What Happened to Odd Future?

'I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside' signals the group has grown apart.

Not Available Lead
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Not Available Lead

A year and a half after Doris and an F-rated roll-out later, Earl Sweatshirt released I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside on Monday. Earl dubbed his third full effort (including his eponymous 2010 mixtape) his most transparent yet. “This is the first thing that I fully stand behind, like the good and the bad of it,” he told NPR. “I’ve never been behind myself this much.” This revelation is surprising given how personal Doris is and how many of the same issues carry over to I Don’t Like Shit. His concerns about being too busy getting his first album cracking to see his passing grandmother has turned into him mourning her death with a bottle as his partner in grief. The girlfriend he worried about losing on “Sunday,” she’s gone, too. And his disdain for fame, a catalyst in both of those conflicts, has only grown stronger.

I Don’t Like Shit is more agoraphobic than its predecessor, from its lyrical content to collaborators. The album is entirely self-produced, save one song done by Left Brain, and features just four guest appearances. Odd Future is conspicuously absent from the brief guest list, except for Left Brain’s contribution—the most glaring omissions being Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean.

2012 and 2013 were monumental years for Odd Future and its three most luminous stars. We saw (in order) the long-awaited release of Earl from Siberia Samoa; Frank’s Grammy-winning masterpiece, Channel Orange; Tyler’s beautifully melodic, relatively matured Wolf; and Earl’s long-awaited, hype-affirming debut album. All three of the projects featured cross-pollination from the artists, and each was better for it.

But today Tyler and Earl haven’t recorded music together since 2013’s “Sasquatch,” and Frank is nearly a year removed from dropping Odd Future managers Christian and Kelly Clancy.

So what happened?

There hasn’t been a major beef, a major slight as far as we know. No one has withheld millions of dollars a la Lil Wayne and Birdman or been pitted against each other by the media a la Kendrick Lamar and Drake. And certainly no chains have been snatched a la every rapper ever. In fact, there doesn’t appear to be any animosity between the three parties. Instead, it appears the straying paths of Tyler, Earl, and Frank are just a natural byproduct of being in their 20s.

Frank’s progression is tough to track given his notoriously reclusive nature and status as more of an Odd Future outlier since the beginning. It’s probably those qualities that led him to leaving Odd Future’s management (it’s unclear if he’s still officially in the group or not). Tyler himself invoked the former explanation when asked about Frank’s departure in a recent Fader cover story: “He could care less about the spotlight type shit, which is cool. I wish I took his route and just disappeared from social media for the past year. I got too much shit going on… But that would be so tight.” The changing mentalities of Tyler and Earl, however, are much easier to follow—even if Earl doesn’t like shit or going outside.

By the time Earl returned to Los Angeles from his reformative sentence at Coral Reef Academy, he’d already decided to leave behind the bars full of graphic portraits of murder and rape he once traded gleefully with Tyler as a form of competition. He stumbled over his words when telling The New York Times about his experience working with survivors of sexual abuse while in Samoa: “There’s nothing you can—there’s no—you can’t evade the—there’s no defense for like—if you have any ounce of humanity.”

The differing opinions on the violent subject matter, which Tyler has yet to fully abandon, wasn’t the only change. Odd Future members and fans alike expected Earl to jump right back into the crew upon his return, but his transition back wasn’t so seamless. Earl signed his own record deal with Columbia and established his own imprint, Tan Cressida. The deal did put him in the same Sony system as Odd Future, though, allowing the donut logo to appear on his records.

A series of tweets from Tyler on the day and day after Earl announced his return revealed the mixed emotions that came with Earl's uneasy transition back into a group that had sold out shows, appeared on late night TV, and nabbed a Billboard top 10 debut with Goblin during his absence.

Friendships have undoubtedly ended over more trivial issues, but Tyler and Earl were able to talk things out successfully. Earl told the Times in 2012 that he had to force things to be uncomfortable to finally have the necessary conversations. “It’s like we both don’t know how much influence we have on the other person,” he said. “There’s times where I realize, like, damn, I matter.”

All signs pointed to a full reconciliation. Over the course of the next year we saw Earl back in the Odd Future fold audibly and visually via the group’s Adult Swim sketch comedy series, Loiter Squad. The two even planned on creating the fabled collaborative EarlWolf LP. After Earl's somber gut-spilling of a lead single “Chum,” Tyler used the introduction of the second single, “Whoa,” to assure fans the duo wasn’t bailing on “that fucking old 2010 shit.”

But that return was slight at best on Earl’s end, and Doris as a whole stayed away from the time machine. The connections were still apparent—the same way you can hear the occasional hint of The College Dropout in Kanye’s more recent work—but Earl took his dexterous grappling of words to a disparate albeit still dark place. Once used to outline his twisted fantasies, his skills were applied to periods of mirror gazing. I Don’t Like Shit only makes that transition more pronounced. If the new album is the first to truly represent Earl, the parts of Doris that aren’t himself seem to be those tied most securely to Odd Future. Without his smart-ass boasts—“I was making waves, you was surfin’ in ’em/Dealing with the stomach pains just from birthin’ niggas’ shit,” he raps on “Grief”—we’d think Earl was made by an entirely different rapper. (And we’d also be downright concerned about his well-being.)

Meanwhile, we don’t know exactly where Tyler’s at musically. We know he’s been working on a new album, but we haven’t been given a song, a title, anything. Whatever he’s doing, it’s no longer on the same wavelength as Earl or even close enough for the signal to bleed over. And the same disconnect could be said of their friendship.

“That’s my nigga,” Tyler told The Fader of Earl. “We just aren’t as close as we were. It’s kind of weird, but I’m smart enough to know, OK, shit changes.”

And that’s just it: Shit changes. Your 20s are a period of rinse, wash, repeat transformation—a decade in which you can easily look back at the you from a couple years, a year, or even a few months prior and not recognize that person. The odds are stacked against you and a person you were friends with at 16 staying simpatico as you two simultaneously wrestle with your own identities. 

Odd Future isn’t immune to the force of growth that can gradually pull longtime friends apart. Earl was absent for the epic rise of Odd Future. And because he came back to Los Angeles as a rapper just as famous as Tyler, he had to adapt much quicker than his peers. It’s understandable for him to stay back from tours—“​T and them just hit the road, I had Sage and Nak and ’​em with me,” he raps on “Inside.” His relationship with Vince Staples makes sense too. Vince was coming up around the same time Earl was coming back; now the two are currently on tour together. It’d be unfair to say Vince has replaced Tyler, but he’s obviously the more prominent friend and collaborator in Earl’s life now.

Earl himself touched on his growth in his NPR interview, saying, “I feel like I learned so much more in [the past] year and a half than I learned in the rest of my life.” That year-and-half timeline coincides with the release of Doris and the last collaboration with Tyler and Earl.

Clearly the two are still cool, though. Tyler, who’s largely shunned social media in recent months, retweeted two links to purchase I Don’t Like Shit this week and a link to the “Grief” video last week. (I realize how ridiculous it seems to reference Twitter while gauging a friendship, but, yo, this is our reality in 2015.) And Earl hasn’t actually left Odd Future or its management either. “You can talk to Clancy if you need a feature or a quote from me,” he raps on “Huey.”

So what happened to Odd Future? It’s gone through life.

Latest in Music