I was eleven years old when Tyler, Tyler dropped his music video for “Yonkers”. At the time, it seemed almost as if the world had stopped and the typical suburban parent nearly fainted as a result of what their children were being subjected to. With the amount of accessibility provided by YouTube, as well as the previous clout Tyler and the rest of the Odd Future gang have already been exposed to, the song became an immediate success with teenagers on a global scale.
A black and white music video featuring disturbing visuals that depicted the consumption of a cockroach, images of St. Peter’s Cross and even a suicide, “Yonkers” became an official symbol of rebellion and chaos. It also became one of the defining moments that created a trend of taking an off-color approach to creating hip-hop music.
In the broad scheme of things, it worked. In the years since the release of this music video, Tyler, as well as other members of the Odd Future collective, have achieved a considerable amount of success to varying degrees. While it seems as if some of the members have dropped off the face of the planet, Tyler, as well as Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean, have become three of the defining components as to why hip-hop has never been this exciting, diverse and overall entertaining.
Take Ocean for example. When his album, “Channel Orange”, was released in 2013, he became one of the genre’s most expressive artists due to his songwriting approach that encompasses themes of unrequited love, the concept of coming to terms with one’s own identity and more concrete themes such as addiction, sex and suicidal thoughts.
Along with the release of this record, Ocean also published a message to his fans in which he revealed that the first person he ever loved was a man. For an artist who is relatively new to the hip-hop community, this was considered to be a huge step forward, mainly due to the hetero-normativity that is typically associated with hip-hop.
Ocean helps to break that mold by allowing that identification to become a part of, not only his own life, but the lives of many hip hop artists out there who are either unsure of their own sexuality or may not be comfortable enough to reveal that part of themselves to their respective audiences. Through actions and words, Ocean has become symbolic of a voice for those who feel voiceless.
While Ocean’s solo career began to take off, another Odd Future alumni began to pave his own legacy within the hip-hop community. After making waves in the underground hip-hop community at the ripe age of sixteen with his debut “OF” mixtape, Sweatshirt dropped off the face of the earth, or so we all thought.
In reality, the young and talented lyrical genius was spending time in Samoa, at a school for at-risk youth, after his mother had forbidden him from making music with Tyler and the rest of the Odd Future gang. Upon his return from boarding school, Sweatshirt picked up the mic again, but with a different perspective and outlook on life.
From originally establishing himself as one of hip-hop’s most depraved and borderline psychopathic lyricists, Sweatshirt’s new music became more focused on shining a light one of the most taboo topics of discussion: depression.
While all three of his studio albums each incorporated different stylistic approaches to production, the theme of depression has become more evident with each release, as certain events within his life began to take a toll on his artistic vision. On his 2015 release, “I Don’t Like ****, I Don’t Go Outside”, Sweatshirt lends himself to minimalist, gritty and grim production that is accompanied by topics of substance abuse and loneliness.
A lot of these expressions of anger and sadness are directly linked to his own upbringing, which has led to feelings of lacking a purpose. While Sweatshirt is not the first rapper to bring these topics to the surface, he is one of the more prominent voices in hip-hop, today, that is not afraid to talk about his feelings. As a result of this, artists that have cited him as an influence have since released music of their own that spark similar discussions.
Having someone like Sweatshirt in this genre establishes the foundation that hip-hop is not expression or emotionless. His music is all emotion and nothing else.
What exactly is a group without its ringleader? For Odd Future, Tyler lived up to his stage name, in the sense that he was the foundation that held the gang together. Since the dawn of his prominence, Tyler has been making waves in the news due to not only his social media antics, but his lyrical content as well.
He has made a name for himself through chronicles of misogyny, homophobia and violence. As a matter of fact, the amount of controversy stirred by his lyrical content alone led to him being refused entry into the United Kingdom. The ban was established in 2015 and as of May of this past year, has since been lifted.
As his career within music began to shift between his first three albums, his fourth record, “Cherry Bomb”, served as a musical palate of experimentation. Tyler began to play around with different production styles, ultimately resulting in a seemingly messy final product that has been loathed by various critics.
However, on his 2016 album, “Flower Boy,” Tyler began to become more open to audiences by alluding to the idea that he may not be the openly offensive artist that he had painted himself to be. On the album, Tyler explores themes of self-identification, struggles with fame and loneliness.
Along with these topics, Tyler, the Creator explores different genres of production on the album and, it includes a heavy neo-soul approach. With that being said, “Flower Boy” has one of the most clear cut influences in hip-hop music today. Creative shifts that were explored on the record have been incorporated into the works of newer artists who are quickly receiving similar levels of fame.
To be quite frank, the influence of the Odd Future gang revels in the idea that it is normal to have feelings and it is normal to express those feelings in any artistic medium that you see fit. The abrasive honesty of its three core members allow for other artists to come forward with their own thoughts and ways of expressing those thoughts.
Without the existence of Odd Future, or at least the solo careers of Tyler, Ocean and Sweatshirt, it is difficult for me to pinpoint where hip-hop would be today. They provided a voice for those who felt like weirdos or outsiders, just because they were different from the rest, when in reality, those people actually have a lot in common.
It is normal to feel sad, depressed, or even unsure of how you identify yourself, because at the end of the day, we all can feel a bit lost at times. Having musicians and artists like these are important, because they are the bridge that connects people together, ultimately establishing a community out of what seemed to be isolation.
Categories: Arts and Culture