mon 16/05/2022

Odd Future, The Drop, Stoke Newington | reviews, news & interviews

Odd Future, The Drop, Stoke Newington

Odd Future, The Drop, Stoke Newington

LA's hottest teenage rap crew are a genuinely fresh discovery

Given the somewhat viral nature of Odd Future's rapidly flourishing notoriety, it's both appropriate and a little ironic that their debut UK performance should take place in the basement of a pub in a part of north London where the underground doesn't run. Also known as OFWGKTA (or Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All), this 10-strong self-contained teenage rap conglomerate from Los Angeles has united hip-hop über-nerds, jaded old-schoolers and regular rap fans alike – a remarkable achievement in itself – in praise of unique DIY aesthetic, both musical and visual, inspired by, amongst other things, a love of early Eminem, skateboard culture and the consumption of marijuana.

After two short years of making music for their own amusement and giving it away for free via their website (the most recent release topped 12,000 downloads in less than a day), at some point during the summer the walls surrounding Odd Future's private universe of bizarre codes, in-jokes and oddball slang disappeared, and they began to turn up on Next Big Thing lists all over the internet, as well as in outlets as diverse as The Wire and LA Weekly, the buzz eventually being enough to tempt them beyond the West Coast to a wet, autumnal London.

At Stoke Newington's The Drop last night, the four who'd made the journey – de facto leader Tyler, Mike G and Mellow Hype (Hodgy Beats and Left Brain) – seemed genuinely overwhelmed at finding themselves in a tiny, cramped sweatbox of a room on the other side of the Atlantic, with about 100 people shouting the lyrics to songs like "Blow", from Tyler's debut album, Bastard. "Blow" is typical of the Odd Future approach – Neptunes-influenced beats and pads, drugged-out tempos and amoral, darkly humorous lyrics that push at the boundaries of good taste, then push a bit further. And even if the music itself wasn't terribly well served by the venue's somewhat limited sound system – whistling feedback and unintentional distortion abounds - the energy level and the enthusiasm remained unaffected throughout their noisy, rambunctious set. No one in the audience was there by accident; the show was announced on Tuesday and sold out within 24 hours, giving it the kind of secret-society atmosphere that the products of an accelerated culture are rarely granted nowadays.

Odd Future themselves seem much like regular teenagers; preoccupied with clothes, drugs and sex, prone to wild and often disturbing flights of fancy, and vigorously exercising their youthful prerogative to bewilder, outrage and cause older folk to wonder what the world's coming to. They're also quick to eschew comparisons to acts like Wu-Tang Clan (whose GZA has already declared himself a fan) or forgotten hip-hop micro-genres like horrorcore, in a “whatever they say I am, that's what I'm not” kind of way. And while their live show was fairly basic and not altogether different to that of many other rappers, it had a raw, unvarnished bluntness that echoed the indie-band cliché about making music for ourselves, and if anyone else happens to like it, well, that's a bonus - the key difference being that Odd Future do actually seem to mean it.

Watch a trailer for Tyler, The Creator's "Bastard":

Presumably without ever intending to, they succeed in being a throwback to hip hop's origins, where rappers and DJs honed the form at their own pace without ever considering that the world beyond their block would ever – could ever – be remotely interested in what they were up to. In an age where everything that's ever declared itself real, truthful and unfiltered comes to you via a press office or a PR company, and hip hop itself has become progressively more rigid, over-branded and corporate, this is a rare thing to witness indeed.

Right now, Odd Future are beginning to display many of the characteristics of a genuine phenomenon, and while it's likely that the most lurid extremes of their lyrical fascinations – at times pretty unsavoury, it must be said – will come in for some harsh criticism, such things are more a reflection of youthful recklessness, repressed angst and a desire to shock for the sake of it, rather than genuine sociopathic tendencies. What's most significant about them is that they don't seem interested in pleasing anyone but themselves, but equally, they don't bend over backwards to adopt the too-cool-for-school stance of the committed hipster.

How long this can last is anyone's guess. Already, they're attracting the attention of music industry big-hitters, with management firms and labels circling them, ready to exploit the impressive fanbase Odd Future have already built with minimal effort. And while Tyler has already expressed concern over whether he'll be able to shield Odd Future's swagadelic ethos from external pressures completely, they should be able to remain untainted for a while yet. If they manage to fulfil even half of their potential, the future of hip hop could turn out to be very odd indeed.

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