October 12, 2011
First Avenue, Minneapolis
As I figured, waiting in line I noticed a young crowd for Odd Future (the show was all ages, and was finished by the time most of-age shows even have doors); some from slightly out of the city limits, some with their mothers, and many excited.
From humble beginnings drinking blended drugs on YouTube to Tyler, The Creator (the de facto leader of the Wolf Gang) winning the VMA for Best New Artist, this West Coast rap collective are now famous among teens who use the internet. While absent member Frank Ocean -- whose R&B record, nostalgia,ULTRA., is the best album of the year -- has the most widespread potential of the group, Tyler is the most visible at the moment in the rap world. Already living dreams of sold-out shows, TV appearances and guest spots with his heroes the Neptunes, his visibility has risen in part by songs that unequivocally glorify rape.
Tyler reminds me of Brandon McCarthy from Welcome to the Dollhouse: A troubled kid whose muddied distortions of love for and hatred of women express themselves most tellingly when he calls ahead with a time and place for the young Dawn Weiner's impending rape. Though Tyler's sophomore release Goblin has a range of topics and even a few rare tender moments -- such as "Analog" -- rape and violence against women are still predominant themes.
Arguments about the overall quality of the music's beats and rhyme patterns are true, which make it easy for some to justify the hype that caused a capacity First Ave Mainroom to scream nearly every lyric to every song. Even the group onstage acted like the response side of call-and-response, occasionally rapping over their prerecorded vocals and screaming much of the lines as a full collective. It's some of the most aggressive rap music, period, and its sound will have a lasting impact.
Mike G proved to be the best MC in overall technical terms as his fluid and funky consistency on a beat ultimately overtook Tyler's hoarse energy, Domo Genesis' pot-soaked swag, or Hodgy Beat's biting-off-more-than-he-could-chew on some faster songs. Stage-diving, shouting, and in-jokes kept the group of entertainers at a peaked energy level throughout their impressively long set. Sheer aggression from the young, passionate, angry people cemented the fans' and my attention. Mosh pits came and went, as did patrons, the first person being tossed out hardly a half hour into 7 p.m. Domo cracked jokes on the quality of Minneapolis weed, refusing a bag thrown on stage as inferior. Left Brain contorted his body and eye sockets to match his crazed tone. Earl Sweatshirt, though physically not a presence, remained a part of the crew with bookends "Drop" and "EARL." Tyler performed his breakout hit "Yonkers" on a stool under red lights, slipping into mania at appropriate moments ("...stab Bruno Mars in his god damn esophagus and won't stop until the cops come in"). It was a consistently engaging show that lived up to the group's ballooning hype.
But what is done with all this energy? Where does this pent up rage that birthed Tyler's emo-rap torture porn blueprint take us? The suicidal mindset and abandonment issues that birthed Tyler's bitter hostility points it square at women, whose irreparable pain and mental anguish is used to, as Domo Genesis puts it, "redefine cool." As Chris Brown uses talent to shroud his disturbing violent behavior, Odd Future are using violence to inform their talent, and ultimately their stardom. As a fan of aggressive music generally, there's an obvious appeal for me and many others, but I have a hard time reconciling where that aggression is going to ultimately be applied. With rape, domestic violence, and bullying-related suicide still very real problems, it's unnerving to see tales of victimizing met with such a fervor.
I was more than excited about Odd Future at various points along their rise (the Jimmy Fallon appearance, videos for "Yonkers" and "64," and Frank Ocean's continually engaging approach to modern R&B songwriting) and was curious to see their performance. Angst and rage at religion, authority and an oppressive society expressed through a filter of ambition and self-aggrandizing energy is powerful stuff, but my mind keeps turning to why this power is used against the already oppressed. Stabbing a cop with a hunting knife has the appeal of taking vengeance against authority, but the popularity of rabidly anti-woman lines in a similar vein shed light on a hatred and distrust bubbling in the zeitgeist. Hype doesn't create itself -- this stuff got popular because it represents amplified versions of the status quo's view of women and other marginalized group. But that can't excuse it. Bottom line: I listen to the music, but I refuse to simply gloss over the root problems at the core of the lyrics. I enjoyed the show but I refuse to let that enjoyment justify a tolerance for misogynist violence in any form.
Rolling Papers (Domo + Tyler)
Made It Look Good (Mike G)
I Got A Gun (MellowHype)
Tron Cat (Tyler)
TangGolf (Domo + Hodgy)
Everything That's Yours (Mike G)
Orange Juice (EarlWolf)
Turnt Down (Hodgy)
Timeless (Mike G)
French! (Tyler + Hodgy)
Under The Influence (Domo)
Loaded (MellowHype + Mike G)
Whole City Behind Us (Domo + Tyler)
Burger (Tyler + Hodgy)
Up (Domo + Hodgy)
Sandwitches (Tyler + Hodgy)
Fuck The Police (MellowHype + Tyler)
Bitch Suck Dick (Tyler + Jasper)
Cool (Earl + Mike G)
Steam Roller (Domo)