Odd Future's Second Act: On Loiter Squad And The Art Of Trolling

Illustration for article titled Odd Future's Second Act: On Loiter Squad And The Art Of Trolling

The hostile-prankster side of Odd Future came roaring back to the fore last month after an unprecedented streak of good behavior (or at least standard promoting-our-new-albums behavior). The Cali skate-rap crew raised eyebrows and/or hackles throughout their press rounds for season three of their Adult Swim sketch show Loiter Squad (which restarted May 15, and airs at midnight for just 15 minutes, if that tells you anything), blazing a trail of trouble around the Buzzfeed and HuffPost offices, and taking potshots at Iggy Azalea and mainstream-rap fashion during an appearance on BET's 106 & Park. Iggy and the Buzzfeed staff responded in kind on social media, and summarily caught more hell from Tyler, this time for being too square to take a little light joshing at face value. We've seen this move before: Tyler and friends skirt the frayed edges of acceptable behavior and denounce anyone who takes the bait as a lame for caring.


Transgressive art spoils with familiarity; 10-pound cuss words suffer from the same diminishing returns as anything else. It's now been three years since Odd Future's mainstream breakthrough, and nearly five since the release of Tyler's debut album, Bastard. With the group's output slipping into something resembling predictability—Tyler's Wolf and Earl Sweatshirt's Doris made 2013 their best-reviewed but arguably most conventional year yet—many have suggested that the milk is nearing expiration. The group's teenage riot wasn't the sea change early adopters appeared to pine for, and they've refused to assimilate into mainstream hip-hop proper and embrace the conventions and sounds that keep their peers afloat.

Instead, the OFWGKTA cabal remains a degree removed from the fray, partly out of a deep disinterest in conformity, but also to allow them the pleasure of clowning contemporaries who put in work fitting in. Oftentimes it all feels like an inside joke aimed at insiders, quietly appreciated by those in the know, but deliberately opaque so as not to attract too many outsiders; their TV show, too, can feel self-serving and insular, as if the enjoyment of its creators is its primary aim, and audience enjoyment isn't an aim at all.

Loiter Squad began in 2012 as a partnership with Jeff Tremaine and Johnny Knoxville's Dickhouse Productions as a means of giving the crew's prodigious A/V skills the proper outlet. Equal parts scripted sketch absurdity and Jackass-inspired harassment of unsuspecting Los Angeleno pedestrians, the result plays like a natural multimedia extension of the Odd Future shock-and-awe campaign, though there's just as often a discernible method to the madness as not, even if the more carefully planned scenes don't always come together. One week this season, Seth Rogen endlessly chased Tyler around a park in a tutu to intro an excruciating joke about sex ed; another episode found hip-hop producer Alchemist inexplicably storming a puppet show about incest.

None of this would work without the rap celebrity that preceded it, of course—many of these skits pop as much because of who these guys are as what they're actually doing onscreen. Loiter Squad persists for now as a side platter to the music's main course: They're clearly better rappers than comedic actors. But Tyler and friends' ease with petulance and snark keeps the show afloat.

Periodically, we even get a skit that elevates all that ruthless ribbing to pointed satire. Last week's episode featured Tyler's fictional trap-rap alter ego "Young Nigga" holding a press conference to announce he's changing his name to make his art more accessible; of course, the part he drops is the "Young," imploring fans and reporters to address him henceforth as "Mr. Nigga" under penalty of violence. (This after French Montana associate Chinx Drugz recently announced he's dropping "Drugz" from his moniker in real life.) The skit then cut to the video for "I Just Bought a Bugatti (I'm Happy)," a collaboration with also-fictional and completely tone-deaf singing sensation Ice JJ Fish that finds Tyler gleefully mining overused drug-rap flows to catalogue all the new belongings that warm his heart. The send-up is heavy-handed but loving, or at the very least a few measures too involved to be merely condescending.

All this chortling works best when pressed into the service of a deeper truth, although their more caustic provocations are necessary, too. In a world where bloggers increasingly view themselves as gatekeepers and merchants of hotly sought-after cool, Tyler and co. delight in snatching the curtain back to show the norms turning the cogs. They played a grip of their rapping peers for fools with a dollop of costume jewelry and fake guns. They got the pop-rap chart-runner du jour to lose her cool with just a word. They rattled Buzzfeed's staff with a Nerf gun and some raised voices. Odd Future might have lost a little luster in the intervening years since crossing over into the pop-culture consciousness, but their talent for abject disruption is undiminished.