Thinking Odd: Learning from the Future

February 20th, 2011 | Category: Essays, Videos

I mentioned earlier that it’s often difficult for adults to trust the youth, but that it’s imperative. Letting youthful vision lead is the only way into the future. Well, Tyler the Creator and his Odd Future crew aren’t waiting for permission, approval, or funding — much less trust — from anyone. They are doing it, and doing it big.

Everyone can stop mongering the minutia of Radiohead’s every move. Though they’ve done nothing but smart things since parting ways with the past, they were already famous in three solar systems when they stepped out on that limb. Clamoring to find what one can learn from their marketing strategies is like trying to climb the stairs to catch the elevator: They’re already there. Odd Future is showing everyone how it’s ground up from the ground up. I’m not going to pretend that I can distill what they’re doing into a simple myth-making and marketing how-to, but I would like to point out a few key things. Some of you will find parts of this redundant, but Odd Future offers an excellent case study in getting out there in the now.

“Go make the art you believe in.” — El-P

For the uninitiated, OFWGKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) are a Hip-hop collective out of Los Angeles. The oldest of their ten members are barely out of high school and the youngest are barely in. They have been making waves for the past year or so releasing as many records as they have members — for free — on their website, posting YouTube clips of both of their hoodrat antics and music videos for their songs. The aesthetic is somewhere between Wu-Tang Clan and Anticon, but way more dangerous and unpredictable (any one of them would slice me for those comparisons). The music is amazing, the skills are off the crazy, and their fanbase is huge, growing, and includes Mos Def, Despot, Skyzoo, and Jimmy Fallon, the latter of whom had them perform on his show recently. These kids prove that there is nothing so cool as youthful nihilism.

So, how do ten teens from L.A. build such a following? Here are six things Odd Future does right. This is how the music industry works now.

Release your darlings. Straight up, music wants to be free. It’s not a maybe. It is what your audience expects. Couldn’t you be selling yourself short (so to speak) by giving your work away? How so? Have you seen record-sales numbers lately? Odd Future has given away every record they’ve made thus far. They’re all on their website. Go ahead. Go get them.

Consider the vehicle. Does your idea fit in a tweet? Is it better as a post on your website? YouTube video? Song? Record? Painting? Poem? Find the vehicle that will best let the idea find its audience. Odd Future posts YouTube videos and new songs on the regular, often as soon as they’re recorded. Their cult of personality has largely been built three minutes at a time.

A lot of those videos are just the various Odd Future/Wolf Gang members skateboarding, graffiti writing, and goofing off, but here’s Tyler the Creator’s latest clip for “Yonkers” off of his forthcoming record Goblin [runtime: 3:05]. Take notes, kids. This is how it’s done.

“Playing it safe isn’t interesting” — Ryan Kidwell

Risk it not once in a while, but every time. If you just watched that video, you know that it took a lot of courage or a touch of insanity — or a bit of both — as well as a truckload of raw talent (If you didn’t watch it, you should probably do so.). When “anyone” can do this, the just noticeable difference can make all the difference in the world. Tyler took what could’ve been another weird rap video and instead made a visual, artistic statement. That isn’t easy. You have to risk a part of yourself to get anything out of anything. Put it out there, and don’t feel forced to explain it. Mystery loves company.

Find a foil. I suggested before that one should start by having heroes as foils would likely come, but Odd Future show that having a common enemy (or three: Steve Harvey, NahRight, and 2DopeBoyz) can unite your crew. They also don’t really look up to many folks. Their whole take is about putting the tools to work in a “fuck it” kind of way. They don’t want or need your guidance. Sometimes we could all use a good shove to the next level, no matter if we feel ready. Finding someone else’s work to counteract can be just the push you need.

“You really can’t wait for anybody, and if things start fucking up and slowing down, you have to do it yourself and you have to make your own noise.” — Apathy

Do it yourself. You can’t wait around for someone else to make your thing happen. Using the establishment when possible is okay as a supplement, but your own efforts are your best resource. Make them count. OFWGKTA don’t even have parents, much less managers, publishers, or label contracts. As their website says about “Yonkers” (above): “Song Produced And Video Directed By The Nigga Thats Rapping.”

“Do what you feel, and feel what you do.” — J-Live

Love it. When you find what you think you want to do, make sure you love doing it. If you don’t, find something else. People often say that great art comes from pain, but I think that sentiment is misguided. I think that everyone should love it or leave it alone.

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Here are Tyler the Creator and Hodgy Beats on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon from February 16, 2011 [runtime: 3:57]. Tell me they’re not having fun. When they announced this appearance on their site, they added “Time To Scare White America.” Mission accomplished:

Now, go do something bigger than you had planned.

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