Label: Fat Possum
If your knowledge of Odd Future is limited exclusively to Tyler, the Creator then MellowHype is bound to be a disappointment. Rather than take Tyler’s path of letting the id hang out unobstructed, MellowHype are more restrained, both lyrically and musically. As much as MellowHype’s debut BlackenedWhite, now reissued in a modified form by Fat Possum, lacks the immediacy and excitement of Tyler’s recent release, Goblin, it’s also more sustainable in many ways.
Tyler’s Goblin is the work of an artist raging against the fabricated world of pop stardom he was being preemptively forced into but BlackenedWhite is an album that Pitchfork infamously called “cuddly.” That term isn’t the most applicable for the group but in comparison to the more famous members of Odd Future, it makes an odd kind of sense. BlackenedWhite is a slicker, softer affair than Goblin, more starkly digital in order to allow Hodgy Beat’s slacked-out drawl maximum headroom. It’s not the kind of album you’d let soothe you to sleep but it lacks the lyrical and musical violence that Odd Future has unfortunately become known for.
While that softer edge mostly works in favor of MellowHype, it occasionally works against them as well, particularly when the duo attempt to fit in with their more violent brethren. “Gunsounds” is the worst offender, nearly three minutes of half-hearted shouts of “MellowHype bitch!” from Hodgy and a blunt, stupid beat from Left Brain that is exactly what the title promises. Rather than sounding hard the track comes off every bit as awkward as a kid dressing up in oversized adult clothes long past the age of cuteness. It could be a joke, but if it is, it’s not funny, especially not the second time around, when it’s retitled “Igotagun.”
MellowHype are far more at home, and more interesting, when they mine their own territory. “Brain,” with its hypnotic, looping synth lead and shambling beat is characteristic of MellowHype’s lure, a queasy kind of hip-pop that flirts with both danger and likability. Left Brain’s style on BlackenedWhite is often an odd marriage of chirpy, chintzy synths and mainstream hip-hop’s current fixation with heavily digitized rhythms, occasionally interrupted by buzzing, brooding analog bass. That style hits its heights on moments like “Loaded” and the Frank Ocean highlight “Rico,” both of which indicate a lot of potential for success for MellowHype that the rest of the Odd Future may never see precisely because MellowHype seem more capable of adapting instead of sticking to the same harsh sound.
Tellingly, one of the album’s best showings comes from “F666 the Police,” which has MellowHype teaming up with Tyler himself. Against the backdrop of one of Left Brain’s biggest, brightest beats – all a-clatter with sirens and buzzsaw synths and digital horns – Hodgy sets the stage for a particularly schizophrenic Tyler appearance. Hodgy’s relatively smooth style stands in direct contrast to Tyler’s harsh, guttural tones and blood-specked spittle, with Tyler standing out all the more thanks to the more abstract method of production that Left Brain presents. It’s an exciting vision of a possible MellowHype future, where Left Brain and Hodgy Beats aren’t beholden to the expectations of their crew or their critics and instead just create something refreshingly unreal.
And yet new track “64″ seems to indicate MellowHype are considering a different path. With all the audio signifiers of the better portions of Goblin, “64″ is a blast of furnace air, hard in the right ways without any of the awkwardness. Hodgy Beats’ flow is more lively on the track than normal, full of clever syncopations and a mutating sing-songy quality. Left Brain more than meets the challenge with the beat, delivering a track that would be at home scoring some kind of A Clockwork Orange remake. It’s weird and frightening and exhilarating all at once, even if it stands in direct contrast to the rest of the album and the group’s previous progress. But given that Odd Future is a collective built around conflict – sometimes internal, sometimes pointed towards outside forces – that’s only fitting.
Ultimately, BlackenedWhite likely isn’t strong enough to convince the Odd Future haters to alter their course and preach the gospel, but it’s a rewarding effort that is far less challenging than the bulk of the collective’s output. At the very least, it should convince those straddling the fence to at least acknowledge that there’s more to Odd Future than rape fantasies and unfiltered aggression, that there is the capacity within the collective for softer, more commercial sounds with the signature deconstructionist antics of the crew.