(UPDATED) The band generally known as Odd Future, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All or OFWGKTL, has been on the talk lately of hip hop fans, tastemakers and industry insiders for their seemingly no-holds-barred approach to rap music and apparent commitment to doing things their way all the time. But how does their indie, diy, free website tools approach to building a brand translate into commercial success?
Given that they were willing to compromise their lyrics for their now legendary appearance on Jimmy Fallon, by substituting a variety of terms for swear words, and that Tyler the Creator's upcoming album release Goblin is repeatedly appearing at the top of Amazon's Bestsellers in Rap & Hip-Hop list, I'd say they're going to do what they have to do to get what they want and that they're already achieving commercial success. Plus, they've now got Christian Clancy, former head of marketing at Interscope and cofounder of 4 Strikes Inc., on their team.
As interesting as some of the online discussions about Odd Future have been, from the topic of whether or not they are a secret creation of a major label to the content of Tyler's underground version of Kanye West Twitter account, the recent interviews with manager Christian Clancy from Al Lindstrom most closely address industry issues.
Clancy has a lot to say about what he's learned from working with Odd Future and how that's shifted him out of a traditional music industry perspective. Here are some highlights:
"Every decision we make is based on what's authentic to them. So it makes my job easier. Because they're so driven to what they want and what they do and what they don't like."
"They turn down covers because they don't read the magazine. Right? I love that...No one does that."
"These kids are smarter than the music being sold to them...because of that you stand to learn a lot from them. So, because they have been raised on the Internet, the way they market themselves, the way they handle themselves, you'll hear people say, 'why don't they do this'...kind of the old mentality of how you push. They've mastered the ability to build the pull."
"There's two types of artists. There's science project artists and there are authentic artists...If you're an authentic artist who spills your emotion...then you allow that artist to do what they do and then you complement it. As opposed to, ok, let's get this hook or this song. Or what if you wore this or changed your hair? No...it's not a strategy. It's not a marketing plan. It's how do I allow this artist to be who they are and if they are truly expressing themselves it will connect at some point. It may not happen immediately but it will connect because it's emotion."
"The way we navigate is what's truly authentic to them because at the end of the day, no matter how this plays out, it's going to be an exact representation of them."
Of course, the problem with authenticity is that, when an artist changes and their work changes with them, many fans feel betrayed or left behind. If their sales increase in the process, then the sellout label is readily applied. Watching Common move from the underground to the mainstream one sees that process at work. He still appears fully authentic to himself but not to the particular values of fans who haven't changed with him. On the other hand, Ice Cube is making children's movies yet is still, in many camps, afforded the status of a revolutionary voice from the streets. Observing the progress of Odd Future through such changes will be a learning process not only for Christian Clancy but for the music industry as a whole.