Looking back on it now, Tyler the Creator and Hodgy Beats’ debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon back in 2011 was the moment Odd Future finally broke through. Tyler’s green ski mask with an upside down cross between his eyes and white Supreme hoodie, paired with Hodgy’s white cross-emblazoned OFWGKTA shirt and black ski mask, all served as a now-emblematic representation of what the group was, and was not, about. The lyrics for “Sandwitches” kicked a hole in almost every possible sense of propriety or morality imaginable. The performance itself, complete with a zombie-ish teenage girl in a medical gown that made her look like a grown up Samara Morgan from The Ring, was reminiscent of the anarchism we loved the Stooges or Kurt Cobain for. And it’s the only time I can remember seeing Jimmy Fallon genuinely speechless. For three minutes and fifty six seconds, we were all Felicia Day as she sheepishly said “wolf” into Tyler’s microphone most of the way through the performance. We weren’t sure what had just happened at the end, or what it meant, but it seemed like something that would end up being important. It was unhinged, and angry, and probably the closest a late night TV set had come to actually being burned to the ground.
Odd Future, shortened from Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, was formed in 06/07 in LA by Tyler the Creator and his consortium of friends: Left Brain, Hodgy Beats, Matt Martians, Earl Sweatshirt, Jasper Dolphin, Frank Ocean, and Taco. More have joined in the years since, but the ringleader for the first major phase of OF was certainly Tyler, and everything they did seemed to flow through him. He wasn’t anyone’s boss, necessarily, but his work, personality and antics were aortic for the rest of the members of the group and it was undeniably due in large part to him that they got the Sony deal and Adult Swim show in 2011. In the years since, the group has fractured a few times and Frank and Earl have both carved out their own impressive personal followings that match and, in Frank’s case, surpass Tyler’s. Fellow OF-ers Syd the Kid, Matt Martian, and Domo Genesis also released very good solo or separate projects, but if you had told me 4 or 5 years ago that I’d be publically admitting, like I’m about to, that Hodgy’s solo debut is the best album any member of Odd Future not named Frank has ever released, I’d tell you you were full of shit. I just couldn’t imagine a scenario in which that could be possible. The group’s Big Three of Tyler, Earl, and Frank seemed untouchable next to the rest of the members. But it apparently is possible, and here I am.
A lot has changed for Hodgy since that night on Fallon, and a lot hasn’t. He’s a father now, and he goes to therapy, and he’s noticeably more driven to make the most of the platform OF has given him. He still wrestles with deep depression, he still goes to a dark place pretty often, but gone is the recklessness that was his guiding principle Gone is the flippancy, and the detached malaise and bonfire-ism of 4 or 5 years ago. In its place is an intense focus on his music and career, and a sense that he’s finally settled into himself as an artist. And while this album conveys a great deal, maybe the clearest thing it shows is that he’s broken through to a place that few artists ever get. A place where he isn’t so much developing his skill as he’s growing its influence on both himself and the world around him. His talent has taken on a life of its own, and he’s made it a point to remove anything that might get in its way.
Fireplace: TheNotTheOtherSide is one of the best label debut rap albums since Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City and you know it after the third track even if you can’t completely prove it yet. The clip on “Nitro”’ of his mother talking to him about the realities of life blending into the sunny Cadillac Stunt Rap on “Kundalini”’ is brilliant both on its own and as an homage and, when it then blurs into “Barbell”, it turns into a downright incredible show of tracking and musical genius. “Barbell” is a mystical sacrificial pyre a la “Coronus, The Terminator” and it’s hard not to imagine Flying Lotus listening and losing his shit right along with you. It’s been less than 7 minutes and you’re already texting people that this thing is goddamn great.
And you’re right. It is. The next 10 tracks continue that patient pacing between adrenaline injections, conscious protests, and psychiatric self interest before resolving on the same kind of semi-self-effacing joke rap that also made a perfect bookend, ironically, to Blond(e). Along the way there are certainly highlights, like the Flower Rock-ish “Black Skinhead” hat tip “Final Hour” and “Dreamin of Thinkin,” a soul heavy self-guru track stuffed with Pete Rock vibes a la “The Joy,” but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that this album deserves to be heard front to back whenever you spin it. These 13 tracks belong together, not just in a format-y marketing sense but in an artistic sense. They each support the others without any added parts in a way that would make Sir Isaac Newton scream with joy. And after taking a step back from it, it exists as the first monument not just to who Hodgy could be, but who he has already become. It’s the first publicly definitive defense of why everyone should care about what he has to say.
And that’s one of the main reasons I think Hodgy is here to stay, and why I think this album is so important. Here’s the thing: Tyler was always controversial and wild and whatever, but he has always wanted it so badly. Despite what he might say in his interviews or music, he deeply does give a fuck, if not about social norms or expectations then about becoming everything he can possibly be as an artist. And it never really felt like most of the rest of the Odd Future members had the same drive, save maybe for Syd and Earl and Frank. But in the same way that Tyler has shown us in the last couple years that he isn’t who he was back on that Fallon set anymore, Hodgy now has too. He isn’t just a lieutenant of the punked-out skater-rage mob Odd Future used to marshall up anymore. He isn’t just a face in a rowdy onstage crowd. He isn’t just a decently talented guy who is best friends with Tyler. He’s an artist. He’s a complicated and deep human being. He’s a flesh and blood gifted rapper who is the proud author of perhaps the best Introspective Rap album of 2016, and the most unexpectedly great solo debut in recent memory.
Tyler is the co-founder of Vinyl Me, Please. He lives in Denver and listens to The National a lot more than you do.