If you’re a serious hip hop fan – and chances are you are if you’re here – you probably have a strong opinion on Odd Future, either positive or negative. While no one would argue that they are most definitely a hip hop collective, their “outside the box” style (to put it diplomatically) and away from the mic personalities, which is more reminiscent of old punk rockers than modern rappers, has definitely made them one of the more “controversial” topics in rap…toss in the fact that they built most of their fame through their antics, slur laced lyrics, and what some would consider blasphemous visuals, and it’s hard not to see where some hip hop purists might find an issue with them
However, and I say this as one of the group’s earlier skeptics (and if I’m being really honest, “haters”), it seems like the group is changing their focus away from their PR-inducing shock value tactics lately, and musically, it’s hard to not to say that it’s a good look. While it was expected that Frank Ocean’s album would be a completely different musical experience, in a way, it seems like it may have marked a switch in priorities for the whole group lately. Most of their newer material is definitely subdued (at least lyrically) and revolves much more on what would be considered traditional hip hop – compared to what we’ve seen from them.
Maybe it’s because they finally have reliable money coming in? Maybe it’s because they realize they’re finally famous? Maybe the ridiculousness that defined their “come up” was just a well-executed plan designed by the Tyler Creator to build the Odd Future brand? Who knows…
But, and again, this is coming from someone who admittedly used to do his fair share of OF hating, it’s time for hip hop heads to take another look at what the collective has to offer. MellowHype’s (Hodgy Beats and Left Brain) new album Numbers, would be the perfect place to start. While it might not completely change your perception of the group, it would take the most close-minded OF doubter to deny that these guys aren’t making some impressive hip hop. On the other side of the coin, if you’re an OF die-hard who was more into their off the wall behavior and loud, often crude, style, you might be disappointed.
Lyrically, the Numbers album is much more focused and refined than probably 80% of OF’s older works. Hodgy Beats handles a vast majority of the vocals, which is typical for MellowHype, and the development and growth he’s made as a writer and rapper is one of the most glaringly obvious aspects of the album. He’s always been a solid punch line rapper, but was often pretty one-dimensional and came with a predictable and overly simple delivery.
With Numbers, he shows off not only a heightened ability to ride a beat, but comes with some impressive lyricism that should be highly relatable to anyone in their late teens/early twenties. While he definitely isn’t going to change your world with any of his content, he comes off like a down-to-earth dude, who discusses everything from the mental escapism of smoking weed, the difficult reality of trying to create a career for oneself, and the often complicated dichotomy between running with random women, and trying to find someone worth slowing down for – that’s rare these days…
The highlights from a lyrical standpoint on Numbers, at least from Hodgy, would probably be “Snare”, “65/Breakfast”, and “La Bonita”. There are a few tracks in which he reverts back to his older, simpler style, and they definitely leave something to be desired after hearing some of his more developed tracks. But, for the most part, he’s pretty damn consistent. It should also be noted that we get a more than solid verse and hook from Frank Ocean on “Astro”, though its writing doesn’t standout compared to his other material, and a above average Earl verse on “P2”.
From a musical and production standpoint, Left Brain shows a ton of growth too, however, not quite as much as his MellowHype counterpart on Numbers. OF has always relied on loud, minimalistic production. Spaced out synths, simple drum patterns, and some heavy bass have been standard from Left Brain so far, and that doesn’t change. However, and quite logically, minimalistic production is usually either hit or miss – which is only amplified by the fact that most of the hooks are extremely simple. It usually just works, or gets boring and redundant fast (despite it’s volume and upbeat sound).
In this case, we get a healthy mix of the minimalistic sound that works, and that doesn’t. At no point, does the production distract from what’s going on lyrically, but it’d be hard to argue that it adds much to the experience either. There are a few highlights though. He definitely adds a few legitimate bangers to his production catalog with the before mentioned “La Bonita”, does an admirable Flying Lotus impression on “Beat” (which is a huge compliment, for those unfamiliar with Fly Lo), and “LeFlair”.
Long story short, the Numbers album might be one of the biggest surprises of the year, especially for hip hop fans that have been skeptical of Odd Future to date. As was mentioned before, it seems like they’re focusing more on making on-point music than building their brand through ridiculousness, and musically, it’s definitely a sound choice. Hopefully, the trend continues and that their doubters give these guys another chance. It’s tough to say if MellowHype’s apparent growth and commitment to what would traditionally be considered quality music, will go rewarded with sales, but it definitely should be. Unless you’re an extremely narrowly focused hip hop fan that absolutely needs your music to come with a “throwback”, or rough “street” vibe, it’s definitely worth a spin.