The charismatic leader possesses an enigmatic streak that includes refusing to divulge his last name (Okonma) and neglecting to tell his mom about Odd Future (a cousin ratted him out). He repeatedly describes his dad as dead and the only evidence that he isn't is a song lyric about how Tyler wants his email to tell him "how much I hate him in detail."
Originally conceived in 2005 as a magazine, OFWGKTA evolved into something part art collective and part unarmed menaces. One of the first members was producer Left Brain, a Crenshaw High student who bonded with Tyler over their love of left-field hip-hop and R&B-funk fusion. Pasadena rapper Hodgy Beats joined shortly thereafter.
"Back then our music was really experimental," Hodgy said about the early years when they recorded at a dilapidated studio in South L.A. "The beats were on some way-out-there Madlib-type space stuff."
Though the rappers owe an obvious creative debt to Eminem, they ﬁt few previous rap archetypes. A self-described "walking talking paradox," Tyler can evangelize on post-crunk rap, celestial indie rock (Grizzly Bear, Toro y Moi) or jazz (Roy Ayers, John Coltrane). He doesn't drink or do drugs, he says, but raps that "all he wants to do is snort blow" nonetheless — with a bullfrog wheeze usually reserved for smoke-ravaged octogenarians.
Musically, the group's sound is almost entirely sample-free and boasts synaesthetic synth smears that parallel Tyler's fashion schemes, can be as varied as tie-dye psychedelic and noirish zebra print. Part of the enthusiasm for the group's sound is due to its contrast with the rest of the contemporary rap world. Although most of their peers have been forced into making watered-down pop concessions, Odd Future remain deﬁantly averse to sanitizing their sound or lyrics.
Tyler doesn't profess authenticity ("no one's authentic"), but his lyrics have both a wounded honesty and deranged imagination (including sex fantasies with Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and Goldilocks). His talent lies in his ability to fuse a strain of post-adolescent angst found in Holden Caulfield, Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis, and lyrics rife with esoteric references and double-meaning: In one of the only rhyming couplets suitable for a family newspaper, he raps on "Yonkers," "They say success is the best revenge/So I beat DeShay up with the stack of magazines I'm in/Oh, not again, another critic writin' report/I'm stabbin' any bloggin' … hipster with a Pitchfork."
"People aren't making the music they want to make anymore," said the gangly and green-hatted Tyler, who describes himself as dark-skinned, big-eared and depressed. "The radio plays nothing but techno rap, and most artists are desperate to make everything sound pop to sell records."
"We're not aiming for shock value. There are just certain things that we ﬁnd entertaining, so we rap about them," said Domo Genesis, OFWGKTA marijuana connoisseur, who released last year's well-received "Rolling Papers." Domo joined Odd Future toward the end of 2008. A year later Left Brain's Crenshaw High friend Mike G (a cousin of Warren G) joined.
"I was a fan before anything," Mike G said. "They already had a small buzz that dated back to Tyler's personal blog that existed before they even released music." Around the same time, Odd Future absorbed Earl Sweatshirt (nee Thebe Okonma), a 15-year-old who had rapped as Sly in a group called the Backpackerz. Suspected by some to be Tyler's half-brother (Tyler denies it), Earl had made little headway as an emcee until he meshed with the warped aesthetic of his new clan.
"Earl was a skater in OF before he was rapping," Syd said. "Tyler was the only one who knew he could rap, but he was nervous to show us. The ﬁrst time he recorded, he closed the studio door on us and made us wait outside." Unavailable for comment, Earl's old website remains for now a testament to his grandiose aspirations and surreal imagination.
"I've been making an effort to … write more … sophisticated," Earl wrote in May 2009. "When I get writers block, my content gets more and more simplistic, but when I let go of whatever block I've clamped on my imagination, my music gets doper."
In mid-February, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All made its network television debut. On "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" and with house band the Roots backing them, Odd Future delivered a chaotically memorable performance featuring garden gnomes, zombies, ski masks, terriﬁed actresses and enough kinetic energy to power a theme park.
That sort of national exposure, however, has to be facilitated by professionals, and despite the chaos that seems to constantly surround the group, Odd Future has considered its team wisely. Since fall, the members have been managed by former Interscope executives Christian Clancy and David Airaudi. Last month, Airaudi formed his own ﬁrm, Three Quarter, devoted to managing musicians' intellectual property and publishing rights. The Vanderbilt MBA and former slam poet will be signing acts, building their businesses and funding their creative endeavors.
In Odd Future's case, his central concern will be constructing the latticework of the group's business model, which could include clothing lines, skateboards and multimedia crossovers. "Whether it's XL, Interscope, Supreme, or even Apple, Sony or Google, we're looking for the best partner on our content and creations," Airaudi said.
No longer is the central concern selling recordings, he added. "A record label doesn't necessarily have pole position. Creative control and freedom come first. Going forward, successful artists will be ones fully immersed in the intellectual property of their lifestyle." Besides the XL pact, the duo of Mellowhype (Left Brain and Hodgy Beats) inked a similar one-off deal with Mississippi rock and blues label Fat Possum. Other members will no doubt ink their own deals.
"I always wanted to sign to Interscope when I was a kid because it was the label of Dr. Dre and 50 Cent. I want a boat. I want a Grammy," Tyler said. "But I'd never sign a deal without 100% creative control. You lose a lot when you sign with the major labels. I'd rather be broke than have to rap over the same chord progressions as everyone else."