Here's the thing about the L.A. rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, hip-hop's preeminent self-styled radicals, provocateurs, and shock-artists: They're not radical, they're not provocative, and they're not shocking. Free-floating male hormonal rage, Odd Future's stock-in-trade, has been an engine of pop music for more than half a century. Their id-unleashed shtick – all the pill-popping and gore and nihilism—is evidence of an Eminem Complex that begins with OF's leader Tyler, the Creator, and trickles down to the group's other members. And of course, there's the relentless misogyny: "Please hit your knees/My dick won't suck itself/If it wasn't for my cock/You would have bad health," rhymes OF member Taco. That's not radical, that's conventional: the stupidest, most banal way to raise hackles.
Yet Odd Future are mesmerizing. The O.F. Tape Volume 2 has a fizzy energy that elevates it above its limitations. In part, it's the music. Tyler, The Creator is an imaginative soundscaper whose beats take in everything from crunk to Nineties underground hip-hop. "Lean" combines mosquito-whine buzzes with an eerily minimalist beat worthy of the Neptunes; "Analog 2" is sultry swirl of synths and soul crooning interrupted by nearly twelve seconds of dead silence. But it's cacophony that keeps your ears piqued: all those peculiar voices, boasting, storytelling, signifying, bellyaching. There's Tyler, sharper and wittier than on his 2011 solo album, Goblin; there's Hodgy Beats, who breaks out here, taking the prize for best punchlines; in the ten-minute-plus posse track "Oldie"; there's even a cameo by Earl Sweatshirt, possibly OF's best rapper, an 18-year-old who had moved from L.A. to Samoa, where he was enrolled in a program for at-risk youth. And of course there's the group's resident grownup, rising R&B star Frank Ocean, who takes a lovely solo turn on the Stevie Wonder-ish "White."
At their best, OF, like early Wu-Tang, are a thrilling regional act, a bunch of whip-smart black hipsters whose worldview is grounded in their corner of sun-baked southern California – a place as weirdly its own planet as Wu's Shaolin. In "P," Hodgy Beats boasts about his gun-slinging by invoking California Assemblyman and Tea Party member Tim Donnelly, who was arrested at an airport in San Bernadino, CA., when a Colt .45 was found in his carry-on luggage. "Tea parties are the shit, .40 mags by the stones," raps Hodgy. "I'm fighting for gun rights to shoot a nigga in his dome." That's the best kind of shock: taking a cliché and turning it into something fresh, new, odd.
Listen To Odd Future's "Lean":