“We Were Just Some Bad Kids With Talent Who Loved Making Shit, As You Can Tell From The Shitty Quality Of The Songs.” So reads Odd Future’s description of the first Odd Future Tape, self-released by the California-based rap provocateurs in 2008. When that mixtape came out, no thinkpieces had been written about the group yet, and ringleader Tyler, the Creator was an eon from “Yonkers” and winning a VMA for Best New Artist; in fact, the now-11-deep collective was struggling just to be featured on blogs. Looking back, that tape wasn’t exactly “shitty,” but it was built around a decidedly homespun aesthetic that indeed made it hard for the masses to get into; most die-hard OF fans I know – and I know quite a few – rightly still don’t rank it as a very impressive piece of work.
The OF Tape Vol. 2 is, by and large, a different story. Even though the group is still dousing itself in a mostly safe, nearly lo-fi sound (a lot of the beats here, most of which were produced by Tyler and Left Brain, sound like they could have appeared on OF releases like Earl and BlackenedWhite), it’s always clear that everyone here has improved markedly since the new album’s alpha version. Consider, for instance, “NY (Ned Flander)”, a song in which Tyler and Hodgy Beats embody the cut in a way they couldn’t even two years ago. Or “Rella”, a maximally kinetic slab that finds Hodgy (who emerges as the most prolific voice here, appearing on 10 of the 18 tracks), Domo Genesis, and Tyler working their flows in remarkably supple ways. And no matter who’s rapping, there’s almost always an outpouring of ridiculous(ly) fun(ny) and free-associative bars: “I’m Wolf, I spit retardedly/As retarded as the sound of deaf people arguing,” goes Tyler on “P”. These guys are still immature, sure, but at least they’re not still talking about rape and coke for nothing more than the sake of shock value.
The album features nobody from outside OF, which, after its 60 minutes, ultimately functions as a double-edged sword. It’s certainly nice that everyone here gets chances to do whatever it is they do – Frank Ocean evokes a hushed Stevie Wonder on “White”, Taco Bennett and Jasper Dolphin pull out a Brick Squad impression on “We Got Bitches” – but, truth be told, not everybody in OF is great on the mic; of the guys who regularly show up, Tyler, Hodgy, Domo Genesis, and Mike G all impress, while Jasper and Taco do little more than not embarrass themselves. Put simply, the best-ever albums by full-blown rap crews – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), obviously, but also the D.I.T.C.’s self-titled, among others – get by on very particular kinds of well-rounded cohesion and chemistry that Vol. 2 just doesn’t have.
But, the question is, does that wreck the whole thing? Nope, because there are a couple of stretches where the group really connects for a little while, not the least of which is “Oldie”, the 10-minute song in which nine different emcees, including one on-point Earl Sweatshirt, show up to give the thing the liberating feeling of a cypher. However, too many things happen here, from the Brick Squad-type rave-ups to Ocean’s R&B laments, for it to ever sound like a truly unified, full-length group project. It’d be great if these guys would try to pull off something like that for the next go-round. Lord knows they could.
Essential Tracks: “Rella”, “P”, and “Oldie”
Feature artwork by Cap Blackard.