Part social media carousel. Part hip-hop skate crew. Part weird (offensive?) creative conglomerate -- They post relentlessly to Tumblr, get tweeted about by Kanye, and with no single, perform on "Fallon." Is this the ODD FUTURE of the music biz?
Tyler, a skinny 19-year-old with a booming voice and a slightly gapped overbite, sits cross-legged on an unmade bed sheet in a Philadelphia hotel room. Over a tray of cinnamon sticks and a half-closed MacBook he gushes about his dreams (winning a Grammy Award) and heroes (Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes).
For hours Tyler remains tethered to one spot on the bed, yet he seems to be moving constantly. His imagination travels as he pretends to be a secret agent, or that the room's furniture is slowly coming to life. He shows off a sketchbook filled with his brightly colored marker drawings of doughnuts and cats, ideas for clothing designs and chicken-scratch poetry. Flipping to a portrait of a seemingly jolly, fat-faced man he pauses.
"That's a serial killer," he says. "That's Tom, he's crazy. He looks nice, but that's how they usually are."
Tyler himself is proof that first impressions are unreliable. The bright-eyed and buzzing teen is also rap's most buzzed-about new star -- and quite possibly an emerging threat to both decency-minded parent groups and the major-label infrastructure.
Known to fans as Tyler, the Creator (the superfluous comma is intentional), he's the founder of and de facto spokesman for Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, a Los Angeles-based collective of rappers, producers, skateboarders, filmmakers, designers and general miscreants, all in their late teens and early 20s. The 11 members on the recording side specialize in splattering today's adolescent experience onto tape. With that comes rebelliousness, profanity, intense insecurity, dense sarcasm, bizarre non sequiturs and a heartfelt honesty.
Earlier that night in Philadelphia, at a sweatbox known as the Barbary, Odd Future performed to a crowd of 300 kids. There was a full-scale punk energy level on both ends, complete with stage dives and fans screaming their lyrics -- "Fuck the fame and all the hype, G/I just want to know if my father would ever like me" -- and vulgar catchphrases -- "Kill people! Burn shit! Fuck school!" -- by heart. Many were wearing homemade OFWGKTA shirts.
When Tyler released his self-produced debut album, "Bastard," on his website in late 2009, it was mostly downloaded by friends and users of the message board of popular street fashion blog Hypebeast. Tyler reached out to a few of the bigger hip-hop blogs to post the tape and received little to no response. But after about six months, Odd Future awareness began to snowball, thanks to more free albums and a couple of unforgettably masochistic music videos for Tyler's "French," and then-16-year-old Earl Sweatshirt's drug binge fantasy "Earl." By the summer of 2010, Tumblr posts and Twitter retweets begot attention from media outlets like Pitchfork and the Fader. Public co-signs from Kanye West and Soulja Boy followed.