I finally got around to listening to Odd Future, but before I share my opinion on the music, let me step back and explain why I took so long to listen to their work. When I first heard about the group two years ago, the general impression I got from the press, blogs, and friends was this: These young, Los Angeles–based cats are on some serious negativity shit. Odd Future are nothing more than shockmongers. For them, nastiness is the order of the day. They have nothing but mean things to say about gays and women.
Now, there's so much trouble in the world as it is, why bother listening to a crew that's spreading the negativity? Why bother with music that doesn't have a positive message? Women are still oppressed; gays do not have full rights and are often bullied and beaten. What all of this adds up to is one group of people inflicting pain on another. And pain is a bad thing. We all want to be happy and feel pleasure. (Yes, it's a very utilitarian view of life.) When Odd Future rap about raping a woman, they are rapping about inflicting pain on another human being. This is what it comes down to. There is no getting around it. It's wrong to rap about inflicting pain on another person.
But back to the music. One listen of The Odd Future Tape and Radical, and the practiced ear knows that Odd Future operate in hiphop genius, the region of RZA, J Dilla, Q-Tip. Their beats and arrangements are amazing. So on one end, you have the closed minds of the rappers; on the other end, you have a production that's absolutely open and inventive. How can this be? Why does such a brilliant contemporary hiphop crew end up with nothing nice to say? My guess: It is a symptom of underground hiphop's frustration with obscurity. The opportunities in underground hiphop are extremely limited. No matter how great you are, there's only a slim chance you will receive recognition outside of your city or community.
It was not always like this. Back in the day, hiphop was all about innovation. You became famous because you brought something brand-new to the game. This standard of success withered in the late 1990s and has since been in exile. With Odd Future, innovative hiphop comes out of exile and appears on NBC, MTV, BB, Fuel TV, and the galaxy of music blogs. But this return to the mainstream comes with a terrible price. Odd Future are known mostly for their shocking raps rather than their brilliant craftsmanship.