Odd Future, or Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, as they are more formally known, is perhaps one of the more unusual rap collectives to emerge in recent years. Many would be quick to draw comparisons to the infamous Wu Tang Clan, but Odd Future is a whole other animal: angry and aggressive, the group fronts their grotesque poetry with little reserve, taking pride in the horror and chaos. And it works—they have emerged from underground obscurity, snagging the Best New Artist title at MTV’s Video Music Awards, and fresh from a tour with stops at Austin’s SXSW festival as well as Australia’s Big Day Out.
Odd Future’s show on Tuesday, March 20, at the Hammerstein Ballroom was a testament to just how big the group has become. Unlike the group’s first show in New York at Webster Hall in 2010, at which the number of rappers in the collective outnumbered the audience members, this show left little to be desired—the standing area was filled to capacity, and the hall’s balconies were lined with screaming fans clad in the band’s apparel.
The show began with an extended preview for the group’s new sketch comedy show, titled “Loiter Squad,” that premiered on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim in early March. Produced by Dickhouse—the same company that put together “Jackass”—the show channels the collective’s freewheeling and, at times, raunchy sense of humor, calling to mind programs like “Wonder Showzen” and “Tim & Eric’s Awesome Show.”
After a brief DJ set by the group’s own Syd, the whole collective trickled onto stage. The 21-year-old Tyler, The Creator fits his role as the group’s frontman, already a seasoned performer from his rapid rise to fame. Clad in a tie-dye shirt and Supreme cap, he resembled a skater more than a rapper, and, in the midst of stomping around on stage, somewhat of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Despite Tyler’s dominating presence, the group’s dynamic was one of a family more than of a band. Members of their posse freely walked on and off stage, often exiting via stage dive. Each rapper took a bit of solo time, mirroring the structure of the band’s recorded material that is not so much a set of group songs as it is a compilation of individual hits. And stage antics followed suit—a lightsaber-wielding Mike G rapped his version of Jay Z’s “A Million and 1 Questions” while the rest of the group punctuated the song with mob yells. There is never a calm moment on stage, and appropriately so.
Interaction kept the energy high, onstage and off. Like they were part of a 1970’s punk band, some members of the Odd Future crew hurled water bottles at rabid fans; others jumped with reckless abandon onto the crowd itself. A crowdsurfing Left Brain returned onto the stage unscathed, but the American flag umbrella he dove in with was lost as spoils— the crowd tore it to pieces, leaving security guards to wrestle back its metal frame and return the remaining fabric to concert goers demanding souvenirs.
The whole band showed their humorous side with a brief reprise to what they claimed was a brand-new song. Rousing up the packed hall, they managed to get the crowd to sing along with to a chorus of “Who keeps [defecatin’] in the tub? Wash your ass, Mr. Steve.” With Odd Future, sadistic and vulgar humor reigns supreme, and the audience loves it, yelling back each word.
However, surprisingly enough, the sentimentality was there as well. The crowd shared a tender moment with sporadic member Frank Ocean, who took to an onstage organ and briefly serenaded the audience. The number was a brief departure from the group’s usual devil-may-care attitude. Ocean’s soulful crooning had a hypnotizing effect on the fanatical crowd.
But perhaps the true highlight of the evening was the appearance of Earl Sweatshirt. The 18-year-old rapper, whose penchant for complex and lyrical rhymes is difficult to ignore, made his debut with the group after being away at a Samoan reform school for at-risk youth. After an emotional on-stage embrace with the rest of the band, he dove into the performance as if he had been there since the very beginning. Earl played the role with few seams to show, matching the energy of his best friend Tyler, and the crowd buzzed with a heightened enthusiasm, rejoicing at the long-awaited completeness of the group.
While the band’s lyrical matter and outward image is frightening to some—the group often ends their shows with a chant of profanities referring to murder, arson, and resistance to formal education (in much earthier terms, of course), and the music video for Tyler’s hit “Yonkers” shows him eating a cockroach, subsequently retching, and eventually hanging himself—the band offstage is surprisingly different. Members of the group stood around, still hopped up on the electric energy of a successful concert, some making enthusiastic conversation, others calmly smoking joints. A rambunctious Jasper Dolphin took pleasure in trashing the green room, flipping over a refreshment table with angry shouts of “Where the hummus at?”
Minus the threatening facade, the group bears signs of gratefulness. Closing the show, a drained but still-smiling Tyler told the crowd, “Thanks to all you punk mother[expletive deleted] that came out tonight, even if you don’t [expletive deleted] with us.”—a foul mouthed esprit de corps, perhaps, but one fit for such a distinguished group.