ODD FUTURE: > > > > Horrorcore
As much as OFWGKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) hates to be categorized, it’s pretty obvious that some of their music could fit into the horrorcore subgenre, but that’s just barely cutting the ice.
Words: Jessica Bennett
Images: Justin of The On Task Family
To keep it 100, most people who are just catching the Odd Future wave only know of Tyler, The Creator, Frank Ocean, Hodgy Beats (maybe) and M.I.A. member Earl Sweatshirt. While OFWGKTA is rumored to have up to 60 members, only around 10 of them actually make music. Sure much of Tyler and Earl’s lyrics do hit horrorcore themes like extreme violence, rape, death, self-harm, demons/the devil. They also draw heavily from classic (and cult) horror films and notable, real-life killers who’ve become infamous for their crimes post-offense. But when it comes to other OFWGKTA artists/subgroups such as Mellowhype, Mike G, Super 3/Jet Age Of Tomorrow and Ocean, they rarely, if ever, deal with that kind of subject matter. And I get really frustrated when a big ass group of artists get put into a box that hardly describes the majority of the music coming from it.
Some closed-minded individuals will never look past OFWGKTA’s horrorcore label. Unfortunately, those consumers are too category-dependent. Perhaps they’ll listen to one or two songs, stuff Odd Future in that genre box and keep it moving. They won’t even give them a chance. It’s that type of thinking that leads most artists to prefer being associated with a description and genre that is more accurate to who they believe they are (vs what the industry or fans think), or rather not be classified at all. (It’s always better to kill off any murmurs of disinterest based on what outsiders perceive as your leanings.) But in the case of OFWGKTA, the problem runs deeper than how they are classified (They thrive because and in spite of it). The real problem is that Odd Future is far more complex than they often get credit for.
Even when considering their material that does lean towards the dark side, it is executed in some of the most creative and stimulating ways. When they rhyme about their twisted fantasies and menacing behavior, their tracks often play back like audio movies, much like the big greats such as Big L and Notorious B.I.G. Take for example Tyler the Creator’s song “Blow,” from his 2009 release, Bastard. Initially it sounds like Tyler is a straight psychopath, a psychotic rapist even, when in fact, Tyler has taken it upon himself to go into the mind of serial killer Ted Bundy in effort to tell Bundy’s story from the killer’s own perspective. That’s hella creative in my book.
And it’s not as if being called a horrorcore artist is necessarily a bad thing anyway. Plenty of OG’s have carried the torch of the genre, some with critical acclaim, too. A few even crossed over into popular culture as Odd Future is doing now. Artists like Gravediggaz, Geto Boyz (especially their 4th album We Can’t Be Stopped), Necro, Brotha Lynch Hung, Tech N9ne, D12, ODB and many others all have a clear relationship to the movement OFWGKTA is now taking to another level. Interestingly, without them, there would be no Odd Future, and Odd Future’s success could in turn help fuel greater awareness about the creative and lyrical ingenuity these pioneering MC’s sparked. Tech N9ne, while considered one of the nicest by many, has been an underground phenomenon for most of his career because of his subject matter. But with Odd Future broadening the minds of younger audiences, along with some major cosigns, N9ne’s latest album All 6’s and 7’s and tour is getting more press and play than any of his previous works. It could all be a coincidence, or we could be seeing a shift in the taste of young consumers take place right before our eyes.
While all of those artists had an invisible hand in Odd Future’s rising, it’s very possible that the crew has never heard some of these emcees’ records (I wouldn’t be surprised if Hodgy Beats never listened to Kool Keith a day in his life). What we do know is that another MC has greatly (and directly) affected how these LA rebels write and spit, and that’s Eminem. His emergence in 1999 lines up perfectly with the young group’s most impressionable age when it comes to forming opinions about music. Just as Kurtis Blow, Rakim and Tupac may have been “that guy” for their respective Hip-Hop generations, it’s very possible that Em is that for dude for many 17-21 year old rappers coming up today.
The first time I heard Tyler’s “Sarah” I immediately thought of Eminem’s “Kim.” It’s damn near the same relationship set a decade apart. And while the idea of alter egos is nothing new, the manner in which TTC expresses different mind states and levels of psychosis through multiple personas is awfully familiar. This isn’t to say that Em was the only rapper to do this effectively or that other artists haven’t done the same, but if we track back, we can see a direct link between Tyler and Marshall Mathers in terms of flow, cadence, subject matter, a love of minor chords and an overall “I’m sayin’ what the fuck I want” mentality. (Something tells me Slim Shady and Wolf Haley would get along just fine.)
It can also be assumed that their motivation for the crazy stems from the stress of dealing with the weight of everyday occurrences that we all experience, like break-ups, abandonment, being used/ using others, etc. And just like, Wu-Tang, another group that Odd Future is often compared because of the number of members within their set, they take those ideas and transform into some of the most vivid images we’ve seen. Like that Shaolin collective, they refuse to compromise their vision no matter how abstract, distorted or disturbing the imagery may be. And just like the Wu, their unwillingness to bend expanded their reach instead of diminishing it, as labels, radio and so called “tastemakers” often lead artists to believe is damn near impossible.
So yeah, OFWGKTA clearly revived something set up for them years ago in terms of slowly mainstreaming some freaky shit. But for the people who actually listen to their music, that’s not all they do. Plenty of “safe” artists are channeled as well, especially when it comes to production. You can hear Neptunes-influenced synths and keys on Tyler’s latest offering Goblin, especially on tracks like “Nightmare” and “She.” On a lot of their older material, you can sense that Mr. West is in the building, helping to shape their sound. The most surprising influence might be French Jazz/Funk artists Cortex, whom Tyler has admitted to being fond of. Odd Future sampled Cortex’s 1975 release “Huit Octobre 1971,” most notably on the Cassie Veggies’ (former OFWGKTA member) featured track “Odd Toddlers”. Tyler also cops to indie rock groups with ambient and ethereal instrumentals, such as Broadcast and Beach House being the most influential. And you can totally see how he took those elements and combined them with Trip Hop to form songs like “Transylvania” and “Her.”
Long story short, all artists no matter how great, have derived some of their style from somewhere else. Some might look at OFWGKTA as an attention-seeking shock-group attempting to get rich off of old ideas, when in fact their broad palette and defiance against creating cookie cutter music is what fans love the most. So yes, we may still need to get over the whole “to be or not to be labeled horrorcore” hump. But look a little deeper and it’s pretty clear that they’re the manifestation of a lot of different influences—some that we know and love and others we’re not so hip to— and that they’re only being themselves.
Images by Justin of The On Task Family.