If you had asked me what I thought about Odd Future when I first heard Bastard, I would have told you that they were the most promising flash in the pan we’ve seen in years. Tyler, The Creator had a flow that reminded, in more ways than one, of the Marshal Mathers LP days of Eminem, unbound by the shackles of mainstream constraints. Indeed, all of Odd Future was, at that moment in time, a portrait of what would have happened if Marshal Mathers had been able to record and release every track himself, for free, to the hungry masses of the internet.
I’m sure that, when Bastard‘s follow-up, Goblin was released, most people found themselves conflicted. While I saw record as a triumph, most others saw it as a harbinger of a doomed group, who had grown tired of their own antics. It’s hard to discuss everything else the rest of the group has released (save for Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia, Ultra.) because, other than Frank Ocean, Tyler is most prominent member of the group. It’s also possible that, save for Earl Sweatshirt and the aforementioned Ocean, he’s the most creative member of the group, able to make songs like “Yonkers” and “Her,” but then make songs like “Transylvania” and “Sandwitches,” without ever missing a beat. Without getting too hyperbolic: he spins gold constantly.
The OF Tape, Vol. 2 is to Bastard and Goblin as Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion is to Panda Bear’s Person Pitch. If that sounds convoluted, take those two groups as a whole, and then listen to Radical and Strawberry Jam, respectively. A lot has changed for Odd Future as a group since Bastard came out: Frank Ocean and Tyler, The Creator have each worked with Kanye West and Jay-Z. Tyler won a VMA for the “Yonkers” video. Earl Sweatshirt, the M.I.A. little brother of Tyler, has returned. Blog-rap itself has turned on its ear and become a feasible thing. Could you, when you first heard Odd Future, imagine one of its members not only recording part of a Jay-Z/Kanye West collaboration, but having that section be featured prominently on a commercial for a Denzel Washington flick? I didn’t think so.
The world of Odd Future has changed immensely, and in the process, Tyler, The Creator’s colleagues have drawn inspiration form the same well that he pulls from, and The OF Tape, Vol. 2 shows this on every single track. The first thing you really notice about the tape is that it feels big. In-house producer Left Brain has become well adept at making do with what he has to make the tracks they produce sound like big label hip-hop, and it’s something that works without fail. There isn’t a track on this record that sounds like it was made with any less money than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and it’s a welcome thing, to be sure.
It’s hard to ignore that everything works better here, and the beats are just the tip of the iceberg. Every verse feels like it was put there deliberately, rather than feeling, at times, like a hodgepodge of verses that sorta work together, like it feels a lot of the time on Radical. Even the still frequent violent and misogyny feels more natural, and less for the sake of shock value: marvel at the references to Jerry Sandusky and Casey Anthony, and Taco Bennett’s effortlessly twisted verse on “Real Bitch:” “Went to UCLA ’til she met my dick / You wanted to be a doctor? I bet you did.” It’s a marvel to observe how he lets his rhymes unfurl, and at times, he feels like the lighter (but still bleak) side of Earl Sweatshirt’s coin: if only everyone could make rap sound so easy. Mike G’s “Forest Green” is equally as effortless, and feels completely breathless, rolling verses over a glorious tribal beat in a way that feels, at times, like the words he’s spitting were created just for the song he’s doing. It sounds ridiculous, but just listen to the track, and you’ll see what I mean.
By far, the best part of the record is the triumphant, go-for-broke tower of song that is “Oldie.” Everyone here contributes an insane and quite frankly perfect verse, the longest of which being that of in-house prodigal son Earl, who hasn’t lost a single drop of style, swagger, or power since Earl came out. Indeed, his no-holds-barred verse is almost painful to listen to; not because it’s bad, but because it’s hard to ignore what the group might look like today if Earl, in all of his vile talent, had not been sent away for so long. It’s completely possible that he could be the biggest of the bunch, and he would have earned it.
Listening to the energy that everyone on The OF Tape, Vol. 2 exudes here is awe-inspiring. Nobody on the record stalls or lets up for a moment, making every single song an actual treat to listen to – rather than a grotesque thing that must be admired at a distance; here, the record begs you to pick it up and turn it over in your hands, examining its parts moving in perfect harmony at all times. The love Odd Future feel for what they do is palpable, and because of this, I (and I know I’m not the only one) am inclined to label this as the best work the group has done, individually and as a unit. After this, it’s hard to ever label the group as a passing fad. Their best work is yet to come, but for now, they’ve gained a new life as true artists.