Donuts and Demonism: tracking the influence of Odd Future

| Staff Writer

Watching the video for Tyler, The Creator’s “Yonkers” five years after its release, it is striking just how raw the Odd Future brand was. As statements of intent go, this is arguably as compelling as it can get. Tyler, The Creator—de facto leader of the then-burgeoning Los Angeles hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All—seemed far beyond his 19 years, and seeing something so perfectly formed perhaps signalled that a regression (or at least a lack of progression) was looming. Even now, it serves as a powerful glimpse into one of this generation’s most visible and talented artists, without any major label- or business-related influence.

Since “Yonkers,” the path Tyler and Odd Future follow has been much less clear and focused. “Goblin,” Tyler’s sophomore album that this video promoted, was inherently difficult. Tyler was somewhere in between the dark imagery that was the signature of earlier recordings and the less shocking sound he has since moved into, and this rendered the album bloated and confused. Similar issues plagued his most recent releases, “Wolf” and “Cherry Bomb.” For whatever reason, I can’t help but think the angst and sheer honesty that went into and made his debut, “Bastard,” so great has been lost.

Tracking the rest of the Odd Future members’ movements is even more difficult than it is for Tyler. The Internet—a band formed by Odd Future members Syd tha Kid and Matt Martians –received its first Grammy nomination last December. It largely operated outside the collective and, in some sense, reaped its rewards. Domo Genesis, Hodgy Beats and Mike G always seemed to be bit part players in the machine since “Yonkers” went viral, destined to be relegated to guest features and sloppy mixtapes. Some parts concede that this neglect occurred by purely existing within Odd Future, under the shadow of Tyler and others. While this is true on some level, I think their lack of maintained success is much more related to the quality of the music. Would Mike G have reached anywhere near the level of exposure he has without being attached to Odd Future? Almost certainly not.

For Frank Ocean and Earl Sweatshirt, the influence Odd Future has had on their exposure should not be undermined. Earl Sweatshirt, who was missing-in-action when “Yonkers” and Odd Future exploded, fulfilled the potential seen on the brute force of his first mixtape, “Earl,” to an unexpected degree. While he strayed away from his earlier sound and lyrical content, just as Tyler did, he is also now cemented as one of the best young rappers around. Kendrick Lamar told the world this last year via Twitter – how could you possibly argue with that?

For Frank Ocean, his involvement was blurry from the get go. Frank has mentioned numerous times the influence Tyler and his intrinsic energy had on his career, and this should not be discounted. While being attached to Odd Future certainly gave him exposure to a unique audience, this is one he would have gained anyway purely due to the quality of his debut album, “Channel Orange.” The struggle of being an Ocean fan is now universal, as we’ve heard no official word on his forthcoming album, “Boys Don’t Cry,” since it missed its planned July 2015 release.

While Odd Future’s musical influence can be debated, one thing far more objective is the role it played in shaping youth culture as a whole. Not many would argue that we would be seeing as many Supreme box logos and the associated skateboarding apparel without Tyler and co. consistently sporting them. To me though, it goes further than just 5 Panels and short-sleeved shirts. As a 15-year-old in 2011, I had never witnessed anything as purely unique as what Odd Future represented. Seeing a group of remarkably talented young individuals, free from the chains of a major corporation, making art, often to an incredibly high level, was significant—and I am sure there are others out there who share this sentiment. The only similarity I could ever see between Odd Future and the Wu-Tang Clan is this. They made you want to tell all your friends about them and, more than anything, made you want to be a part of their circle.

Odd Future had a pretty visible “breakup” last year, one that was almost inevitable. The group’s existence relied on an energy that had, by all accounts, vanished, unlikely to ever be rediscovered. As someone who has been influenced by Odd Future more than almost anyone, I find this energy is captured by the video for posse cut “Oldie.” Even in 2012, witnessing all members delivering their verses and genuinely enjoying each other’s company felt like a reunion. As is the nature of any relationship, people change and move apart; some would say their dissolution was inevitable. The documents that have survived through this—the music, videos and clothes—will always be there to embrace, if only for nostalgia’s sake.

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