It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the notoriously raucous Los Angeles posse Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All can put on a wild carnival.
The Los Angeles hip-hop group featuring founder Tyler, the Creator and fellow breakouts Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt, MellowHigh, the Internet and others set up its Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival on Saturday at Exposition Park for nine-plus hours of music, eating, stage-crashing and Whac-a-Moling, and the result was a big, brash, beautiful non sequitur.
Consider the moment during Tyler’s set, as an Odd Future-logo Ferris wheel lighted the night and a Zipper ride whipped its screaming inhabitants, when Kanye West waltzed onstage to a hero’s welcome in his adopted town, and for two songs confirmed his power and his influence. Tyler joined in as West pushed through “Yeezus’” “New Slaves,” while DJ Taco bounced above him, delivering that minimalist beat to fans who recited every word. It was the day’s most impressively kept secret.
In typically honest fashion, Tyler gushed that he was having a fanboy moment and was about to do one of his favorite songs alongside his favorite rappers. As the sound of “Late,” from West’s 2005 album “Late Registration,” echoed over the acreage, the entire carnival seemed to levitate.
But that was only one of many plot twists revealed on a day with two stages, a skate park, snack stands (fried Snickers bars, cotton candy, Fatburger truck), carnival games, rides, a police helicopter (circling nervously above) — and, during Trash Talk’s thrash-punk set, one of the most aggressive mosh pits I’ve ever seen.
Odd Future roared onto the Los Angeles hip-hop scene in the late ‘00s and has since become one of the defining crews of its generation. The collective has continued to explore and confuse even as its members have channeled their creativity into not only a musical power but also a marketing force with an equally bold aesthetic.
This is the collective’s second Flog Gnaw — “golf wang” spelled backward, or Wolf Gang with still more letter play — and its fan base is ever-growing. On Saturday, they rapped every word to every track and lined up to buy merch — hats, hoodies, T-shirts and cat-head throw pillows.
But Odd Future has been labeled notorious for good reason. Despite the joy that the ever-spastic Tyler, the Creator brings, and the child-like bliss from spinning carnival rides and cotton candy, a harsh lyrical aggression — or, as Tyler would call it, cartoonish exaggeration — fueled his oft-electrifying set.
The disconnect was at times stark. One track from Tyler’s menacing album “Bastard” saw the shock-happy Tyler saying “spit sick ... like my saliva got the rabies in it,” and threatening to quit rap for a new profession: “I’ll be a landlord so I can rape the tenant’s daughter.” How about not?
During duo MellowHigh’s earlier set, the O.F. affiliates Domo Genesis and Hodgy Beats celebrated hazy L.A. weed culture with burning, minimal tracks about smoke, but they also rapped incendiary messages about cops and power. Domo, like Tyler, bragged of spitting sickly, but went for another disease, rapping in “Extinguisher” of “ripping through visions of written syphilis.”
As they did so, a police helicopter occasionally loomed above, its spotlight scanning the crowd. Twice during MellowHigh’s gig, fans spilled onto the stage, unable to contain their moshing. Nearly the same thing happened when Trash Talk let loose.
On the main stage, Flying Lotus calmed the masses down. The beat producer, whose free jazz-inspired and magnificently crafted hip-hop instrumentals glisten with accomplishment, worked through tracks from his recent repertoire, including his fan-favorite “Shake Weight” (under his Captain Murphy pseudonym) and selections from his high-profile video game radio station in “Grand Theft Auto V.”
Young indie breakout Mac Miller, who recently relocated to L.A., has become a close O.F. affiliate, and he was welcomed as one of the family. He was joined during his evening set by members of two L.A. cliques. Schoolboy Q, part of Kendrick Lamar’s Black Hippy collective, arrived for a tag-team moment on “Gees,” and Earl Sweatshirt meandered onto the stage with Miller to playfully toss off a cover of Cam’ron’s bouncy 2002 East Coast gem, “Hey Ma.”
Closing the night was the most prominent Odd Future member, Ocean, whose Grammy-winning “Channel Orange” introduced a new voice to contemporary R&B. Performing songs from throughout his short career, Ocean was the perfect counterbalance for all the raging testosterone in the park.
Choosing to offer his energy through more seductive, and way less aggressive, means, Ocean suggested that for all of Odd Future’s bluster, its underlying message had less to do with shock than with the thrill of crafting music that connected with a community.
The look of joy on faces in the crowd confirmed that they’d earned the love despite the abrasiveness. But that stands to reason. A heart full of musical passion, let’s not forget, also contains a fair amount of blood.