By Robert Stephens
I was really reluctant to write my apologist review of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA). The group’s music is an eclectic mix of violent rants, intricate lyricism, and vulnerable introspection, all arranged over sweeping and dynamic musical compositions. My feelings about this group are difficult for me to explain because there is just so much material to digest and their musical narratives are, many times, intimately human, and therefore very complex. You don’t hear their music, you feel it; not just in their lyrics, but in the diversity of sounds they create as well. The level of personality in their music makes it simultaneously extremely accessible, belligerently alienating, flippantly offensive, and if placed in context, endearing.
A lot of ink has been spilled on the Odd Future phenomenon, most of which attempts to establish a kind of objective appraisal or denouncement of their work. I’m going to circumvent this process, I will only attempt to explain what the music means to me personally. I really had trouble trying to figure out how to write about why I have had their 13 albums on an almost continuous rotation since February. So, I’m going to start with my own mindset when I first heard their music, focusing exclusively on “Tyler, the Creator”, and I will save my evolving critique for another post. I will then discuss the impact that the music had on my perspective, and how it played a role in my coming to terms with a host of difficult experiences.
When I first heard Odd Future, it was February 2011. I had just begun my second semester of law school and I really could not have been more disengaged from the experience. I felt totally alienated by the lack of creativity and self-expression in the law school environment, and I just couldn’t deal with the “get a legal job at any cost” group-think that seemed to have my peers on-edge. Additionally, I was trying to keep it together as I dealt with my Dad’s recent cancer diagnosis and my parents work being threatened by state government budget politics. I was suddenly thrust in a position of leadership in my family system, but I didn’t have a clue about what I wanted to get from life. Under this pressure, I developed a certain callous numbness and indifference to my own existence.
JIMMY FALLON PERFORMANCE/SANDWITCHES
It was in that context that I saw the following performance of the song “Sandwitches” by Tyler, the Creator and Hodgy Beats:
This is probably one of the best television performances I have ever seen; their energy just oozes through the screen. I suddenly felt excited and was immediately drawn to their unbridled self-expression and spontaneity. The version of the song in the video was edited for television, but I later heard the uncensored lyrics to the song. The lyrics spoke to the sudden rage I began experiencing upon being thrust into the world after college. The words resonated with the pain I felt helplessly watching a system of inequality leave my Dad worrying about how he was going to pay for his own death, cut social programs that would alleviate his worries, restricted state funding for my parent’s employment, all while helping corporations to record profits.
To be clear, I have never committed any violence, nor do I intend to do so. Also, this music in no way inspired any violent fantasies. In fact, it was exactly the opposite; the music gave me a sense of calm. The power of my emotional reaction to these songs reflected the fact that I was unaware of the anger I felt at the world I was observing and experiencing.
Tyler, the Creator’s contrarian lyricism gave me an outlet for my desire to resist the hyper-capitalist and conservative law school environment. I knew that I wanted to resist these influences, but a life of materialist glamor is seductive. Odd Future became my soundtrack to subversion.
Nigga had the fucking nerve to call me immature/ Fuck you think I made Odd Future for?/ To wear fucking suits and make “good” decisions?/ Fuck that, nigga!
The Golf Wang hooligans/ Is fucking up the school again/ And showing you and yours that breaking rules is fucking cool again
When Tyler raps about violence, I don’t see physical destruction in my mind’s eye. Instead, I hear his narrative and I identify with the feelings that drive him to create; this personal accessibility in his music provides me with a catharsis of sorts. His frustration leads him to violent fantasies, mine drives me to create social critiques and participate in activities like blogging and protesting, but the reflective process leading up to creation is similar.
Come on kids, fuck that class and hit that bong/ Let’s buy guns and kill those kids with dads and mom/ With nice homes, 401k’s, and nice ass lawns/ Those privileged fucks got to learn that we ain’t taking no shit/ Like Ellen DeGeneres’ clitoris is playing with dick
The energy of the Jimmy Fallon performance was great, but I really became a fan once I saw a more complete picture of just how talented these kids are. Later that night, I saw Tyler, the Creator’s “Yonkers” music video.
As far as the music video goes, Tyler thought of the concept and directed the video himself. Lyrically, the song is a series of contradictions and non-sequiturs that reflect the tension between his identity and his ambition.
I’m an overachiever/ So how about I start a team of leaders/ And pick up Stevie Wonder to be the wide-receiver/ Green paper, gold teeth, and pregnant gold retrievers, all I want/ Fuck money, diamonds, and bitches don’t need em
In the album version of the song the following verse appears:
Fuck the fame and all the hype G/ I just want to know if my father will ever like me/ But I don’t give a fuck, so he’s probably just like me/ A mutha-fucking-goblin/ Fuck everything man/ That’s what my conscience said/ Then a bunny hopped off my shoulder/ Now my conscience dead/ Now the only guidance that I had is splattered on cement/ Actions speak louder than words, let me try this shit/…. Dead
Not only does this verse explain why he kills himself at the end of the music video, but it also demonstrates the deeply personal nature of Tyler’s storytelling. In an interview with The Drone, Tyler describes his storytelling philosophy.
Every song is a story to me; that’s the shit I think about. Everybody thinks about dark shit, why when somebody says it, it’s such a big deal. Everybody goes home and there’s some shit that eats them up inside, and they don’t tell people
IMPACT ON MY LIFE
Shortly after hearing these songs, I made the transition from anger to productivity. I got on Twitter (My twitter name, RobtheIdealist, is inspired by Tyler, the Creator), I went to protests, and I began planning to write this blog. I also enjoyed a period of self-reflection when I discovered what I want to do with a legal degree, and I really started processing the anger I had been feeling.
In May, Tyler, the Creator’s album “Goblin” came out while I was in Los Angeles. The song “Radicals” sums up my experience listening to OFWGKTA, and the first year of law school in general. The song begins with rage as Tyler yells “Kill People/ Burn Shit/ Fuck School”. It then transitions to defiance, as he declares “Fuck your traditions/ Fuck your positions/ Fuck your religion/ Fuck your decisions”. The song is most rewarding after the beat changes to merge with words of acceptance and catharsis as Tyler repeats “You gotta let em go” while a fictional-therapist advises him to let go of his rage and defiance.
I’m not claiming their music is perfect. I will say that OFWGKTA put me in touch with the darker corners of my consciousness, excited me, and inspired me. The music also challenged me to confront and explore the discomfort I felt with some of their subject matter. With that being said, there is much to critique regarding their music, aesthetic, violence (especially towards women), slurs, and absurdism. There is even an emerging critique of their “Don’t Give A Fuck Philosophy”.
OFWGKTA wants you to wild the fugg out at their shows or the crew will lambast you with criticism. They will call you faggots and pussy ass bloggers until you give them a chaotic mess. They will flail their teenage bodies into your face and break your nose. There will be blood. They will dive from 20 feet up and expect you to catch them. It will hurt you once the adrenaline wears off. But for the love of all that is holy, don’t you dare bring them into the riot. It’s scary. I mean, come on people. Tyler has asthma, ya’ll. One of them almost got hurt.
These critiques are important, and will reveal good analysis regarding Odd Future, but if we really put our minds together we can discover a lot more about ourselves. Bethlehem Shoals of The Poetry Foundation and FreeDarko.com adds the following:
OFWGKTA draw us in because, despite their youth, sub-cultural niche, and deliberate obscurity, their act isn’t insular. There is a universal here, one that goes beyond hip-hop, or language, and touches a nerve that many of us may have never known we had in the first place.