Among the items tossed on and off stage during Friday’s Odd Future show at The Warfield: water bottles; sneakers; CDs; paper; weed resin; two bras; a bottle of lotion; a square, bookish thing that may or may not have borne the title Black Dahlia; a gift box wrapped in shiny pink paper; T-shirts (one of which bore the group’s famous “Free Earl!” slogan); and people, two of whom were manhandled by security and swiftly escorted away. Odd Future frontman Tyler, the Creator picked up one of the bras, sniffed it, and hung it around his neck. He sniffed the next one and grimaced. A girl in the mosh pit used her wrist to swab a gash on her forehead. Members of the group’s entourage smoked flamboyantly while they followed the emcees around with cameras.
It was a riveting show, even when you accounted for mosh pit injuries, screechy microphones, and an overall flimsy sound system. Los Angeles-based rappers Tyler, Hodgy Beats, Domo Genesis, Mike G, and Left Brain (who doubles as a producer) tore through as much material as they could fit into two hours, while their DJ, Syd Tha Kyd, cued tracks on a laptop and danced ecstatically in the background. Odd Future’s performance, like its albums, was a work of controlled chaos: Violence was permissible, but only within a tightly restricted area. The group’s mostly teenage fans got an illusion of total freedom, even though they were monitored by watchful adults the whole time.
In many ways, Odd Future (its full name is actually Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, or OFWGKTA) is a lot closer to punk than hip-hop, even if the group doesn’t use a single live instrument. The group’s lyrics sound like pure, unchecked id, divorced from any set of morals or principles. These guys rap freely about rape, mutilation, drugs, murder, and gay-bashing, using their dicks as a kind of all-purpose synecdoche. They’ve garnered a lot of comparisons to the hick duo Insane Clown Posse.
On another level, though, they’re rigorously creative, with a kind of winking self-irony that belies the crudeness of their material. Music critics have come up with all kinds of theories as to the emcees’ raison d’être: that they’re paradigm-shifters or artists with a capital “A”; that, as Sean Fennessey suggested in Pitchfork, they’re the vanguard of a new, Internet-friendly, “micro-rap” movement (oft called “swag”); that, as Cord Jefferson wrote in The Root, they’re merely “fetish[izing] black male rage” for a white audience.
All of which is true, albeit in a fairly reductive way. When you see Odd Future live, you realize that the behavior it promotes is different from the shallow iniquity of other rappers — that, moreover, they’re pastiche artists who thrive by cannibalizing other forms of pop culture. And as such, they appeal to a large swath of the youth population: skaters; flannel-shirted hipsters; girls in short shorts; backpackers; Trenchcoat Mafia types; white kids who treated The Warfield show as their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use the “n”-word without inhibition (while singing along to Odd Future’s lyrics, of course); and guys just old enough to have potbellies and porn star mustaches. When Syd emerged to spin her opening set — a mix of hard-core tracks by Waka Flocka, Mike Jones, and Rick Ross — the crowd erupted in fervent applause, which only increased when Hodgy Beats came onstage to perform “64,” an unconventional boast track in which he compares himself to Judah, Rasputin, and various kinds of Transformers. (Best line: Your system is my fucking dick-dom.)
From afar, the group is visually arresting. Its members are all around twenty years old and they look tiny and skeletal onstage. Hodgy removed his shirt to reveal a nice set of chest tattoos, and a stomach just flat enough to rival Tyler’s eight-pack. Mike G wore sunglasses and a hideous tie-dyed T-shirt. Domo and Left Brain slung towels over their heads. Syd looked captivatingly androgynous, perched in front of the group’s “shark cat” tour logo (a big snarling cartoon cat with sharp claws). Already top-heavy with personnel, Odd Future arrived with a huge retinue in tow. The only notable absence was famed crooner Frank Ocean, who apparently couldn’t make it that night.
Twenty-year old Tyler, who spent most of the night rapping in a low, primordial growl, complained in the middle of the set that he had a severe headache. But then he bounced back, rapping exultantly on “Orange Juice” and his solo track “Yonkers.” At one point he paused to shout-out the group’s female fans because they tolerate so many rude, pushy, lecherous dudes.
What made the show so successful wasn’t the musical presentation (actually a little shoddy), or the emcees’ stage presence (fantastic, since they bounce around and pantomime their lyrics, whereas most rappers just stand still and preach). Really, the main selling point was a false sense of liberation that the group generated. Tyler, in particular, encouraged bad behavior wherever possible — at one point, he threw a water bottle into the pit and told people to fight for it; toward the end, he led the crowd in a rousing chant of “Fuck the police!,” actually the refrain of Odd Future’s second to last song.
The show ended with a track called “Radicals,” just as the clock struck 11. “Uh, we’re done,” Tyler said, unceremoniously. The lights went up. The crowd booed. Ushers shooed people out of the building, encouraging single-file lines, and deterring loiterers. The fun was over.