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Odd Future—OF Tape Vol. 2

Four hypotheses on OF Tape Vol. 2:

I. Domo Genesis is currently OF’s best rapper.

Absurd? Maybe. Tyler’s role as Odd Future’s ringleader has never been questioned, and Vol. 2 does little to change that paradigm: he’s added a level of nuance from last year’s Goblin, which was trying so hard to be over the top that it often felt like a horrorcore (...sorry) genre exercise. Mostly, he’s realized that the best movie villains are as often whispering as they are shouting, and that it’s more effective to be enigmatic than reliably crazy. Witness his verse on “P,” where he suddenly smooths out the rasp in his voice and assumes a faux-elegant affect in time to drop this little gem: “You know Casey Anthony was handling/Dropping her kids off so she could come out and dance with me.”

But Vol. 2 is a serious coming-out party for Domo. For one, he mostly gets the better of Hodgy Beats when the two show up together. For another, the Domo showcase “Doms” is the best of Vol. 2’s eighteen tracks. The beat, courtesy of Tyler, is an absolute killer, three menacing percussion tracks over a hypnotic, buzzy analog synth. And Domo lets loose with two straight minutes of liquid, syllable-tumbling flow. By the end, he’s more constrained by his breath than his imagination: “And I’m higher than the Asians score on SATs and...uhh, whatever.” What’s evident throughout Vol. 2 is that Domo’s progressed quite nicely, even since he released Rolling Papers last August, and that he’s the most technically impressive of the whole crew.

There’s one caveat here: the prodigal, prodigiously talented Earl Sweatshirt, who makes a single appearance on the posse cut “Oldie” and blows everyone out of the water, made his live debut as a member of Odd Future on Tuesday and appears to be back in the fold after an extended absence. In which case, all bets are pretty much off.

II. Some of this s**t is just silly.

Ok, maybe a lot of it. “We Got B*****s” is mostly less-than-artistic shouting, and every time you hear spoken dialogue—which, by the way, is damn near every track—go ahead and press fast-forward. OF has not learned discretion, or good taste, in the past three months. This should register as little surprise.

III. Frank Ocean is not long for this crew.

The Odd Future aesthetic—right down to the cheap, minimalist beats courtesy of Tyler and Left Brain—lies right at the confluence of creepy and hilarious. Frank Ocean, whose meteoric rise in the last year has placed him squarely in the mainstream of hip-hop, is in another universe entirely. When he shows up on Vol. 2, it’s either for a forgettable chorus that wastes his considerable talents, or on “White,” a perfectly pretty solo joint that’s also laughably out of place. If Odd Future are the shows that come on Adult Swim after Aqua Teen Hunger Force (not a stretch, given that they now have a show on Adult Swim, Loiter Squad), then Frank Ocean is a Michael Mann-produced mini-series on premium cable. Each is good, in their own way, but they’re too incongruent to reliably engage with the other in a mutually enriching way.

IV. Rap is a young man’s game. Odd Future are young men (and Syd). Rap is Odd Future’s game.

If you can pardon the E-screech equivocation, there’s a hint of truth to the syllogism. The most intriguing aspect of the Odd Future story, so far, has been that nearly every established rapper going out of their way to praise the group­—we’ve seen Jay-Z and Diddy try to sign OF to their respective labels, Lil Wayne rocking a Mellowhype t-shirt, and most recently, Kanye and Tyler together in the studio. This is at least a little bit unusual—after all, rap beefs are typically good publicity, and Odd Future’s relentlessly anti-PC antics make them an easy target, especially for the genre’s ambassadors. Perhaps hip-hop’s institutions genuinely and uniformly enjoy OF’s hyper-technical shock rap; more likely, though, they recognize the group’s explosive potential, and the benefits of making allies out of a mercurial group of wildly popular teenagers who don’t have to stand for anything, or anyone.

OF will, without doubt, be sharing the stage with the other young and talented rap crews that exploded in 2011, namely, ASAP Mob and Kendrick Lamar’s Black Hippy contingent. But of the three, OF are the most willing to push (or shove) the envelope, and seem the most likely to inspire a legion of deliriously weird copycats. As Tyler says on Vol. 2’s concluding verse, “This is for the ones that got called weird, fg, b**h, nerd/ Cause you was into jazz, kitty cats and Steven Spielberg.” Whatever you say, Wolf.

—Ross Green

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