Odd Future makes up for its lack of polish with undeniable energy
At the Vogue Theatre on Monday, October 3
Countless trees have been sacrificed and inkwells spilled in praise—and in contempt—of Odd Future, an 11-person pack of mostly teenage Los Angeles–based rappers who’ve updated the Wu-Tang Clan business model for the 21st century. What the collective lacks in rapping skills it makes up for with shock tactics, graphic-design savvy, and seemingly boundless reserves of energy. In just over three years of releasing music, most of it as free downloads, the group officially known Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, has fashioned a remarkably large and vital subculture, hooking millions of high-school kids with nearly 20 albums’ worth of spoiled suburban nihilism.
A thousand or so of those teenagers showed up to Lower Mainland schools Tuesday morning with a mean Odd Future hangover, especially the ones who braved the cattle pen that separates the stage from the first row of floor seats at the Vogue Theatre. The mosh pit was roiling well before the group’s kinetic DJ (and only female member) Syd Tha Kyd took to the decks to play a brief set of trunk-rattling southern rap. The rest of the crew emerged to literal howls, the loudest reserved for the leader and nerd-chic icon Tyler, the Creator, who rolled up on his skateboard, beaming proudly at his disciples. If Odd Future’s like the Wu-Tang Clan, then Tyler is its RZA and Method Man rolled into one, producing the group’s music, setting its lyrical course, and generally out-charming all his mates by a considerable margin.
The disparity between Tyler and the other OF rappers has little to do with mike skills; none of them are particularly competent MCs, except for the absent Earl Sweatshirt, whose mother exiled him to a Samoan boarding school over a year ago. Most of what passed for rapping would have sounded familiar to anyone who frequented open-mike nights in the late 1990s, the band’s combination of wordiness and listlessness inscrutable to all but those few hundred dudes who’d memorized the lyrics and rapped along to every word.
Fans have taken to Odd Future’s amateurishness in the same way people took to hardcore-punk acts 30 years ago; Tyler’s crucial innovation has been to spike his group’s songs with heavy doses of adolescent rage and nominally shocking lyrics, folding in murder and rape fantasies that recall Eminem’s first album.
For all the critical furor (and free publicity) those tracks have provoked, the evidence on display Tuesday night suggests there’s no real malevolence to Odd Future at all. Instead, the MCs came off like a bunch of goofy kids, making up for with energy what they lack in polish, punctuating every other song with a stage dive and a silly dance, doing what pretty much any teenager does when he’s pretending to be a rock star.
The kids in the crowd, in turn, were model citizens, several of them tossing gifts on-stage, including drawings of the band’s members, handmade key-chains, silk-screened T-shirts, and most memorably, a stuffed purple cat that Tyler christened the band’s new mascot. Maybe this is what Ol’ Dirty Bastard had in mind when he said acts like Wu-Tang are for the children. If so, the kids are all right.