"Are there do-rags here? I want the horse to wear a do-rag."
A crisis emerges midway through the taping of bumper spot skits for the second season of Odd Future's Loiter Squad. Downtown's industrial district is do-rag-less. There are bandannas and snapbacks but no do-rags, and Tyler, the Creator, the Adult Swim show's star, wants to drape a do-rag around the pony neighing next to him.
If this doesn't make sense, take a step back. Ask yourself: Is the juxtaposition of a pony in a polyester skullcap and a 6-foot-2, 22-year-old black man (Tyler) in a woman's bathrobe and shoulder-length blond wig, inherently funny to you? If the answer is no, you're probably perplexed by Odd Future. Odds are your ADD-addled little brother or cousin feels otherwise. To them and innumerable self-identified teen outcasts, Tyler's sophomore record, Wolf, out April 2, is as anticipated as the PlayStation 4.
In two years, the hip-hop collective has emerged as likely the most organically popular in America. Without radio or major-label promotion, Tyler's Odd Future Frankenstein yielded a Billboard Top 10 debut (Tyler's Goblin), a record label, a popular cable show, an MTV Video Award (for "Yonkers") and a streetwear line with a flagship boutique on Fairfax. OF member Frank Ocean released last year's most acclaimed album and won a Grammy Award.
Tyler is a voice of his generation, rasping rebellious gospel to kids kicked out of class, the ones unable to identify with Girls.
"Last time I saw you, we was broke," Tyler greets me with a smile as canary-eating as the cats on the OF brand hoodies. "Now everyone's eating. We paid."
The barbarians stormed the gates to make a quarter of a million dollars selling socks. Tyler insists that he's not rich yet, "just financially stable." But the trappings are altered. He owns a four-story house and a Range Rover, and records in professional studios. When I first met him in the fall of 2010, he was sleeping on the dog hair–strewn couch of his mom's place and recording in a spartan back house owned by the parents of his engineer, Syd the Kid.
Tyler still dresses and acts the same, no jewelry, no frills — except he's half an inch taller and designs the logo on his garments.
Beyond the house and car, he's avoided major expenditures. Tyler describes money's greatest attribute (beyond eliminating worry) as the ability to "walk into Amoeba and buy anything I want." When asked what he wants most, he replies, "Good health."
It's as unaffected by fame as you can be when you're close friends with Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Pharrell. Odd Future are a terrarium at the edge of the mainstream, equipped with its own carnival. The group has even launched its own branding company, in which Tyler will direct a commercial for Mountain Dew.
"I was talking with Dave Wirtschafter [board member at talent agency William Morris Endeavor] and he said, 'What's the difference between Odd Future and an advertising company?' I said, 'Nothing,' " recalls Christian Clancy, the group's manager. "Tyler writes, takes his own photos, draws, makes great videos, and I'm sure will make great films. Love him or hate him, he's one of the most creative kids alive, and his following appreciates his honesty."
Somewhere in his world travels, Tyler acquired the nascent maturity and self-discipline required to properly play the game, as much as you can call someone mature who bites into a Subway sandwich (as he did at the shoot) and exclaims, "I heard white bread gives you AIDS."
This sort of sentence incited a hundred think pieces branding Odd Future as some sinister amalgamation of N.W.A and A Clockwork Orange upon their initial ascent in early 2011. When a domestic-violence group protested them at 2011's Pitchfork Music Festival, Tyler sent them red velvet cupcakes. Meanwhile, New Zealand's Big Day Out Festival banned OF from performing due to "extremely homophobic, misogynistic and hateful lyrics."
The irony is that Odd Future include two openly LGBT members, two more than any rap crew ever. And both Syd and Frank Ocean probably would tell you that their sexuality is too complicated to be boxed into a contrived, four-letter acronym.
"I'm so glad that's over," Tyler says, wearing a pink and teal OF donut hoodie, black jeans, Vans and a green hat. "I wasn't using 'fag' to refer to gay people. If I call a piece of lettuce a faggot, am I homophobic? I might be anti-lettuce but ..."
If this seems absurd, that's the point. Tyler's absurdist at the core, incorporating midgets onstage and shooting trailer trash in tutus for his videos. That's why he's an ideal fit on the cable network that pioneered the first animated milkshake detective. During his first hour at Willow Studios, he asks if he can call me Dad and whether I want a lap dance. In his Howlin' Wolf Haley baritone, Tyler gurgles: "I don't like having random purses around."