How Odd Future Went From Rabble-Rousing Rebels To Influencing A Generation Of Hip-Hop Acts And Fans

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In 2010, there was nothing like Odd Future. Rising up from seemingly nowhere, the rabble-rousing troupe of skate-punk, streetwear-obsessed teenagers brought their brash, radioactive rebellion music from the streets of Fairfax to the ears of young, impressionable, angry, depressed, disgruntled, and bored teenagers everywhere. In the process, they bypassed the establishment — radio, labels, and then-nascent, tastemaking music blogs — with their reckless, unhinged, but probably tongue-in-cheek mantra: “Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School.” Their no-rules approach brought them immense success, including a constellation of television shows and businesses that have collectively spread the group’s brand into widespread awareness. Since then, the group’s members have largely mellowed out and lost some members along the way, but they still maintain the same, near-religious level of influence.

They’ve gone from skateboards to McClarens, from streetwear to designer, from Sharpie-tagged canvas backpacks to luxury handbags. The Internet is holding the torch for modern day smooth funk, while Earl Sweatshirt recently released a well-received, experimental rumination on legacy on Some Rap Songs. The Internet‘s frontwoman, Syd, had become a new model for presenting an alternative identity in urban music, inspiring fans with her unapologetic self-assurance. And their leader, mastermind, and mischievous creative director, Tyler The Creator, has reached the point where his co-sign confers legitimacy and his fans’ excitement on artists who would ordinarily have to struggle to attain it, such as Jaden Smith or Brockhampton, who recently headlined his 2018 Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival.

Odd Future bore not only the brunt of the intense criticism of their initial, lawless onslaught on the sensibilities of “real hip-hop” and polite society, they also siphoned the worst aspects of the intensified relationship between fans and performers that was created by social media. In the wild west early days of Twitter, before hashtags denoted thousands-strong political campaigns and Russia-sympathizing, Neo-Nazi bots were defending Kanye West, fans mounted a massive investigation into the whereabouts of missing member Earl Sweatshirt, eventually finding him at a boarding school in Samoa where he’d been sent by his concerned mother. Completely forgetting the fact that Earl was at the time 16 years old and therefore entirely under the stewardship of his parental guardian, fans harassed Earl’s mother, driving by the family home and calling at all hours to cajole her for his freedom. Is it any wonder his tendency since returning has been to vanish as often as he drops new music?

Now, though, when he does release new music, there is a vocal niche eager and waiting to receive it and lavish it with elaborate praise and expressive memes. Fans feel connected to Earl; there is a theory that half of the kids who listen to his music do so for the bars, while the other half relate to his mopey disposition, seeing themselves and their languid teenage malaise reflected in his half-mumbled, confessional, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. As he rambles on, they can perhaps imagine themselves as part of Odd Future’s extended crusade against convention. After all, they’re the misfits, the loners, the stoners, and the rebels. Odd Future may be defunct now, but for a time, they gave their young, outcast fans a cause.

Meanwhile, the Tyler the Creator co-sign has been instrumental to the success of many of the up-and-coming artists who graced that Flog Gnaw stage during 2018’s iteration. While I distinctly recall thinking that Flatbush Zombies deserved a larger stage than the cramped tent their rollicking set was confined to at Coachella, even I was unprepared to be jostled and bumped and squeezed by the crowd over 300 feet from the stage at Flog Gnaw. Brockhampton, whose uncontained, wily set at last year’s Flog Gnaw left me unimpressed by its haphazard chaos, this year’s set was in contrast more tightly controlled and efficient, and sent disproportionately larger tidal waves of energy over the packed crowd, resulting in a lengthy shut down while fans were pulled from the crush at the front of the stage. Even Jaden Smith, whose debut album Syre was met with something of a shrug last year, drew a massive crowd whose energy bordered on riotous as he prowled the stage and became volcanic when he shouted out those infamous words: “Odd Future Wolf Gang, Kill Them All!”

It’s also interesting that Brockhampton are so often compared to Odd Future at their height; the similarities seem obvious at first, but maybe they’re almost too obvious to be anything more than superficial. On the surface, they are both rambunctious super groups that railed against authority and defied the gender stereotypes expected of them by both hip-hop and larger society. However, it seems like Brockhampton is something of a kinder, gentler version of the old Wolf Gang, sanding off the rough edges and prickly ends to achieve something of a more palatable, living room TV-friendly version of the group that terrorized labels and blogs alike throughout the early part of the decade.

Gone are the horrorcore-inspired, violence-riddled, misogynistic lyrics. If Brockhampton’s energy seems even more uncontained onstage, it might be due to the juxtaposition of their quiet, professional demeanor off of it, which is the exact opposite of Tyler and crew’s set-demolishing, street prowling pranksterism. While Odd Future’s late night debut on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon was unsettling and likely gave the stage director a mild conniption fit as they roamed off the stage to menaced their host and the audience while the cameras struggled to keep them in view, Brockhampton’s own debut on that same show brings a more centered approached that keeps all their charge around them rather than losing it in stilted displays of bravado.

Likewise, Brockhampton seemed to springboard from the malleable sexual identities expressed by Odd Future into more confident expressions of themselves. It took months for Frank Ocean to “officially” come out; it took Tyler the Creator even longer, during which time he gleefully spewed slurs and offensive gay jokes, arguing that it didn’t matter because his best friends — likely Syd of The Internet and Ocean — were gay. By contrast, Kevin Abstract, the de facto Tyler of his own band, put his orientation front and center of his music right off the bat. Where Odd Future wrestled with questions and challenges and even their own self-destructive tendencies at every turn, Brockhampton is simply accepted, and likely loved all the more, by fans who take their sexuality as a byproduct of the whole, rather than some obstructive challenge to their hip-hop credibility.

And while the concept of bars-first, aggressive rap was already old hat by the time Odd Future came along in 2010, their ability to bypass the gatekeepers is a legacy that has been inherited by any number of “Soundcloud” rappers and up-and-comers like Jay Critch and Wifisfuneral, who — like Odd Future before them — have cultivated borderline manic, invested fanbases through social engagement and self-funded, self-shot videos. Likewise, the idea of a hip-hop supercrew didn’t originate with Odd Future, but they expanded the roles that were possible to peripheral members. Unlike Wu-Tang Clan before them, every affiliate doesn’t have to turn in subpar verses on disorganized posse cuts to justify their inclusion. Take Taco Bennett, who adopted a role as the group’s de facto DJ. While he dropped in a verse here and there, he also shows up as a prominent cast member on their Adult Swim show, Loiter Squad, and provides other valuable creative input. In the same way, Brockhampton counts among its members graphic designer Henock “HK” Sileshi, photographer Ashlan Grey, web designer Roberto Ontenient, and producers Romil Hemnani, Jabari Manwa, and Kiko Merley.

Odd Future as it was constructed in 2010 may be gone, but their do-it-all-yourself approach remains the blueprint for young rappers and crews hoping to make it big nearly ten years after the group released their debut mixtape, The Odd Future Tape. Their influence is unmistakable in eccentric groups like Brockhampton and solo acts like Jaden Smith. Their co-sign is just as valuable, propelling the careers of associated and likeminded artists to similar heights of fanatic consumption. Their mission statement, to raise hell and give as much grief to the grownups as they got, lives through antiestablishment, Soundcloud and “mumble” rappers who refuse to bow to authority. Where Odd Future once challenged the establishment, now, it looks like they just might replace it.