Odd Future, the mosh pit of young artists from Compton, CA, has long been defined by the variance of styles between its members. Its most acclaimed member, Frank Ocean, sings high-pitched vocals on R&B tunes. Perhaps its most eloquent rapper, Earl Sweatshirt, puts dark, twisted lyrics over dark, twisted beats. Syd tha Kid and Matt Martian make half-jazz, half hip-hop beats with dreamy lyrics for subgroup The Internet.
Perhaps no individual member exemplifies this variety better than the group’s leader, Tyler the Creator, whose albums lay claim to a musical diversity that is both refreshing and atypical in the hip-hop genre. “Cherry Bomb”, his new album, falls short in similar ways to his previous releases, but makes up for it (and then some) for its rhythmic and tonal complexity.
When Tyler released his first tracks, many criticized him for the often violent and misogynistic lyrics in the songs. Five years later, some of that amateurish attitude is still present (the album is at times impressively explicit), but the musical improvements make the songs hard not to like. “F—kin’ Young/Perfect” is an account of Tyler’s resistance to a romance with a minor – not exactly high-brow, but the Stevie Wonder-inspired beat and Charlie Wilson vocals are sunny enough to make for a surprisingly nice and light-hearted song.
The entire album is self-produced, which is often a marker of a high-quality rap album – it leads to a pleasing sense of aesthetic continuity between the songs. There’s rock influences, jazz influences, punk influences – often all on the same track. The album is just under an hour and has 13 tracks, some of which stretch on for a while. Still, the long tracks often transition and shift moods midway through, pushing the distinctive sounds even further.
A few of Tyler’s fans show up on the album as well. Both Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne have verses on “Smuckers”, and their styles make for a pleasing contrast to Tyler’s patterns of speech. West’s brash lyrics compliment Tyler’s, (“Richer than white people with black kids/Scarier than black people with ideas”) and both him and Wayne seem to be having fun. The same goes for Pharrell Williams, who makes an uncredited appearance on “Keep Da O’s”, and Schoolboy Q on “The Brown….”
Conspicuously absent are any Odd Future cohorts, who have usually played a minor role in Tyler’s solo work. With Earl Sweatshirt’s recently dropped album and Frank Ocean’s announced “Channel Orange” follow-up, perhaps this is the future for the young group. Just as Dr. Dre and Ice Cube eventually eclipsed the popularity of N.W.A., Odd Future might become less important than the success of its individual members. With “Goblin”, “Wolf”, and now “Cherry Bomb”, Tyler the Creator has crafted a unique persona in the world of hip-hop, and by the looks of it, has a very bright future ahead of him.