they were blazing themselves – unlike all of the influences mentioned Odd Future weren’t looking at themselves from a distance and depicting, they were simply BEING who they were. Kids. And kids aren’t these simplistic little nodules of received influence – kids have an amoral, occasionally frightening smartness that enables them to make artistic leaps older more hidebound-by-tradition MCs, producers and filmmakers simply can’t make.
What became clear the further you got immersed in Odd Future’s panoply of deformed beats and deranged rhymes (esp. in tracks by other members like Tyler the Creator – co-founder of the crew with Earl – Domo Genius, and Hodgy Beats) was that far from being the resurrection of something long-lost from rap (and thus something hipsters were gonna jump all over – and they did), what was going on was the explosion of a totally new unique method in hip-hop madness. Musically, straight off, it was clear that OFWGKTA were the only producers in rap who seemed genuinely informed by an insanely wide palette of music, from mainstream rap to avant-rock to the generated noise of their immediate environments. Just as, musically, Odd Future’s sound was unplaceabley multifarious yet somehow absolutely located in their own distorted realities, lyrically Odd Future leave nothing out, give you every single tendril of their teased-out brainjizz.
There’s no dilution or diversion in Odd Future’s music, what you get is the way these kids think uncut, and anyone’s who’s strayed or worked or been in a playground or skate park or classroom recently knows that kids come up with THEE sickest shit. The moral outrage that some have expresseed regarding Odd Future can only come from those who don’t know that for most kids, viscera, gore, rape, homophobia, murder, fantasy, sex, violence aren’t ‘subjects’ to be dilletantishly dabbled in. Sci-fi, serial killers, comic-books, the saturation of sickness, they’re the fuel your mind runs on at that age, the age where, as Tyler says “our imaginations are creations of the fucking situation that’s having our brains racing”.
Dodgy-as-fuck as the lyrics may be, Odd Future’s words are the only poetry out there that seems to match up to the frantic fractured way the dungball planet appears to a teenage head too quickwitted to be duped by an older generations govt or industries or program for the future – all OUR old taboos become casual threats, chat, the grisly day-to-day currency of kids conversation. Uniquely in a hip-hop world obsessed with becoming men, faux-sophistication and the career-ladder of recognition and ambition, Odd Future seemed to genuinely not give a fuck about anything other than scraping their brain-pans, cleansing the bugs out from under their skin, staying on the outside. That process of turning their darkest innermost thoughts inside-out has given us some of the most vital, violently divisive hip-hop music and imagery of the last two years.
What makes Odd Future more than just a repository for nonchalant shock-tactics and predictable outrage is the genuinely unsettling music that accompanies their thoughts, the entirely untutored way they arrive at skull-fucking new sounds by dint of pure untethered imaginative power. Tyler The Creator’s stunning ‘Bastard’ mix-tape (including the groggy eerie robo-rape dream ‘VCR’), Earl Sweatshirt’s equally brain-jangling Earl LP, Jet Age’s bathtub-psychedelic ‘Voyager’ mix, Hodgy Beats and Left Brain hooking up to form the mighty Mellohype and drop the fantastic ‘Yellowhite’ were some highlights of the ever-growing Odd Future world, and last year’s ‘Odd Future Presents Radical’ mix was some kind of cumulative highpoint for the collective, an abrasive unhinged hour of headphone-hebraphrenia wherein the twisted and tortured MCs unleash a host of outright mindblowing, stomach-churning tweaks to the Queens-English light-years beneath, and beyond, anything else that popped off on planet rap in 2010. Prepare to hold your hand to your mouth in sheer wide-eyed wonder & disbelief at what you’re watching and hearing. When’s the last time someone on Def Jam did that to you?
“Nigga had the fuckin’ nerve to call me immature
Fuck you think I made Odd Future for?
To wearin’ fuckin’ suits and make good decisions?
Fuck that nigga, Wolf Gang”
-Tyler The Creator ft. Hodgy Beats, ‘Sandwitches’
All Odd Future music can be accessed via their website oddfuture.com. Unlike older more respectable crews you never get the feeling that Odd Future are waiting for a handout from the soon-extinct dinosaur that is the record biz, rather they’re one of the few crews genuinely harnessing the power of the clicked-on screen to smear their sickness across the planet, via unmissable tweets and vids and downloads. Crucially, you can’t predict what the hell will happen with the kids of Odd Future because the normal trajectories of career ‘progression’ seem utterly irrelevant to them. Unlike the traditional hip-hop underground they’re so misguidedly compared to you get no sense of Odd Future wanting or waiting to crack into the mainstream, and the music and rhymes are simply too mean-spirited to feel like they’re interested in any conventional route to ‘success’.
Odd Future seek no nod from rappers who’ve already ‘made it’, in fact sabotage other rappers Wiki pages, have openly called out nigh-on the entirety of mainstream rap as bullshit, are committed only to their own endless indulgence. Crucially, they are emblematic of how small communities of artists are now able to create their own fan base and their own futures, of how finally we can actually hear people who genuinely don’t give a fuck. Because why play in the ruins of the record industry when we’ve all got our own ruins, our own inner dereliction to explore? Honest, fearless young genius: as of now keep ‘em peeled for the next instalment. Simply put, if you’re not listening to Odd Future in 2010, you’re deaf dumb and blind.