The 10 teenage members of L.A. hip-hop skater "family" Odd Future are natural magicians, mini wizards in Nike dunks and Supreme hoodies who, at some point during the short, cold summer of 2010, cast a powerful spell on chin-rubbing Pitchforkers, hip-hop superheroes, Fairfax sneakerheads and U.K.-style cognoscenti alike, hypnotizing them until they were all chanting the same thing: "The future's odd."
Led by a 19-year-old visionary who goes by the name Tyler, the Creator, Odd Future (or OFWGKTA, an acronym for Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) puts out tracks that un-self-consciously blend anarcho rap with retro post-hipster humor. Or sensitive, S.E. Hinton–style nihilism with sheer evil. Or a love of bacon with a hatred of talk-show host Steve Harvey. The Odd Future crew, all between 16 and 19 years old, is already way too cool for art school.
Their visual language reflects influences they don't even know they have yet — Aleister Crowley, '80s porn, Amityville, A Clockwork Orange and Dogtown. Their lyrical matter is XXX-rated, containing references a little too weird (rape? scat? Jermaine DuPri?) and a little too learned for their young-adult minds. They are tough enough to be on The Wu-Tang's radar (GZA is a fan), and their beats, dense enough to crush bone matter, are engineered by a girl — Syd, Odd Future's only female, who is arrestingly beautiful in a no-makeup-and-hoodie kind of way.
"Larry Clark just jizzed his pants," you're thinking, and you're right: Last month Clark filmed Odd Future as they re-created a scene from his skater movie Wassup Rockers for a short film that was screened during Marc Jacobs' New York Fashion Week show.
In addition to Tyler, the Creator, Odd Future is: Jasper Dolphin, Domo Genesis, Matt Martians of the Super 3, Left Brain, Mike G, Hodgy Beats, Taco, Syd and Earl Sweatshirt.
Sweatshirt's video, called "Earl," is how I stumbled upon Odd Future. Directed by A.G. Rojas, it features Earl sitting under a hair-salon dryer rapping about ass sex, catfish and decomposing bodies while his Odd Future posse members drink a smoothie made of cough syrup, weed, pills and powders, with gory, deeply disconcerting consequences. "Let's all fucking kill ourselves," someone commented on YouTube, which pretty much summed up how the video made me feel, too.
It was amazing.
I forwarded the link and Odd Future's blog to a few music editors to see what they thought. L.A. Weekly IM'd right back: "Get on it!" The U.K.'s Dazed & Confused wrote back, "Our music issue is full," followed a few hours later by: "We made space in our music issue." I sent the link to Jess Holzworth, the artist and music-video director: "You seen this?" Yes, she said. Her friend Heathcliff Berru had shown it to her. Berru had, like me, been trying to track down the kids. (There is no contact information on the Odd Future blog or website.) He asked GZA of The Wu-Tang Clan to tweet at Odd Future, and success: They tweeted back. Berru helped me set up a meeting with Odd Future at their studio in the Washington-Crenshaw district, not far from the street-wear boutiques on Fairfax they like to frequent.
A few nights later, I show up at the studio. It's in a guesthouse at the back of sister and brother Syd and Taco's house, a large, well-kept property on a quiet, tree-lined street. Syd and Taco's parents are well-off and supportive of their kids' art. As such, they have created the perfect environment for Odd Future to take seed and germinate. The kids, who call themselves a family, enjoy total privacy as they congregate at the studio, a home away from home for several of them.
"Hi, I'm Steve," says Tyler, Odd Future's lynchpin. He likes to lie about his name. He also likes to fall down, just for fun. Last week he went out of state for the first time, visiting New York City. He flung himself dramatically down onto the Manhattan sidewalk, and noted that no one seemed to pay much attention. "I prefer L.A.," says Tyler, who wears a pin on his cap that says, "Fuck Them."
Tyler says he really loves to masturbate, collects books and was, until very recently, studying film at a community college in West L.A. He dropped out, aware that Odd Future was turning into something that might require all of his time and attention.
A gigantic recycling box full of empty cans of Arizona Green Tea sits by the wall, alongside several skateboards. In the studio Syd mans the console and plays their latest track, "Sandwitches," and their eyes roll as they mouth the words and bang their heads, in some kind of trance. "I wouldn't work with anyone else," Tyler declares.
The kids' loyalty toward one another is palpable, and the love is thick in the air. Everyone high-fives and fist-bumps every few minutes. They're psyched to be alive. They try really hard to convince me that the word "dude" has a lost meaning: "ingrown ass hair." Anything they like, whether it's a person, a beat or a fact, earns the adjective "swag" — as in, "That's so swag!"
As recently as July, Odd Future wasn't sure what the future held. They had sent their music out to some hip-hop blogs, but it wasn't getting much love. Their sound was too weird, too slow, too fucked up. Odd Future thought they probably would have to go back to school after summer. Then a writer for U.K. music magazine The Wire stumbled across them. He wrote a feature for the magazine's September issue and pimped Odd Future to everyone he knew.
Fader blogged about them at the end of August: "If the rappers in Odd Future were indicative of California's social climate, the West Coast would be currently experiencing a miniature apocalypse, complete with grocery store looting and armed survivalist militias, plus tons of drugs and skateboarding." Other bloggers started getting onboard, and buzz started to spread. Then MTV name-checked Odd Future in their list of 10 most anticipated albums. Even Snoop didn't make that cut.
It's surreal, what's happening, Tyler admits. Recently he was hanging out on Fairfax and people started crowding him. Tyler wasn't into it. Hodgy Beats, his brooding, doe-eyed co-conspirator, helped Tyler regain his perspective. Now Tyler's ready for whatever lies around the corner.
"Hey, where's Earl?" I ask, recalling the sweet kid who rapped about necrophilia in the video I had seen. The room silenced.
"Earl's on vacation," Tyler says.
Vacation? How long for?
I'm not buying it. Is he in jail, I ask?
"He's on vacation." Tyler is steely.
Odd Future's sticking to their story, mourning Earl's absence with a solemn "Free Earl" graphic on their blog, and not much more explanation than that. Whether 16-year-old Earl is in jail, juvie, Jesus camp or a Swiss finishing school is yet to be established, but his mysterious absence, unfortunate as it may be, only serves to make him and Odd Future all the more intriguing.
The next day, when I tell 23-year-old hip-hop fan Deanna that I hung out with Odd Future the night before, she loses her shit. Why do you like them so much, I ask her?
"First of all, they are so young, and they are killing it," she says. "They are way ahead of their time. It's shocking, the words that come out of their mouths. They just don't give a fuck and they don't even realize that what they are doing is so amazing, which makes it even more awesome. They are writing all this shit that is in their head and they are not expecting anyone to listen — but everyone is listening and they are gonna fucking blow up!"
Yeah — that's what I thought, too.