"Oh, fuck! we just came this close to killing someone," says Tyler, the Creator, laughing. The L.A. rapper is calling from a car in Austin where the 11-person hip-hop collective he helms, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, have taken South by Southwest by storm — bringing a ski-masked midget onstage at one show. Tyler epitomizes the group's demented aesthetic: His rhymes are dazzling blurs of violence, jokes and emotional bloodletting. Or, as he puts it, "I'm a big fucking crybaby, and for some reason people like listening to me."
Since 2008, Odd Future — whose teen and early-twentysomething members also include gifted avant-R&B smoothie Frank Ocean and slasher virtuoso Earl Sweatshirt (who, rumor has it, was shipped off to boarding school once his mom caught wind of his music) — have self-released buckets of free music online. The line on the crew is that they're punk-rappers, from their stripped-down production to Tyler's skate-rat uniform of cutoff shorts and scrawled-on Vans. But there's also serious savvy in their use of shock as a publicity generator, in the group's crudely Photoshopped promo fliers and in cartoonishly atavistic catchphrases like "Kill people, burn shit, fuck school." "It's all a gimmick," Tyler says. The gimmick is working. Love from stars like Mos Def and Kanye West helped transform the crew from cult pets into a burgeoning phenomenon (Beyoncé brought Ocean into the studio to collaborate recently). In Austin, Tyler — whose solo album, Goblin, is due out on indie powerhouse XL Recordings this year — reaches his destination. "Nice talking to you," he says. "You're awesome. Fuck you." Then he hangs up and tweets about how dumb the interview was.