It seems insane, doesn’t it, that there was a period of time two years ago when Odd Future seemed “dangerous” and “controversial”? Now that they’ve proven themselves as consummate professionals–Have they blown off tour dates, or got in fights with the crowd, or produced anything other than easily packaged youthful fuck all abandon?— the sound and the fury over their sound and fury seems even more misplaced than it did in May 2011.
In fairness to MellowHype–or to their detriment–they were always more guilty by association and woefully forgotten during Odd Future’s mega hype buildup in 2011, falling behind Earl and Tyler on the total thinkpiece mentions scoreboard. And that was easy to understand really: While Hodgy and Left Brain rely on a garden-variety misogyny crutch (like every rapper with a swinging dick and a microphone ever, at some point in their careers, it should be noted) it’s way harder to listen to them and think, “I need to write a 1800 word column about how this is terrible because they say mean words that all rappers say.” In some ways, MellowHype are the easiest to sell from the Odd Future clique; there’s a lot in MellowHype’s discography that would speak to an old head better than say, Goblin would.
It’s tempting to call MellowHype’s new album Numbers a “step forward” for the group, because I’m supposed to do things like that in things like this, and because MellowHype are “professional” now, since this album is out on a major label (Odd Future Records, distributed by Sony), its cover looks like it had an art budget, and it features two songs that you can actually sing along to (“La Bonita” and “Astro”). But really, this is just a logical follow up to the reissued Blackenedwhite, an album that expanded its original mixtape form to include one of the most straight ahead and likeable tracks in the OF oeuvre (“64”). Which is to say it’s not like this is suddenly packed with an “Empire State of Mind” or anything: Just another good showing from Odd Future’s secret weapon.
The major selling point of Numbers is Hodgy’s increased dexterity as a rapper, as he ascends to at least the second best rapper in the OF crew here (Earl is at the top, still, but not for long, probably). Whether he’s engaging in some minute detail raps in between counting down his bars on “65/Breakfast”, playing the Waka to Left Brain’s Lex Luger (“Untitled L” and “NFWGJDSH”), going off in between a delirious Frank Ocean hook (“Astro”) or singing the absurdly catchy outro of “La Bonita” (the best non-Neptunes Neptunes song in about four years) Numbers proves Hodgy has been Odd Future’s best kept secret for too long. He still struggles to write a hook (and so does the entirety of Odd Future, for that matter), but he leaves a vapor trail through some of his verses here, laying in the pocket to drop lines like a “cool kid with a C average.”
Numbers still suffers from the overstuffed quality that has plagued every Odd Future release except Earl’s Earl: At 16 songs, this can drag something fierce down the backstretch, and not even really great Mike G and Earl Sweatshirt verses can shake it awake. But that’s where Left Brain’s production takes over the spotlight; since the jump, there’s been a lingering suspicion that dude could probably go mainstream to great rewards with his production, and that speculation continues here.
It’s a shame and a reality that the Internet has largely moved into a post-Odd Future world, casing them in a tomb that ends with Earl’s verse on “Oldie”. But the further distance we put between the initial hype and the reality of new albums like Numbers, it allows us to appreciate these albums for what they are and what they represent: The bending of a major label apparatus to accommodate a pack of wild kids making music for packs of wild kids. Numbers isn’t controversial beyond its cover (and even that is too on the nose to be taken seriously); it’s just another unyielding release from the most underrated part of the Internet’s most unyielding rap crew.