By: Jacob Porter
It was 2010. B.o.B was still relevant. Drake was just rising in popularity, Eminem had just come out of retirement, Kid Cudi had become a household name and Kanye had just snatched the mic. In 2010, the landscape of rap was changing, but with just a few simple words, Tyler, the Creator started an entire movement. “I’m a f—– –walking paradox–no I’m not,” are the words that open “Yonkers,” the song that catapulted Tyler, the Creator and the rest of the Odd Future movement into mainstream success. Irreverent, controversial and above all, influential, Tyler Okonma and his ridiculously large crew burst on the rap scene in 2009, but became relevant only once “Yonkers” was released.
It goes beyond a fad; the several-year underground reign of the rap group inspired trends that have become contemporary culture. Odd Future helped popularize Supreme and the inclusion of skateboard culture in hip-hop and inspired fledgling rappers who tried their hands at other creative endeavors in other mediums, like television shows, directing, fashion, etc. Even their off-shoots and affiliates have gone on to create formidable players in the hip-hop sphere today, from Vince Staples to their significant role in Mac Miller’s shift in style.
For a period of time, Odd Future was the end all be all of hip-hop collectives. Their reign was legendary, with successes ranging from increasingly popular (and later on, critically acclaimed) mixtapes and albums, to TV shows (Adult Swim’s “Loiter Squad”) and a clothing store in Fairfax. Odd Future was one of the first acts to blow up in the blog era of hip-hop, and one of the most successful. However, as time passed, some members began to distance themselves from the group–many moved on to solo careers, like Earl, and some, like Syd, took several members and created their own subgroups. The collective slowly drifted apart, and currently Odd Future is defunct. But in their absence, a similar movement arose to change the rap landscape yet again.
Depending on who you are, you might not be listening to BROCKHAMPTON, but that should definitely change in the future. The group was started by Kevin Abstract and Jalen Jones with several other rappers they met on the online hip-hop forum, KanyeToThe. Abstract has described his collective of rappers as “the internet’s first boy band.” Upon first glance, BROCKHAMPTON is very similar to Odd Future. A ridiculously large collective of diverse rappers using unorthodox beats with occasionally provocative lyrics. Like Odd Future in its formative stages, their trajectory is only pointing further upward.
While the group is a relatively recent act, each successive album they drop has garnered more popularity. “Saturation III,” the third of their 2017 releases, charted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 in December, a far cry from the non-charting release of the first Saturation album during the summer of the same year. With cosigns from industry tastemakers like The Needle Drop and a quickly growing and increasingly rabid fanbase, BROCKHAMPTON seems set to achieve a similar level of success to Odd Future. But what makes them different?
Kevin Abstract’s unorthodox, lo-fi, Quentin Tarantino-inspired videos lack the polish of Tyler’s more Wes Anderson-influenced style. Adding to this, the group is much more cohesive than Odd Future ever was. Odd Future was often criticized for feeling less like a unit and more of a collective with a lot of varying styles. BROCKHAMPTON’s music, too, is tonally brighter and less crass than Odd Future’s abrasive lyrics that, early on, focused on dark themes of murder, rape and other horrific events. When it comes to production, the Pharrell influence that Tyler has run with in recent years is less apparent in BROCKHAMPTON’s music, but definitely manifests itself in some of the group’s sweeter songs about love. When it comes to their themes, time makes all the difference.
Now, things are different. Frank Ocean hid his bisexuality for several years before publicly coming out prior to the release of “Channel Orange,” and Tyler only revealed his bisexuality on his most recent album, after years of notoriously homophobic and violent lyrics. Many of Kevin Abstract’s lines in particular would’ve been laughed at and killed his credibility as an artist in, 2009, but now, the hip-hop community is more open. The casual nature in which Abstract delivers bars like “Heath Ledger with some dreads, I just gave my n—- head,” is a luxury Tyler and Frank were never afforded in Odd Future’s prime. Even on “Flower Boy,” Tyler’s reveal of his sexuality is shrouded in metaphor and doubt. While Frank Ocean might be partially responsible for a more open environment, BROCKHAMPTON flourishes and takes advantage of this, standing out and relating to audiences on a level beyond just music.
It’s been eight years since Odd Future rose to prominence. Now, Drake and Kendrick Lamar are locked in a friendly battle for the number one spot in hip-hop, Eminem just released an album that’s been panned as the worst of his career. B.o.B makes headlines for his flat earth conspiracy theories more than his music and many of the rappers from the blogger era have fallen off the rap radar entirely. In favor of these mainstream acts, several underground artists have risen and what was once viewed as underground is slowly becoming just ground—the point is subculture has simply become culture.
For a long time, Tyler, the Creator led a movement that redefined what was normal and what hats it was okay to wear in hip-hop. Several years later, the spark of that change still continues. At the center of this change is BROCKHAMPTON, receiving a boost from a group that rose to prominence nearly a decade ago to make the point that it’s okay to be different. BROCKHAMPTON took that message to heart and ran with it, and with their current trajectory, maybe someday they’ll end up paving the road for another group to make it big.