The hip-hop super villains in Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All played a sold-out show at Santos Party House on Tuesday night to a crowd equal parts Supreme-wearing fanboys (emphasis on boys, as the crowd was overwhelmingly male) and older blogger types, notepads poking out of herringbone blazer pockets. OFWGKTA had words for each, which was no surprise to anyone who has waded through the group’s caustic, aggressive music.
If the squeals of praise from the blogosphere have yet to reach you, here’s a summary: Ten kids from L.A. ranging in age from 16 to 19 rhyme with unchecked anger about socially unacceptable behavior including rape, murder, and drug abuse over tracks that eschew sampling in favor of sickly piano and synths. The oldest member, Tyler, a.k.a. the Creator, heads the crew, handling the bulk of the production across the group’s countless free-to-download albums and earning the most critical attention.
After a DJ set from Syd, the group’s sound engineer and sole female member, the boys of OFWGKTA announced themselves. “Who the fuck invited Mr. I-Don’t-Give-a-Fuck?” Tyler asked from behind the curtain. Then, in a flurry of hoodies and green ski masks, Tyler, Hodgy Beats, and Left Brain hit the stage screaming, impolitely asking the photographers to step aside. When the crowd’s reaction didn’t suit him in intensity, Tyler left the stage and asked again. After a satisfactory response, the show began and the ferociousness didn’t let up for the next hour.
I was just a kid when C. Delores Tucker took on gangsta rap in the mid ’90s, when the media wondered how America’s youth might be warped permanently by Ice Cube and the like; the arrival of OFWGKTA might conjure similar fears. Even with five of the members missing—Domo Genesis rolled his stoned self onto the stage eventually—OFGWKTA delivered a show akin to Lightning Bolt in terms of sheer violence: moshing, punches being thrown, bouncers tossing people out the door. Tyler is to thank—or blame—for it. With the presence and magnetism of a cult leader, he’s impossible to look away from, his anger infectiously captivating in that clichéd car wreck kind of way. When he’s not climbing the speakers, his eyes roll up into his skull as he spits, mouth close to the microphone, “Fuck a deal, I just want my father’s email/So I can tell him how much I fucking hate him in detail!”
Comparisons to Eminem are inevitable, but Marshall always kept artifice close at hand, whether it was animated beats or equally cartoonish alter egos. And when he chose to abuse the listener with songs of “serious” things, the beats stayed one step ahead of his words, swollen with phony gravitas, strings, and tolling bells. Tyler’s impeccable lo-fi production—he professes love for Ariel Pink and James Pants—claustrophobically weds music to lyrics. He would never want the listener to feel safely removed from the material. Live, with his eyes jutting out of his head as he aimed an index finger and arm at a spot in the crowd and then leapt into that spot, it was hard to feel distant. At one point, Tyler kicked and elbowed fans as he crowd-surfed. Later, he whipped a shoe into the crowd, striking a person a few feet from where I stood. On Twitter, after the show, he demanded the return of his shoe.
OFWGKTA’s music, and Tyler’s album Bastard, in particular, is both beautiful and awful. I’m reminded of the perfectly drawn circle of shit on the wall in Steve McQueen’s Hunger. The content of much of OFWGKTA’s rhymes are reprehensible, ugly, and impossible to defend. The energy, the perfect interlock of beat with verse, the sheer force of the venomous combination, makes the music stand out from the neatness of a Drake guest spot or a ringtone-ready track. But Tuesday night’s show revealed a stress point in OFWGKTA’s seemingly complete aesthetic.
Tyler, setting himself up to fail, introduced a song from his forthcoming LP Goblin. He told the crowd that it would land him on Bill O’Reilly’s show, and would have all the white parents hating him. The song’s refrain is “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school,” and it’s too dumb to succeed. Tyler is obviously enamored with the track, as evidenced by his lengthy introduction, and he can be clever just as often as he’s genuinely shocking, but neither quality was on display here. His charisma carried the song live, but I doubt it will on record. I’m reluctant to wish OFWGKTA luck; the curtain needs to be pulled back to reveal the hurt, immature teenage boys cowering behind it.