"What's your name?" Tyler Okonma asks an audience member in Minneapolis. The guy in the crowd introduces himself as Melvin. Naturally, Okonma replies, "I fucking hate you, Melvin."
Better known as Tyler, The Creator, Okonma is the 20-year-old de facto leader of L.A.-based rap crew Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA), commonly known as Odd Future. Though he probably doesn't really hate Melvin, Tyler has built a reputation over the past year as someone who generally doesn't give a shit.
In a 12-month span, he and his gang of street punks have gone from relative West Coast obscurity to headlining their own European tour, playing one of Japan's largest outdoor music festivals, Summer Sonic, and pissing off a slew of naysayers with their brash fuck-you attitude.
Tyler, The Offender: To many detractors, the lyrical nature of Odd Future's music is incredibly offensive. Allegations of homophobia and misogyny are common among the group's critics, but seldom taken seriously by the group itself. "Big shout-out to the domestic violence group that's here," Tyler told the crowd at this year's Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. "We love you guys."
Over the course of that weekend, Between Friends, an anti-domestic violence organization, held demonstrations outside Union Park to express its disdain for Odd Future. Passing out cardboard fans that read, "Cool it. Don't be a fan of violence," the organization attempted to detract festivalgoers from supporting Odd Future, but it never generated much momentum. And an hour before their performance, some Odd Future crew members presented Between Friends with several boxes of cupcakes — both an olive branch and a middle finger.
By midafternoon on July 17, the massive crowd surrounding the festival's Red Stage was providing back-up vocals on each of Tyler's songs. "Goddamn, I love women/Daydream about penis being in 'em/Meet them with a big grin with a MAC-10/Rope, katana, and then I skin 'em," they sang on "Transylvania," a track off the rapper's second album, Goblin.
"Let's buy guns and kill those kids with dads and moms/With nice homes, 401(k)s, and nice-ass lawns," Tyler belted out during "Sandwiches." The crowd, reciting every word, loved every minute.
Tyler, The Captivator: Odd Future is captivating. Whether you get it or just think Tyler and crew are a bunch of underage hooligans setting bad examples, you're locked into their world. More press has been dedicated to Odd Future in the past year than most indie acts receive in an entire career. Music journalists, anti-defamation leagues, and even lesbian-sister act Tegan and Sara have weighed in, again and again, on Tyler's career.
On the duo's official website, Sara expressed her absolute disgust for the rapper: "When will misogynistic and homophobic ranting and raving result in meaningful repercussions in the entertainment industry? When will they be treated with the same seriousness as racist and anti-Semitic offenses?"
But Tyler is unapologetic. As a former film student, he considers the narrative of his flow to be a form of lyrical, arthouse cinema. "Have you seen Quentin Tarantino's fucking movies? Why does everyone fucking get their dick cut off or some shit? It's fucking art," he told music website the Drone during South by Southwest. "Why when a fucking black kid says it, it's such a big fucking deal? I'm not just talking about raping a bitch; it's a story line. I'm writing this from the mind of some fucking serial killer from 30 years ago who was a white male."
Emphasizing that he's only storytelling, Tyler cleverly included a "random disclaimer" as part of his seven-minute track "Radical," which appears on Goblin. "Hey, don't do anything I say in this song, OK? It's fucking fiction. If anything happens, don't fucking blame me, white America. Fuck Bill O'Reilly."
What's so dangerous about this track? The chorus encourages listeners to "kill people, burn shit, [and] fuck school."
Tyler, The Comedian: On September 23, shortly after noon on the East Coast, Tyler, The Creator tweeted, "New Music From OF New Artist At 3pm (6pm NY) oddfuture.com."
Phone calls to Odd Future's publicist went straight to voicemail. If they weren't filtered through a spam folder, the emails we sent were lost among the thousands — if not millions — clogging the publicist's inbox. The only information we had about the new Odd Future crew member was his name, Young Nigga, and that he "embodies the DIY ethic and persona of Odd Future along with a commercial appeal that transcends demographics."
We learned that information through a generic press release, tossed a short post onto New Times' music blog CrossfadeMiami.com, and continued to search for more clues as to who this Young Nigga really was.
YouTube provided us with nothing. We Googled "Young Nigga" and were appalled by the random racist shit we stumbled upon. Torrent sites, hip-hop blogs, and archival Odd Future forum threads proved useless. Like the rest of the Internet, we would have to wait until later in the day to hear from this mystery artist.
By 5 p.m., the web was buzzing with Young Nigga news. Everyone from Pitchfork to our sister blog in Phoenix, Up on the Sun, was eagerly waiting to hear Odd Future's latest.
At 5:58, we tried logging onto the rap collective's website. It was slow to load, but it finally opened at 5:59. We reloaded. At 60 seconds past 6 p.m., we listened to "Come Threw Looking Clean." Our first update of the original post described the track as a "laid-back swag ditty chock full of Dadaist lyrics about pasta and diamonds, and shooting a dude in the dick."
Young Nigga's debut sounded like a fucked-up joke. But nevertheless, we reported that Tyler was producing the upcoming album, Expensive Pasta. Several hours later, we confirmed the whole thing was in fact a joke. What we didn't realize at the time, however: We were the butt of it.
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Tyler, The Puppeteer: The Odd Future brand has become bigger than its music. Tyler and crew have outsmarted the blogosphere and pranked our asses for their own entertainment. They're playing Geppetto, and we're stuck with the role of Pinocchio, hanging by a string on every tweet, mixtape, and absurd music video.
If we set aside all the think pieces, magazine features, and traffic-generating blog posts, and stop dissecting every lyric, vlog, and live performance, Odd Future's overall message is easier to grasp.
When our sister paper LA Weekly profiled the group in October 2010, writer Caroline Ryder recalled Odd Future's youthful energy, loving nature, and creative expression. "They're psyched to be alive," she said. And they're having fun.
Simply put, at the end of the day, Odd Future is a bunch of kids having fun. And the world is their playground. Tyler doesn't hate Melvin; he's having a blast.