The Odd Future complete Mixtape collection
A year ago, when nobody knew who they were, the demonic L.A. skate-rat rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All cranked out music at an alarming rate. And now that nobody will shut up about them, they’re still doing the same thing. Since 2008, Odd Future have released no fewer than 12 full-length albums, as well as assorted between-releases singles– all available free on their Tumblr. Some of those releases are brilliant, paradigm-shifting works of violent vision. Others are entirely forgettable. Almost all of them are worth your hard-drive real estate, and almost all of them will confound you in one way or another. Below, you’ll find a guide to every single one of those albums, from their introductory 2008 mixtape The Odd Future Tape to Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia, Ultra., the experimental R&B tape that the crew released just a few weeks ago.
The Odd Future Tape Vol. 1
Posted on: Apr. 22, 2010
The compilation that predates the Tumblr. The Odd Future guys claim that they released this introductory compilation in 2008, and that the songs had been done since 2007. Listening to it, it’s remarkable how fully formed Tyler, the Creator was way back then, especially compared to the other rappers in the crew. Tyler and Left Brain’s queasy lo-fi production aesthetic is already in place, and Tyler throws his asthmatic rasp through all sorts of weird filters.
A couple of the tracks here later showed up on Tyler’s Bastard album, and he’s so far beyond everyone else here that it’s ridiculous. “Bitches Brewin‘” is a well-done story-song about losing his virginity to a 26-year-old, “Commercial” vents pure rage at his absent father almost as forcefully as he’d later do on “Bastard”, and “Pimp Slap” gives us this immortal boast: “Fuck dogs, I walk around with my pet dinosaur.” But Tyler’s most illuminating moment on the album comes on the outro “Fin”, where he offers thanks to everything that ever inspired him. It’s a list that includes the 212 bus, D12’s Devil’s Night, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, “Reading Rainbow”, Terry Richardson, Hitler, Mussolini, Salvador Dali, “all the porn in the world,” and Dr. Seuss.
The rest of the crew is still completely green. Later stalwarts like Earl Sweatshirt, Mike G, Domo Genesis, and Taco hadn’t shown up yet, and altogether too much of the tape’s running time goes to clumsy buddy Casey Veggies. Hodgy Beats was still at an early stage of his development, and he offers some truly wince-worthy lines here: “Money is good, but it could be evil/ Spell it backwards: live/ Keep it all cerebral.”
The group already had a serious collective snarl to them, but they hadn’t yet adapted the rape/stab/snort shock-value evilness that would eventually become such a huge part of their story, so it’s weird to hear Hodgy get downright emo on the breakup song “Our Story”. Also, some of these guys actually rap about money and luxury cars, which has sort of become the opposite of what these guys are all about. So the tape works as a fascinating glimpse of a rap group figuring out its identity, but even with a handful of strong Tyler moments, it’s not really anything you need in your iTunes.
The Dena Tape
Posted on: Feb. 23, 2010
Hodgy’s debut mixtape features almost no guest verses, and Hodgy just wasn’t far along enough as a rapper to warrant an hour-long album to himself. Hodgy’s far from the crew’s most charismatic rapper, and his sleepy behind-the-beat delivery works best when it’s used as a foil to Tyler’s manic ferocity. The Dena Tape is just as much mixtape as album, with Hodgy rapping over tracks like Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It” and Jay-Z’s “Ignorant Shit” along with all the drunken-synth Odd Future tracks you’d expect. But Hodgy raps here like someone who doesn’t even remotely care about rapping. He wouldn’t hit his stride until he linked up with non-rapping producer Left Brain to form MellowHype, where Hodgy’s lazy delivery becomes a part of Left Brain’s sonic universe. MellowHype’s debut album YelloWhite would come not long after The Dena Tape, and there’s a world of progress in between the two releases. As it is, The Dena Tape stands as maybe the single biggest outright dud in the Odd Future catalog.
Tyler, the Creator
Posted on: Feb. 24, 2010
This is where things get great. Bastard is a minor masterpiece of shock art and teenage spleen-vent, a spiritual cousin of some of the most misanthropic tantrums that the L.A. hardcore scene produced 30 years earlier. But it’s also a beautifully put-together piece of work, one that lays out its position right away and then does everything it can to keep you uncomfortable. Tyler is smart enough to start things off with the title track, a soul-laid-bare rant about evil thoughts and absent fathers over still, eerie piano plinks. The track works great on its own, but it also creates a context for all the rape jokes and murder talk that follows; no matter how grisly things get, you still stay on this kid’s side to at least some extent. And things really do get grisly.
Here’s Bastard‘s basic appeal in one punchline: “Cruisin‘ in my go-kart at Walmart selling cupcakes/ Go ‘head, admit it, faggot; this shit is tighter than butt-rape.” The first part of the line sets you up with an image absurd enough to be funny; the second brings you home with a blast of hate so sharp and merciless that it actually stings your brain. Morally, it’s repugnant, but the pure shocking force of it is so raw and distilled that it carries a certain appeal of its own. When, after all, was the last time you heard music that aimed to shock and actually succeeded? The other Odd Future guys can come off like kids clowning each other when they talk about stuff like that, but thanks to his sandpaper rasp, Tyler actually sounds demonic.
More importantly, though, Bastard is just a straight-up great rap album, the first from the Odd Future camp. Tyler’s beats move with a warped fluidity, running the loungey swooshes of late-period Neptunes through a grimy basement-punk sensibility. The other members of the now-whole crew show up for quick, effective cameos, getting in and out without overstaying their welcome and offering much-needed respites from Tyler’s constant rage. On fired-up tracks like “French” and “Tina”, the group builds up the rowdy, fuck-the-world energy of someone like Waka Flocka Flame, except they still sound like kids fucking around in a basement when they’re doing it. All in all, this is a landmark album in the quickly-evolving kids-posting-rap-music-online universe. Terrifyingly, a few hundred kids are probably attempting to make their own versions of it as you read this.
Posted on: Feb. 24, 2010
MellowHype is Hodgy Beats and non-rapping producer Left Brain, and the duo works because it finds a context for Hodgy where he’s not front-and-center the whole time. Even though Hodgy’s the main rapping voice on YelloWhite, Left Brain’s production is just as important, and Hodgy’s voice is way deeper in the mix here than it was on The Dena Tape. Left Brain’s production style is cleaner and crispier than Tyler’s– closer, aesthetically, to the Neptunes beats that inspired them both, though they still have a certain homespun pillowy weirdness to them. As a rapper, Hodgy’s still a far less iconoclastic figure than Tyler; he raps about girls and money and being cool rather than cocaine and rape and hating his dad. His monotonal behind-the-beat delivery makes a lot of sense in a world where Wiz Khalifa is a rap star.
So YelloWhite is a whole lot more approachable (and less transformative) than Bastard. But the album still brings a heavy dose of that misfit skate-rat us-against-the-world mentality that makes up such a big part of Odd Future’s appeal. These are weird kids banding together to make noise, and even Hodgy, the resident cool guy, still comes off as a scrappy underdog.
Posted on: Mar. 31, 2010
The mysteriously absent 16-year-old cult hero Earl Sweatshirt is the best pure rapper in Odd Future, and maybe also the most depraved. On the viral hit “Earl”, he introduces himself thus: “Sent to Earth to poke Catholics in the ass with saws and knock blunt ashes into they caskets and laugh it off.” And where Tyler delivers his baroque threats in a lava-gargling snarl, Earl actually sounds like a slightly laconic, whip-smart 16-year-old, which makes him both less and more unsettling. EARL, just 26 minutes long, is a dark fantasia of blood and rape and evil, and I absolutely hated it the first time I heard it. Now, months later, I still can’t shake it, and I sort of love it.
Musically, it’s a great, short distillation of the Odd Future aesthetic, with Tyler’s murky synths and lurching drums only slightly obscuring a great ear for melody, like the hop-skipping piano line that makes “Luper” bounce so hypnotically. And as a rapper, Earl has a dizzy gift for internal rhyme and for coming up with turns of phrase that get embedded deep in your head. “It’s O.F., buttercup/ Go ahead, fuck with us/ Without a doubt, a surefire way to get your mother fucked”– what 16-year-old rapper would think to call a potential victim “buttercup”? EARL is also a smart, well-constructed little album, and even the skits work. On intro track “Thisniggaugly“, Tyler introduces a silent Earl with all Tyler’s friends clown him: “This nigga look like an African poet!” On another, Earl’s mom drags him out of bed to go to school, and the narrative that follows isn’t quite Kris Kross‘ “I Missed the Bus”.
Earl, it turns out, is a great rap storyteller, though his stories quickly become nightmares. By the end of the last verse on “epaR“, Earl strangles a girl to death and stabs a cop in the neck– all because the girl in question had the temerity to put on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint when Earl was trying to listen to Eminem’s piece-of-shit 2009 horrorcore album Relapse. (Needless to say, Eminem’s effect on these kids can’t possibly be overstated.) On “Couch”, Earl and Tyler do their best to out-gross each other, and Tyler eventually dredges this image out of his disturbed mind: “Drag your bitch in a tub of cum and throw a shark in it.” In its murderous absurdity, EARL reaches the weird heights of, say, Garth Ennis’ blood-drenched comics, or Takashi Miike’s body-horror comedies.
Then he stabs Earl and sets his body on fire. Earl disappeared from all of Odd Future’s shows shortly after the release of EARL, and legend has it that Earl’s mom heard the music he was making and that she’s now keeping him the hell away from his Odd Future colleagues. At Odd Future shows, crowds scream “free Earl!”, and it’s fun to imagine him making a grand return the day he turns 18; the group is definitely worse off without him. But if you were Earl’s mom and you heard EARL, wouldn’t you keep him away from Tyler?
Posted on: Apr. 13, 2010
Amidst all the noise surrounding Odd Future, Mike G tends to get overlooked, partly because he’s got one of the most boring rap names ever and partly because his slow, guttural delivery is the sort of thing that can drift off into the background if you’re not listening close enough. So Ali amounts to something of a lost classic within the Odd Future catalog. The half-hour album doesn’t demand attention the way Bastard and EARL do, but it rewards that attention just the same. Lyrically, Mike hews closer to classic gangsta rap than the rest of his crew. The Earl-abetted story song “Stick Up” has a grisly imagination and a sharp eye for detail that recalls the era where the Geto Boys and Spice 1 were ascendant. On “Moracular World”, Mike and crew-associate/lunatic Vince Staples trade off insane boasts in a tag-team style that rappers rarely try anymore.
And the production here is borderline gorgeous; it’s like the Odd Future production brain trust of Tyler, Left Brain, and Syd all got together and agreed that they finally wanted to make something that would sound great in a car. So this is heavy, slow-crawl stuff, shot through with great left-field ideas like the decaying-rave synth on “Moracular World” or the sinister cymbal chatters of “Brown Bag (’04 FTA)”. And Mike raps over it in a calm, dead-eyed drawl that sinks deep into the tracks rather than jumping out of them. The great 90s-style cover art announces it just right: This is hazy, stoned rider music with a deeper connection to rap history than anything else you’ll find in Odd Future’s body of work.
The Jet Age of Tomorrow
Posted on: Apr. 29, 2010
Jet Age is Odd Future producer the Super 3 making spaced-out, synthetic jazz-funk. The Super 3 is into woozy textures and pillowy keyboard settings, and the music he makes is a far cry from anything else you’ll find on the Odd Future Tumblr. Voyager is mostly an instrumental album, and there’s barely any rapping here at all. There’s a serious sci-fi bent to the proceedings that’s more Gorillaz than Sun Ra. Sample song title: “They Dove Through the Ice Into the Unfathomable Depths of the Abyss”. Voyager is the one Odd Future album I can play around my daughter without fear of warping her brain. It’s strictly background fare, and it’s not even especially pleasant or interesting, but its existence within the context of Odd Future says a lot about the group. Tyler, for one, is a massive and vocal fan of N.E.R.D., and in Voyager, you can hear some of the same art-pop drive that periodically leads the Neptunes to stop cranking out massive hits long enough to make conceptual party-funk. Jet Age’s inclusion also signals that Odd Future is something more than an insurgent rap crew. It’s a fully imagined aesthetic art project, one with room for a lot of musical ideas.
Posted on: May 7, 2010
Radical, a mixtape that showcases every rapper in the crew, is a rare indication that Odd Future don’t live entirely within their own self-created universe, that they get the same rap radio stations as the rest of us. Here, they take a break from their usual hall-of-dark-mirrors production to rap over actual rap hits like Gucci Mane’s “Lemonade” and Roscoe Dash’s “All the Way Turnt Up”, as well as a few older, nerdier choices. And though they stick to the same gleefully terrifying subject matter as always, it’s nowhere near as immersive as their best work. At its worst, Radical shows that these kids have a long way to go as rappers. Earl and Tyler may be the strongest voices of the crew, but they’re still nowhere near able to steal “Lemonade” away from Gucci.
But at its best, Radical is a fun reminder that these are still just kids bullshitting each other in a basement somewhere. On “Swag Me Out”, all the kids jump on the party-noise loop of the Beastie Boys’ “It’s the New Style”, kicking adorably dumb punchlines and chanting the song’s title over and over for seven minutes. The whole tape is a minor work as far as these guys go, but it’s a fun listen and a low-impact introduction to their world. And if you have the slightest interest in hearing these guys rail mercilessly against establishment kingmaker rap blogs Nah Right and 2DopeBoyz, there’s a whole lot of that here.
Posted on: Aug. 30, 2010
Rolling Papers peaks high with “Super Market”, a skit-song in which Domo cuts off Tyler in a grocery-store line, leading to an epically ridiculous battle-rap throwdown that ends when Tyler leaves on an evil walrus named Rufus and Domo turns into a zombie. For the most part, though, Rolling Papers is a perfectly competent, entirely pedestrian piece of Wiz Khalifan stoner-rap. Deep-voiced, sleepy-eyed Domo doesn’t have the magnetic bloodlust of the rest of the crew; most of the time, he just wants to puff away in peace. The production is dazed, MF Doom-esque psych-rap– good for vibe, not close attention– and Domo’s voice, usually deep in the mix, works just the same. If you’re in the right mood, Rolling Papers wafts past nicely. If you’re not, things get boring fast.
A few months after Rolling Papers dropped, Wiz Khalifa announced the title of his new album: Rolling Papers. Plenty of people thought Wiz was biting, and it’s a testament to Odd Future’s increased profile that those charges seemed even a little bit reasonable. Wiz’s Rolling Papers will probably be better than this one, though.
Posted on: Oct. 31, 2010
Since releasing The Dena Tape, Hodgy Beats has sharpened up his technical rapping skills, but he’s still a supporting-actor type, best used as the guy who comes in to calm things down in between a couple of manic Tyler verses. But thanks to Left Brain, he’s the star rapper on what might be the single best-produced Odd Future album. Left Brain’s beats on BlackenedWhite are truly powerful. Synths blare and roil, drums drop out at unexpected moments, warped melodies flit in and out at bizarre moments. “Loaded” is a chilly, bass-heavy storm of layered-up horror-movie keyboard tones. “Dead Deputy” sounds like a Lil Jon track played backwards and muffled with a pillow. “Right Here” is a frozen field of piano plinks with an elegantly looped stand-up bassline. And then there’s “Fuck the Police”, a chaotic near-masterpiece that would’ve fit in just fine on Waka Flocka Flame’s Flockaveli. It’s the sort of thing that should start brawls when they do it live, and I’m almost certain that was the intent.
The Jet Age of Tomorrow
Journey to the 5th Echelon
Posted on: Dec. 31, 2010
The second Jet Age album is just as addicted to hazy textures and space-damaged imagery as the first, and, like the first, it’s a rare indication that the Odd Future camp is keeping half a sleepy ear on the psychedelic beat music that L.A.’s Brainfeeder scene is cranking out. This one is a little more recognizably Odd Future, with other members of the crew stopping by to leave guest verses or lend a hand on production. Tonally, it’s still very close to Voyager, with Odd Future’s notoriously anarchic fuck-the-world energy almost entirely gone and a spaced-out hippie funk-love vibe pervading. Sample song title: “Love in the Purple Forest”. Even when the other Odd Future guys stop by, they adapt themselves to meet what Super 3 is doing. Tyler co-produces “SunBurst“, but it doesn’t sound much different from anything else on the album, and all the different rap verses come in sleepy, halting cadences. Om’Mas Keith, a member of the Kanye-affiliated art-funk group Sa-Ra Creative Partners, stops by on one track and gives some sense of the aesthetic lineage here. And musically, it’s a slightly more accomplished record than Voyager, with the occasional vocal tracks breaking things up nicely. But 5th Echelon is still more a curiosity within the Odd Future backstory than an essential record on its own.
Posted on: Feb. 18, 2011
Like the two Jet Age albums, this record of thoughtful, wounded-romantic R&B from music-industry vet and Def Jam refugee Ocean, who’d previously sung a hook for MellowHype, finds Odd Future breaking out of confrontational fight-rap. But unlike those Jet Age albums, Nostalgia, Ultra. stands up just fine on its own, even divorced completely from the furor surrounding Odd Future. None of the members of the crew show up on Nostalgia, Ultra., and rather than singing over Odd Future’s skeletal, lo-fi beats, Ocean uses lush, soft-batch, middlebrow rock songs like Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing” and MGMT’s “Electric Feel”. He even hijacks the Eagles’ “Hotel California”, possibly my least favorite song of all time, and somewhat redeems it.
Lyrically and musically, Ocean is a sort of art-school everyman, a personality type closer to first-album Aloe Blacc, say, than currently dominant R&B archetypes like Drake or Trey Songz. On one skit, his girl gets annoyed with him for playing Radiohead all the time, and his tracks tend to unfold as incidentally funny day-to-day musings rather than churchy testaments. He’s got a calm, easy voice and an understated gift for melody that turns the album into an incredibly pleasant spring-afternoon sort of thing. But what unites Ocean with his Odd Future colleagues is an eye for squishy, uncomfortable, revealing truth. “Novacane” is a loving sort of drug-story song. As it opens, Ocean meets a girl at Coachella: “She says she wanna be a dentist really bad/ She’s in school, paying for tuition doing porn in the valley– at least she working”– and that’s offered as a simple aside. On another song, a sexually aggressive Nicole Kidman monologue from Stanley Kubrick‘s Eyes Wide Shut interrupts things.
Tyler is the Odd Future guy getting the most media attention, and that’s justifiable; he’s the crew’s architect, and Bastard remains their most unshakable document. But Ocean is the guy who might have the easiest time crossing over to a bigger audience without fundamentally altering his style. Time will tell.