The Anniversary

The OF Tape Vol. 2 Turns 10

Odd Future/RED
Odd Future/RED

A year after Odd Future hit the cover of Billboard, the music industry was ready for these chucklehead kids to grow up and make some damn money already: A March 2012 Guardian story noted that the group had parlayed their initial Tumblr fandom into tours, VMAs, and pop-up shops, “but not, as yet, into actually selling many records.” After releasing his second album Goblin through famed London indie XL Recordings, leader Tyler, The Creator stocked Sony imprint Odd Future Records with a few minor projects, including EPs by Mike G and Hodgy Beats and the debut by nascent R&B side project the Internet. Despite these projects’ muted impacts, the media circus surrounding the group continued into 2012; every shocking lyric, new collaboration, antagonistic interview, and raucous live show was well documented by a relatively thriving music media — including this very site.

The OF Tape Vol. 2, released 10 years ago this weekend, was the group’s grand statement, a major label album that sounds as petulant and grimy as their lo-fi 2008 debut recorded in Syd’s home studio. It sums up the Odd Future phenomenon in all its extremes, a collective of talented friends messing around and creating together in the eye of a music industry hurricane.

The bulk of the album is mosh-pit music in “kill people, burn shit, fuck school” mode, foregrounding the group’s rappers and aggro beats from Tyler and Left Brain. Plenty of reviews dismissed the songs as Waka Flocka parodies, but I don’t think there’s anything parodic there at all; it’s clear that everyone involved is really into Flockaveli, and who wasn’t back then? Tyler even shouts out Brick Squad on “Hcapd.” Beyond Lex Luger worship, the beats dabble in G-funk whistles, Memphis horns, trap hi-hats, and RZA-like piano stabs. Pure adrenaline fuel.

These tracks are stupid fun, like cutting high school to hole up with junk food in a friend’s living room. Hodgy Beats appears on 10 of the 18 tracks, and not all of his verses are keepers. But at his best he’s fired up and talking shit like a shirtless guy at a house party, like when he raps, “Army fatigue Bape boxes for the league/ No ghetto barrettes and weaves down to the sleeve for the fees,” swapping four-bar verses with a mellowed-out Domo Genesis on the album’s first song, “Bitches.” Domo doesn’t often expand his subject matter beyond his weed and his rapping ability, but on “Sam (Is Dead)” he reflects on growing up despite his mistakes and his father’s failures through a cloud of wake-n-bake smoke, in the vein of AZ on “Life’s A Bitch.” It’s one of the best verses on the tape.

Then Tyler’s production expands to include cavernous brass and military chants, and the OF leader commandeers the remainder of the song to talk about his awkward teen fans and crack grim jokes about Kurt Cobain’s death. It summarizes Tyler’s style throughout the compilation; the teen pathos sometimes heard on Goblin is absent in favor of Eminem-style pop culture punchlines and grumblebrags about his fame.

Mike G is also present via “Forest Green,” which was a year old by the time it appeared here. Good song.

Future generations may find it ridiculous that an album where Tyler raps about taking three pills of Extenzo until he’s “longer than a five-door limo” — on the lead single, no less — seemed like a step towards accessibility. But the group did clean their style up slightly for this tape. They abandoned the rape fantasies, and Tyler only uses homophobic slurs twice. Their style is still crude and juvenile, and sometimes hilarious. The worst bars rely on lazy misogyny and Asian stereotypes, but despite the jugs of ink spilled on the morality of their lyrics, Odd Future were far from the only blog rappers — or popular musicians, period — with those flaws.

OF Tape Vol. 2 also features the non-musical group members, friends who led the crew’s sketch show Loiter Squad, which debuted on Adult Swim the same month. L-Boy’s roast of the whole crew opens the album, and Jasper and Taco rap with Tyler on the deliberately “ignorant as fuck” fight club anthem “We Got Bitches.” Taco’s slow-jam monologue about his ideal woman on “Real Bitch” is certainly problematic, to use a popular term of the time, but listening to it now, I just notice how young he sounds. The joke tracks share the same flows, flaws, and sense of humor as the “serious” rap tracks, tracing the thin line between rappers fucking around and goofball pals fucking around with some raps.

The highlights of the album are the outliers, the R&B songs from precocious musicians who had grown up on Erkyah Badu and Missy Elliott CDs. Call it neo-neo-soul. The Internet was then just a duo of producer Matt Martians and tour DJ Syd Tha Kid flirting over N.E.R.D.-y rock on “Ya Know.” With its psychedelic allusions to first love and TV static, the piano ballad “White” was effectively a teaser trailer for Frank Ocean’s debut Channel Orange, released a few months later. Channel Orange even included an interlude by the same name, featuring John Mayer soloing over the same instrumental.

“Analog 2” is dripping with lazy summer horniness: Tyler and Frank croon, “Can you meet me by the lake or at the park or in your room?” over synth pads and funk bass, then the track segues into the unlisted “Wheels 2,” a duet with Syd that moves the setting to midnight. In 2012, Tyler tweeted that “Analog 2” was his favorite song, and “The Closest Thing To In My Mind And Talking Book Ive Made. Ayyye.” A high standard, but it is one of the best songs to come out of the Odd Future era.

The R&B songs appear sporadically among the raps, clashing like a poorly sequenced Mediafire .zip. “Snow White” combines the two sounds most effectively. Ocean’s hook adds an unexpected sweetness to the MellowHype track, like Dean Stockwell lip syncing into a lamp for Frank Booth’s amusement.

“Oldie” concludes the tape with the purest distillation of Odd Future’s appeal as a group. Nearly every member raps over Tyler’s laidback beat in a 10-minute posse cut. It’s “Stairway To Heaven” for hip-hop fans who put 666 in their gamertag and got stuck with it into adulthood. Hodgy calls himself “Zeus to a Cronus,” while Domo claims “Mr. Smoke-A-Lotta-Pot.” Jasper contributes a blustery nine-bar verse. Left Brain conjures up a “Wolf Gang party at the hotel” with group sex and gin and juice, and Mike G claims “OF ’til I OD, and I probably will.”

I would bet good money Frank Ocean’s “Oldie” verse has been posted to Twitter every day since 2012. It’s an idyllic portrait of an LA afternoon, shopping for Persian rugs that look like vintage video games and hitting Muscle Beach in a super car. And his “I’m high and I’m bi, wait I mean I’m straight” line was a wink, confirmed by his famous coming out a few months later.

On its Best Songs Of The 2010s list, Pitchfork called “Oldie” “a Russian nesting doll where the prize at the center is the first Earl Sweatshirt appearance following his fabled exile in Samoa.” The whole tape builds to Earl Sweatshirt’s return, and he does not disappoint with a head-spinning 40 bars, poetic images of juvenile mayhem packed with internal rhyme like “Four Loko in a cobra clutch” or “belly full of chicken and a fifth of old petroleum.” Earl raps like he had been preparing for this song through his entire absence.

Tyler ends the song by rejoicing in the empire he built before he was old enough to drink a beer and sums up the group’s go-for-it ethos as refusing to turn their color into black-and white. OF dropped the “Oldie” video the same day as the album, and it only adds to the camaraderie. Everyone on the song plus Syd and dozens of friends lip sync with toy swords and superhero masks impromptu while on set at a Terry Richardson photo shoot. Jasper messes up his own verse, Frank looks faux nonchalant with a straw in his mouth, everyone chimes in on backing vocals and ad-libs. It’s a perfect snapshot of the peak of Odd Future.

The frequent comparisons to Wu-Tang didn’t make much sense beyond being hip-hop groups with many members, but the hold OF had on my high school friends and I — memorizing the skits, comparing the bars of each member — matches Enter The Wu-Tang’s grip on the youth of the ’90s. The root of Odd Future’s appeal was the rise from Tumblr pages to international pages as a group, without changing the anarchic energy they cultivated amongst their collective. It helped that their MS Paint aesthetic was superficially shocking and easy to adopt. The idea of recording some funny and heinous shit with your friends as an entryway to music was quite influential. I’ve interviewed multiple rappers in recent years who have alluded to an “Odd Future phase” with an embarrassed grimace.

In a 2011 LA Times story, Questlove praised Odd Future for not being “user friendly” and compared them to Geto Boys and Bad Brains. Along with underground sounds like Raider Klan out of Florida and the drill scene in Chicago, the collective provided a jolt to hip-hop as a new generation was adapting to social media and file sharing. Their adoption of stage dives and other punk signifiers echoed through the following decade in rap through Travis Scott, Lil Peep, Playboi Carti and beyond. Signing teenage rappers based on self-produced viral hits soon became standard operating procedure for major labels, though few of these artists had the aesthetic and multi-media interests that caused then-manager Christian Clancy to boast there was no difference between Odd Future and an ad agency.

The OF Tape Vol. 2 was a moderate success in the digital download era, spending six weeks on the Billboard 200 and peaking at #5. The members of the group gradually had fewer tours and collaborations in common, and Odd Future’s splintering was made official in 2015. For all the early chaos and controversy, the group’s greatest legacy may be queer R&B: Frank Ocean’s blockbuster albums, the Internet’s expansion as an ensemble, Tyler’s journey into Stevie-worshipping sound. Earl meanwhile grew into one of the best rappers alive while nurturing a new generation of underground artists on both coasts.

The rest of the group continued to work in music (see Domo’s pleasant 2016 album Genesis) or the greater Los Angeles rap-adjacent lifestyle entertainment industry (see Travis Bennett’s 2021 rebrand away from Taco). There’s been some animosity in the years since, but Tyler has generally kept spots open at his festivals for his old bandmates. Odd Future’s break-up was caused by the simple tragedy of friends outgrowing each other, compounded by media attention and the music industry.

The former members of Odd Future seem to hold their roots in the crew in the same esteem their fans do. When influential Los Angeles club night Low End Theory ended in 2018, Tyler, Earl, Syd, and Hodgy reunited to perform early OF deep cuts. In 2020, Tyler was asked about the possibility of a Vol. 3. He responded that he’s open to the idea, though everyone has moved on to disparate styles, and reflected on the group’s older work: “It was just a fun time, but musically, it’s like, ‘Uh, coulda did better.’ But, for the time, it was tight.” Like a diary or Facebook photo album, I doubt anyone that made the tape goes back to it very often, but I bet they smile when they do.

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