Distant Relatives: Tomorrow Kings and OFWGKTA
The word around Chicago whispers about those young cats in LA, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, and it supposes that OFWGKTA probably bumped some Chicago tracks on their iPods. Crowd hoppers of the last decade, from Wicker Park to Lakeview, can immediately see the similarities between OFWGKTA and the “Windy City’s” own Tomorrow Kings. Unfortunately, I don’t have the proper info to confirm influence by older Tomorrow Kings on Odd Future, but I do have enough to attribute Chi-pride to this collective of emcees that pioneered a new culture of Hip Hop. After the “video hoe” and “ice” age of Hip Hop, emcees started emerging out of a love for literature; even Jay Electronica drops lyrics like, “Spit that Kurt Vonnegut/That blow yo brain/Kurt Cobain, that Nirvana sh#t.” Sure, cats have been experimenting with rhyme scheme and making allusions to high school classics since the days of Tupac, however the 90’s did not facilitate the complete revolution that we have seen with Tomorrow Kings and OFWGKTA.
In the beginning of Hip Hop there were simple, yet political narratives: Melle Mel shadowed lives in the ghetto (“The Message”), and later KRS-One gave a parable about materialism through a story about himself (“Love’s Gonna Getcha”). My generation hears the evolution of those narratives. Lamon Manuel, 1/8th of Tomorrow Kings, gets more experimental two decades following the “golden age” with his song “Shit”. Reflecting the style of an emcee that has observed the limits, or lack thereof, reached by literature, Lamon manipulates repelling imagery and abnormal language to draw up something we cannot understand with one listen. “Shit,” without a doubt, is a child of Hip Hop’s storytelling tradition, however, the lyricism depends upon ambiguity and our normative responses to “bad” or “wrong” actions:
this is shit past mourning the corpse pulled from his wrist/ four hundred days malaise craving apathetic bliss/ now the rumor mill’s working like the facts aren’t laughable/ he’s either agoraphobic or a fasting cannibal
Like the difference between “Natural Light” and “Corona,” emcees of this young sub-culture of Hip Hop heighten the aesthetics of the average listener. Fitting perfectly with the generation that’s overqualified for anything, we are starting to judge the quality of verse by how far from the world it can get, while it takes inspiration from something like sh#t. Earl Sweatshirt, 1/11th of OFWGKTA, accomplishes this with one line in the song “Earl”: “how the f@ck I fit an ax into a satchel?” It makes the verse dope because it ridicules the alleged masculinity of satchels by making it incompatible with the normative standard of masculinity, violence. Once again, you could not make sense of the narrative it’s connected to without analysis.
Tomorrow Kings artists (Jyroscope, Skech 185, IL. Subliminal, Malakh EL, Gilead 7, and Lamon Manuel) Typical Cats, Galapagos 4 artists, etc. have been brewing this style that catapults OFWGKTA for years. I say this not to debunk the originality of Odd Future, but to keep an alliance between LA and Chicago in the peripheral. Tomorrow Kings claim that the title of their collective also denotes “a way of life,” a move into the future, perhaps like the coincidental name “odd future”. Oddity here should not provoke fear; instead it should embody a praise of difference. The infamy behind the lyricism—criticism of Tomorrow Kings and OFWGKTA’s violent nature, poetic nonsense, and moral fluidity—will soon deconstruct as the popularity that is to come will inspire us to engage Hip Hop as literature.