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This or That? Future vs. Odd Future

What happens in a music industry where people are more occupied with images than sounds? In 2014, it feels like social media and advertising resonate louder than any sound waves. We know what Miley Cyrus’ tongue looks like without knowing the words to any of her songs. We see Rihanna’s nipples and froth at the mouth without asking for her next album. We all tune in to watch the Grammys, knowing damn well that as soon as they’re over we’ll read and write about how irrelevant they are. America the beautiful.

Future and Odd Future are at polar ends of the spectrum. The first is a withdrawn studio rat, known for guarded interviews and intergalactic warbling. The second is the strongest youth movement of the past five years, built more on attitude than substance. They have their similarities – both acts are brutally honest (pun intended), never choosing to sell out, and Future has even approached OF’s level of grotesque absurdity on wax (“I know my dope raw, I seen it come out her ass / I wipe that shit off, and throw it right in the bag,” he rhymes on ‘Mark McGwire’). But in the larger picture, Future and Odd Future are two different beasts meant for seemingly different markets.

Future is the ultimate pop star, a rapper known most for his hooks and inflammable songwriting capabilities. He can switch from growling about the pain of selling drugs to tenderly murmuring about winning a trophy wife at the press of a button, but he’s far from robotic. His appeal lies not in what he says, but how he gargles it. You can hear the pain in his voice. At the end of his latest album ‘Honest,’ he screams, “I gave my blood, sweat, tears / You couldn’t have known what I did for this,” and on paper it looks so simple it’s stupefying, but when you hear him belt it out, it shoots right to your chest. Whether it’s the cadences of songs like ‘Karate Chop’ and ‘Shit,’ the accent of ‘Tony Montana,’ or the blunt repetition of ‘Same Damn Time’ and ‘Racks,’ one thing is certain – that s–t is kinda catchy.

Odd Future doesn’t give a f–k about catchy. Tyler the Creator takes pride in his chord progressions, and Earl Sweatshirt in his vexed rhyme schemes. They’d love to be on the radio, but not by means of sacrificing what got them to where they are today – an uncompromising expression of self. Part of why the squad is so fertile is because it’s so multifaceted – Frank Ocean is one of the most loved R&B stars of today, The Internet sound nothing like MellowHype, and even Sacramento punk rockers like Trash Talk have signed to Odd Future’s record label. The only collective f–k they seem to give is about not giving one.

Both acts actually started popping in 2011 – Future with ‘Racks’ and OF with Tyler’s ‘Yonkers’ video where he infamously “eats” a cockroach. Can you remember much about ‘Yonkers’ besides the detail above (and maybe the drums)? Can you remember anything at all about ‘Racks’ besides Future’s delirious hook? See what I mean about image and music?

It’s not to knock the Cali kids, but they’ve built their platform on being outrageous. They revamped the modern hip-hop show and brought moshing back. Tyler recently incited a riot at SXSW and has attracted such fervent crowds on the West Coast that concerts have been shut down. The collective was even banned form New Zealand for being “a potential threat to public order and public interest.” In Tyler’s eyes, he’s made Eminem proud – he sounds astonishingly similar to Mathers on certain parts of his latest album, ‘Wolf,’ and their manager, Chris Clancy, came up under Paul Rosenberg.

Future doesn’t really have a father to his style – call him Atlanta’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Perhaps the best comparison would be to Bob Dylan, who had a terrible voice and a knack for songwriting, enough to make him one of America’s most beloved musicians. Future prides himself on innovation – he’s gone on record to say that biters motivate him to try new things in the studio. He’s outrageous too, but not on Twitter or Instagram. The way he manipulates his own voice, whether it’s through Auto-tune or his own vocal chords, has sowed seeds in the music of Rich Homie Quan, Wiz Khalifa, and countless others.

And yet, as popular as Future seems to be, he’d probably kill to have the loyalty of Odd Future’s fan base. They sell out shows, design overly expensive merchandise, and say pretty much anything they want without fear of reprimand. Future almost got kicked off of Drake’s tour for downplaying ‘Nothing Was The Same.’ Even while Future was on stage with Andre 3000 at Coachella, the Outkast member shouted out Tyler, and the very next weekend, Pharrell brought his admirer onstage.

It’s tough to say whose attention each act commands – you’d never hear Odd Future in the club, and there probably aren’t too many Future enthusiasts that tune into Odd Future’s Adult Swim show. Yet they still have a kinship. At their core, both camps just want to be themselves. They’re very childlike (think Future’s chorus on ‘I Won’ and the behavior of the majority of the OF crew at all times), belying a desire to communicate that pre-maturity through their music. Despite what poptimists might think, children have a good ear for simple melodies and fun tunes without any pretentiousness or loaded biases of preference. Critics and fans alike are worried about getting it right and seeming smart and all this s–t that has little to do with simply putting on the music and enjoying it. Future and Odd Future make music that invites that experience. Despite your tastes, it’s something to be grateful for.

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