Three years ago, when Odd Future shot up from the hip-hop underground into the broad pop cultural consciousness, their reputation was one predicated on aggression and rebellion. Led by Tyler, the Creator, the young Los Angeles brigade blew a giant raspberry at middle American morality, lobbed around slurs and expletives with gleeful abandon, put on punk rock-style performances and won supporters through a blend of intriguing musicianship and sardonic confidence. But as the group’s reign has continued, another dimension has gradually come into focus. The other side of Odd Future is focused on calmer, sweeter, subtler sounds more interested in analyzing emotions than stirring the pot. Wounded-sounding heartthrob Frank Ocean’s R&B led this charge, and the Internet’s slinky neo-soul/R&B stylings were not far behind. The L.A./Atlanta-based Odd Future sub-group led by vocalist Syd Tha Kyd (aka Sydney Bennett) and producer Matt Martians (aka Matthew Martin) never had any hesitation about associating their softer sounds with the Odd Future brand. “If you listen to the chords in Tyler’s music, they’re a lot like ours. Everybody in Odd Future listens to neo-soul,” Bennett says. “We’re more than just a rap collective. We’re a collective.”
Bennett, 21, and Martin, 25, took separate but similar paths into lives dedicated to music. As a kid, the albums Bennett first adored were Brandy’s self-titled 1994 album and Usher’s My Way, whereas Martin’s earliest favorites were A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders and N.E.R.D.’s In Search Of... While Bennett has frequently indicated in interviews that Erykah Badu is the Internet’s most crucial influence, this band likely wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for N.E.R.D.—specifically, its sub-group the Neptunes, featuring producers Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams. After spending years wanting to grow up to be a basketball player, Bennett altered her aspirations around eighth grade when her father gave her a laptop containing a copy of GarageBand, and the Neptunes were blowing up. “When the Neptunes started taking over the pop charts, [with] a lot of the songs they were making, I always would say, ‘I wish I had made that,’” Bennett recalls. (Martin and Tyler, the Creator also bonded through a Neptunes message board way back when, so there’s a third link.)
MySpace first brought Bennett and Martin together as friends around 2007. Their working relationship materialized in late 2011 when Purple Naked Ladies, the Internet’s luminescent first full-length, was the inaugural album to be released by the new Odd Future Records. Reviews for Ladies were moderately good, but as the press discussed the Internet, coverage increasingly focused on Bennett’s sexuality and her status as a gay woman in a rap outfit that’s cool with frequently using “faggot” and various misogynistic terms. Still, there was lots of goodwill for Bennett—that is until the video for the Ladies track “Cocaine” created a minor storm for exuding misogynistic vibes. In the clip, Bennett flirts with a new flame at a carnival, does drugs with her and eventually takes her to her truck. It closes with Bennett tossing her passed-out companion from her truck and driving off. The meaning of the “Cocaine” clip is relatively ambiguous, even with its grim imagery. That said, lesbian/bisexual women-focused site AfterEllen.com, among other outlets, took serious offense to it. Bennett ended up dedicating a Tumblr post to explaining the video.
Martin, for one, doesn’t regret its creation. “It wasn’t done like, ‘Hey, this is our lives. Y’all are going to accept it,’” he says. “It was done with the intention to be artistic and be creative. It even shows our growth because our new videos are way more mature. The first album is goofy and loopy and random, and the second album’s a little bit more mature. I think it’s definitely a representation of its time. It’s tight.”
That tweaking in sensibility isn’t the only new facet shown off on 2013’s Feel Good, the Internet’s second LP. The album, which was produced by the Neptunes’ Hugo in another example of that connection, relies much more on live instrumentation than its predecessor, with music provided by bassist Patrick Paige II, drummer Christopher Allan Smith and keyboardist Tay Walker. “The newer stuff is definitely more of a collaborative effort with the whole band more so than any one person making a beat and we remaking it,” Martin says. “Every time we work on stuff anew, we try to utilize everybody’s best abilities in that beat at the time.”
The future is ever-promising for the Internet. Their reputation continues to build, the Odd Future link still pays cultural dividends, and Martin speaks earnestly about seeing no endgame in sight. “There’s a lot of bands I like that might go away for eight years [or] go away forever,” he says. “I always wanted to have a band that made really consistent, really good music all the time that I really was into. That’s why I started to do music in the first place.”
Mon., March 17, 8pm. $16. Theatre of the Living Arts, 334 South St. 215.922.2599. tlaphilly.com