Even if they did disband, Odd Future's reign is should be considered one of the most unique music movements of the 21st century. It's leaders continue to succeed today: Tyler, the Creator released Cherry Bomb and is co-headlining a very successful tour with A$AP Rocky; Earl Sweatshirt dropped the well-received I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside and proved that Doris wasn’t a fluke; And listen, who the fuck knows when Frank Ocean will drop another album. The our collective anxiety on the subject indicates just how important of an artist he truly is.
So how did a vulgarly insensitive ringleader, a military school deportee poet, and an sexually spectral recluse so profoundly alter the course of modern music? To put it simply, the Odd Future movement told the stories that no one else was telling in a genuine, multidimensional manner.
Listeners who shared their experiences gravitated toward them, and those who didn’t found pieces of human truth in their sound. The caricature of Tyler’s “Yonkers” becomes whole when the listener realizes he’s just a teenager looking to grasp concepts like love and heartbreak without a father figure around in his most important years like in “Her”. The grotesque Earl form of Earl Sweatshirt evolves into a guilt ridden conscience who struggles to forgive himself for trying to makes his career while his grandmother is ailing (“Burgundy”). And the “gay RnB singer” archetype made of Frank grossly underpersonifies a young man embattled by how he sees himself and how others see him, so much so that he equates his experience to “three lives balancing on my head like steak knives.” (I truly mean it when I say that his performance of “Bad Religion”, given the coming out and the social climate at the time, was one of the most important and most brilliant TV debuts in music history).
These characteristics were some that I — a white heterosexual male raised by two parents in my 2D form, an insecure child of divorce who finds guilt and anxiety over his prioritization of a career over family and friends in my 3D/oversharing form — could relate to deeply. These are just some of the many facets of the Odd Future members' characters to with which we the listeners could identify (or at least empathize). This was empowering and in time will spawn a whole new generation of artists who will tell their unique stories.
The latest Odd Future project to rise to prominence is The Internet, a neo-soul duo comprised of Syd “The Kyd” Bennett and Matt Martians and their latest album, Ego Death, is really damn good. First off, the production is phenomenal. The album has a fully realized Pacific vibe, lush with elements of cool jazz, funk and neo-soul arrangements orchestrated by the brilliant Martians. The bass walks, the guitar glides, the drum kicks and the keys chime as if Brian Wilson, Dave Brubeck, and Frank Ocean met at Sunset Sounds in Hollywood to record.
On top of Martians' arrangements is Syd’s audibly appealing voice, one with limited range but a smooth tone reminiscent of Jhené Aiko’s work on Sail Out. Even without a deep dive into the lyrics, this album's range allows the listener getting in tune with places as far as the infinite and as close as an email inbox.
What brings the whole album together is where the Odd Future troika’s influence is most readily apparent: it provides a unique voice that comes off as genuine. Syd is a black lesbian twentysomething. It’s not uncommon in hip-hop for that makeup to be hyper sexualized and simplified, but in Ego Death The Internet don’t let that happen. Rather, it opens the door to Syd’s love life and its complexities given her newly-held status in music. The best song on the album, “Girl”, shows how her status helps her love life out, explaining “If they don’t know your worth/Tell ‘em you’re my girl/And anything you want is yours.” While that sounds shallow, the song is actually really sweet “If I told you that you rock my world, I want you around me/Would you let me call you my girl (my girlfriend, my girlfriend?)/I can give you the life you deserve, just say the word, baby/And I got you, darling, I got you.” It’s interesting that these lyrics come off so elegantly when Syd sings them. I’m not quite sure if they would translate well with a male singer. Throw in the fact this song's production is created with the aid of Kaytranada, one of the best up and coming beat makers out there, and “Girl” stands out as one of the best songs of the year.
Although not everyone can directly relate to Syd’s lesbian experiences, they do share experiences of love. “Just Sayin’/I Tried”, which depicts a breakup from different points in time. “Just Sayin’” illustrates the fresh split with a rocky/rocking beat and angry lyrics like “Now I don’t even want you/And I notice that I’m better off without you (You fucked up)/Now that I got some cash flow/And I have everything that I ever asked for”. Then comes “I Tried”. The beat drops out and is substituted by acoustic chords. Syd’s previously choppy flow stretches out and with a clearer head realizes she “gave it all I had just to let it go/ but you should know I tried”. She then ponders the chance of reuniting by singing “I guess we’ll see if we blossom, or are we just fallen petals?”, until she ultimately realizes the impossibility of that with “We’ll find common ground when the ocean’s cold/ And the pigs all fly/ Maybe when the sky starts falling”. The song reveals and all to real human truth: ending a relationship is a emotionally devastating but as time passes the pain gradually goes away, or a least becomes manageable.
The album also brings in left of center guests for more interesting juxtapositions of love. “Gabby” finds Syd singing with Janelle Monae in a make-or-break relationship moment at an airport. I love the moment she realizes her feelings for Gabby (“I’m still in this terminal/And what I’m looking for isn’t at the gate”) and telling TSA she has a fake take and is on parole so that they can “send me home before I make a mistake.” Whether those feelings are of love or falling out of it, she decides to make the sudden change. It’s that instant shot to the gut that so many feel, so beautifully captured in this Courtney Barnett-esque vignette.
Additionally, Vic Mensa hops on “Go With It”, providing an interesting comparison between how men hit on woman and how women hit on women. Vic’s game is confident yet derogatory, exemplified by his closing quartet “[I can] tell you like your voice, let your hips do the talking/Contrary to what you think they really say this often/But watching you whine make me really wanna know/Would you mind, if you with it we can go”. Conversely, Syd applies a more affectionate and cooperative touch with the lines “Baby if you let me I can show you how to loosen up/Take a chance and dance with me, relax and let your hair down/I really want to be with you, and I know you want me too”. Two different sexualities, one goal. I was fascinated by the ways each went about it.
The song that sold me on the lyrical content of the album was “Penthouse Cloud”. The listener spends most of the album riding Syd’s love rollercoaster, but it all comes to a halt here. The song captures the anger and despair Syd feels being a young African American and seeing so many like her being killed as a result of police brutality. She curse God for allowing this to occur, chastizing him with questions: “Is this how you saw it when you made your creation? Is this what you wanted?” The final lines of the song devastate the listener by pondering the desperate final step to achieve peace:
[I’d] rather watch the world burn down from a penthouse cloud, real talk/
But if this is what you want I’ll fight ’til the smoke-filled skies make the days turn night, then what?/
Maybe when the world burns down and the clouds turns black and the sky turns white and the days turn night/
It’s a war outside, it’s a war outside, it’s a war outside/
Or maybe we’ll find paradise in the sky
When we die.
Ultimately, Ego Death succeeds because if it’s multifaceted, relatable nature. It’s as silly as it is serious, as clever as it is blunt, as sensually pleasing as it is conceptually challenging. Like Tyler, Frank and Earl before them, The Internet provides a new voice for fans to follow. And while Odd Future's collective may be darkening, their legacy shines brightly.