Odd Future's Odd Fan Base
So what if Odd Future's music makes critics feel "weird and awful"? The rap group is a success -- especially among white music writers.
Tastemaking music site Pitchfork called Tyler's solo record, Bastard, "among the most stunning things released in the past 12 months," while the New York Times put "Earl" on its list of top 10 songs of 2010. "Their music is alive -- it punches you in the face," wrote Frannie Kelley on NPR's music blog, the Record. "They're really good."
As I've followed Odd Future for nearly half a year now, it's been strange to watch hip white America wholly embrace a bunch of African-American punks whose leader once tweeted, "I want to scare the f--- out of old white people that live in middle f---ing America."
Not that Odd Future doesn't have any black fans, of course -- hip-hop heavyweights Questlove and Mos Def are both major supporters -- but the disparity of buzz for Tyler et al. between the black press and the white press has been interesting, to say the least.
In its write-up on Odd Future, Pitchfork noted that the rap blogs Nah Right and 2dopeboyz have never given the group much coverage, a decision that has resulted in Odd Future's trashing of both blogs in their songs. And on its most recent "Freshman Class" list, a rundown of all the best up-and-coming talent in hip-hop, XXL magazine found no room for Odd Future. In other words, where hype is concerned, the all-black Odd Future has been a largely white phenomenon, a ship of talented kiddie pirates riding on a wave put into motion by the white middle Americans to whom they're giving the finger.
Black Male Rage as Entertainment
For their part, it's not that white music critics and fans are self-loathing (at least, not all of them are); what it comes down to mostly is that whites have fetishized black male rage for years now, and Odd Future is just the latest testament to that interest.
In his lengthy Village Voice piece on Odd Future, critic Zach Baron writes, "Odd Future and the acts from which they've descended make us confront a kind of disgust that is mercifully absent from our everyday lives. The discomfort and foreignness of the elaborately awful scenarios that Odd Future concoct is part of the point: it takes us out of our comfort zones, makes us feel weird and awful."
And going back to Frannie Kelley's NPR article, Kelley theorizes, "I think that, for years, Tyler thought he'd never met anyone as smart as him. I think that enrages him. Makes him feel trapped and unheard. I think Tyler feels bad about some of the things he says, but it feels so good to say them out loud. To scream them. To make some people feel bad, and other people feel good." (Kelley may be partially right here, but in fact, Tyler himself notes throughout many of his songs that a lot of his anger stems from his absent father, a source of pain much bigger than feeling smarter than his peers.)
In his earlier years, Eminem had some of the most violent lyrics around, and members of the Wu-Tang Clan have occasionally dabbled in rape talk. But neither of those entities --both of whom Odd Future have been compared to -- ever really dealt in the kind of sustained, traumatic murder music that's made Odd Future so big.