Odd Future Is Dead

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Tyler, The Creator’s television debut feels like it was a century ago. In 2011 Odd Future was making the jump from internet sensation to real-life phenomenon, and the sudden performance on The Jimmy Fallon Show propelled their leap into popularity. It felt like OF (comprised of Tyler, Earl Sweatshirt, Left Brain, Hodgy Beats, Frank Ocean, Domo Genesis, Mike G, Syd Tha Kyd, Matt Martians, Hal Williams, Jasper Dolphin, Taco, Lucas Versetti, and L-Boy)  was one of the most cutting edge things to happen in hip-hop in quite some time – even though many of us knew better.

Fast forward four years to Earl Sweatshirt’s new album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, notably the first album he claims he can “fully stand behind,” and all the air in the OF balloon has farted its way into the stratosphere.

Tyler, and Earl to a lesser extent, were obviously the driving forces not only behind the group’s creativity, but it’s burgeoning hype in the early ’10s. Earl’s abrupt disappearance to a Samoan boot camp in 2010 was, despite being genuine, the perfect publicity tack for fans to hinge their hopes on, casting him as a mysterious outcast with a shadow that reached farther than his music seemed to indicate. Odd Future was quickly labelled as shock rap, thanks to the now-infamous 2010 video for “EARL” where the kids throw a bunch of drugs in a blender, drink the concoction, and then go on scary-looking bender through the neighborhood. That video was Odd Future’s proof of concept, bringing the collective from obscure message boards to a (slightly) broader audience.

On February 10, 2011, Tyler proved himself the consummate Internet provocateur with his “Yonkers” video, which freaked everyone out as they watched him “eat” a cockroach. Coupled with the DIY feel of the “EARL” video, the “Yonkers” visuals skyrocketed Odd Future into a whole new sphere of attention. Less than a week later, Tyler and Hodgy Beats were jumping around on Fallon. Odd Future had arrived.

Tyler, The Creator was always more of an entertainer than a rapper. Even his marketing skills and his keen visual taste, first apparent on Tumblr, overshadowed his musical acumen in terms of both rapping and producing. He could talk a lot about chords and N.E.R.D, but his beats just weren’t that tight. He was, however, good at making everything he did feel importantand that allowed him to put Odd Future on his back like any loyal leader would. Tyler was the sole reason Odd Future took off. Without its zany commander, OF would have lost its luster a whole lot quicker.

Now, Odd Future as a “movement” (or whatever people crowned it as) is dead in the water, and Tyler, The Creator is (wisely) more interested in building his own app (note – not an Odd Future app) than he is with releasing new music. Even “Loiter Squad,” the Adult Swim show that featured Tyler, Earl, Jasper, Taco, and L-Boy, hasn’t returned since July 2014, and news of a new season is yet to surface.

While we don’t know much about the inside workings of the relationships between Tyler and second- and third-tier OF acts like Domo Genesis and MellowHype, recent clues point to fractures in the group’s outward solidarity.

It started in early 2012 when Earl came back from Samoa to a shitload of buzz. Faced with a bevy of offers from record deals, he chose to start his own imprint, Tan Cressida, under Sony, the very same major label under which Odd Future as an imprint was signed. Talk about awkward. “I want to lie to you and say, ‘Yeah he’s here,’” said Tyler in a New York Times interview at the time of Earl’s return. “But I have no idea. I just don’t.”

Then, in November of last year, FADER did a cover story with Tyler in which he revealed an ongoing fissure between himself and Earl:

“That’s my nigga,” Tyler says. “We just aren’t as close as we were. It’s kind of weird, but I’m aware and smart enough to know, okay, shit changes.” Tyler confirms that the duo hasn’t worked on music together since Earl’s 2013 album cut “Sasquatch.” “Shit changes, people get older, people’s goals change. As fucking outlandish and outspoken as I am, I don’t like confrontation. I’m not a piece of shit, man. I’m fair to everyone.”

In the same story, Tyler implied that other ancillary Odd Future members were “on their own island.” Writer Matthew Trammell editorialized that, “[Tyler] still sees the Odd Future guys, but they’re not all in his inner orbit.” Something was definitely up.

A month later, in early December 2014, Tyler posted a lengthy, rambling, and heated message to Facebook that started with, “all you negative muthafuckas should look at me as inspiration.” His invective continued in a tone that indicated he was tired of people holding themselves back. “if a nigga only hits you up to smoke or drink or turn up and have nothing else to offer to get you where ever you think about being when you are alone daydreaming THEN GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM THEM.”

The latest testament to the death of Odd Future as a public collective can be found on Earl’s new album. First, the meta-data: Earl’s first official 2013 album Doris featured OF members Frank Ocean, Domo Genesis, and Tyler multiple times. Conversely, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is produced entirely by Earl with only one beat contributed by Left Brain, another OF member. The features include Wiki of Ratking, Vince Staples, Dash, and Nakel. Only the last guy could be considered an OF affiliate, though really he’s a pro skater in the satellite network of the group.

Then there are the lyrics. On “Mantra”: “Name getting bigger than the difference between us, niggas is fake, I limit the features I give ’em […] You know you famous when the niggas that surround you switch / And if they hated in a passive tense, and now they hound your dick.” And again on “Inside”: “Keep the circle close, let them niggas front in the cul-de-sacs / Friendly with the chosen, the rest is getting the poker hand.”

It’s not to say Odd Future members aren’t still friends with each other, but externally, the cohesive brand that is Odd Future looks like it’s frayed at the seams. Their immense popularity as one unit a couple years ago allowed each individual to become a celebrity on their own, so today an OF rapper like Mike G or Hodgy Beats doesn’t need to flaunt their connection to Odd Future anymore. The collective gave them a strong, foundational launch pad off of which to base their own careers off of. Therefore, it’s not exactly a bad thing that Odd Future as we know it is ostensibly over. It just means the kids are growing up.

UPDATE: Looks like we were right.

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