Peace, Party People: MellowHype (OFWGKTA) and A Tribe Called Quest

MellowHype is a duo consisting of Hodgy Beats and Left Brain; they are affiliated with the Los Angeles area crew known as Odd Future (OFWGKTA), who have gained quite a bit of blog-o-sphere notoriety in recent months.1 Their video for their song “Polyurathane” which they recorded to promote their upcoming album Blackened White, sees Hodgy calmly denounce youth violence2 in a concise but evocative verse3 over somber but forceful production.4 He begins by telling the story of  his crew arriving at a house party5 where the vibe just doesn’t seem right from the start; girls are passed out on the drive way;6 the “mixed-race crowd” is broken up into mutually segregating cliques; there is more “hating” than “dancing” going on. The negative atmosphere reminds him of past instances of violence and his tone changes from weary to scolding: “I hate being around when niggas wanna bang/ and a fight break out and it’s one of them gangs/ acting like they manufactured, identical, the same.” While suggesting that violent tendencies are in some sense manufactured7 and learned,  he places the responsibility in the hands of the individual: “Niggas can’t fight and revert to the flame/ Blew his brains out from not using his brains/ It’s so insane how we put ourselves to shame/ If the government could, they’d have all us nigras detained.” This is a bleak statement but the opportunity for change  by way of common sense and mutual respect is not dismissed; if all else fails, a dream-like high offers a temporary respite from madness.

The social commentary of “Polyurathane” reminds me of A Tribe Called Quest’s brief, single verse song “Crew” from their polarizing fourth LP Beats, Rhymes and Life. Q-Tip takes a different approach by narrating from the perspective of a mild-mannered man pushed to a crime of passion by the actions of a conniving friend8; the man does not want to resort to violence and tries admirably to talk himself out of a regrettable course of action but his “dire” emotions get the best of him. The music of “Crew” sets an elegiac mood similar to “Polyurathane”‘; though separated by fourteen years both songs masterfully convey the fragility of public order, the swiftness with which emotions ignite, and the unsettled weariness that one experiences while contemplating such things. These are, for lack of a better catch phrase, songs about growing up. — Thun

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  1. Steady Bloggin’ has been reporting on OFWGTKA for some time now, so catch up if you’re intrigued. []
  2. I have written other pieces about rap songs that deal with this topic, most recently in my post here on Juelz Santana and Masta Ace, but also in pieces on The Future Sound’s “The Function” , Twin Hype’s “Nothing Could Save Ya“, and yet another that examines songs by Main Source, Gang Starr, and Three Times Dope. []
  3. I am not sure if the actual song is longer but for the now I will treat the song in the form it is presented in this promo video []
  4. “Polyurathane” is produced by Tyler The Creator and not Left Brain, as some have assumed. []
  5. He relates this story with an attention to minute details that is quickly becoming one of  OFWGKTA’s trademarks. Something about his reference to his Boston Market takeout meal is both comical and intriguing; see Tyler The Creator’s verse on Domo Genesis’ “Super Market” for more of the same. []
  6. Although OFWGKTA has gained notoriety for their highly stylized, exaggerated depictions of sexual assault and adolescent debauchery, the image of “some honies in the driveway, passed out on the floor” in this instance is related with a tinge of brotherly concern. []
  7. I’m guessing that one possible meaning of the title “Polyurathane” is that senseless youth violence is partly attributable to thoughtless conformity. Someone let me know if I’m completely off. []
  8. “Crew” seems to be a complementary piece to the “The Jam” in which Q-Tip, Phife, and Consequence rap from the perspective of partygoers who become unwitting witnesses to the same crime. []

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11 Responses to “Peace, Party People: MellowHype (OFWGKTA) and A Tribe Called Quest”

  1. naysayer says:

    Great write up, man. The ATCQ comparison is spot on.

  2. Teddy C.D. says:

    That Mellowhype track is dope Thun, props! I generally dislike Tyler’s beats because I find them overly simplistic and sometimes bland, but that beat really has some soul in it. I’m not a big fan of OFWGKTA at all, but Mellowhype, from what I’ve heard thus far, seems to be a decent duo; they definitely outshine their clique mates. See what real content and subject matter can do? Will peep more from this duo, thanks.

    • Thun says:

      What’s “fake” subject matter and content? I find the idea that subject matter and content can be graded on a scale to be problematic. At best, it oversimplifies, at worse it displays unapologetic bias. Who’s to say what’s fake and real exactly?

      This song isn’t dope because they talk about a particular topic. It is dope and they talk about a particular topic. It’s a subtle, but useful distinction.

      • Teddy C.D. says:

        No. Subject matter DOES make a difference–and what I mean is not that rappers can’t be violent or hard, or whatever, it’s the way an artist approaches the subject that really matters. The same way “Birth of a Nation” wouldn’t be your favorite film if you grew up in 1915, despite it revolutionizing the entire medium of film as we know it, OFWGKTA can be overbearing (and imo immature) in some of their coarser/misogynistic themes. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one Thun, but you wouldn’t have written a post as strong as this for Earl Sweatshirt’s “Earl.” Of course you can have the most interesting concept in the world and still make a shitty song if the rapping isn’t up to par, but that’s a different story.

  3. Thun says:

    If “the way an artist approaches the subject” is what “really matters” and “you can have the most interesting concept in the world and still make a shitty song” than subject matter doesn’t make or break the song. I’m still not sure what argument you’re trying to make.

    Did you really just compare what these kids do to “Birth Of A Nation”? If I remember correctly, Bill Cosby made a similar comment about rap music back in the early 90s. Kinda hyperbolic, no?

    I’m already in the process of writing a post that features a discussion of Earl Sweatshirt’s “Stapleton,” and I could write an objective piece on “Earl,” easily. Not sure what you’re trying to argue in that instance, either.

    My Waka Flocka Flame/ Celph Titled piece is really the one to look out for, though!

    • Teddy C.D. says:

      Wasn’t aware Mr. Cosby made a similar comment, lulz. But, my point still stands–why can’t we compare what those “kids” (and certain others) do to “Birth of a Nation”? Who says rape and misogyny aren’t as bad, if not worse than racism? I’m not going to play the Oppression Olympics and pick which is worse, misogyny or racism, but you can’t tell me they can’t be compared, or discredit this point as being hyperbolic. Both are horrible, and both are done in the name of entertainment and art, no? Not sure how Cosby saying something similar (?) discredits this argument.

      • Thun says:

        You really take their lyrics at face value? You really think they are advocating rape and mayhem? If so, I find that funny, just as I found Bill Cosby’s critique funny and hyperbolic. You really think that Odd Future is as pro-rape as Birth of a Nation is pro-racism?

        You can feel free to make the comparison, but not many people will agree with you that the comparison is valid. I’m not sure what point you’re even trying to make in the first place, though, because I’m perfectly capable of analyzing the artistic merit of Birth of A Nation without allowing its advocacy of racism to blind me. As are most people.

        Comparing rape to racism, besides being an exercise in futility, has absolutely nothing to do with any of this.

        • Teddy C.D. says:

          Not advocating, maybe, but definitely glorifying. The point I’m trying to make is that I guarantee you will never find yourself calling Birth of a Nation a personal favorite, despite its artistic merit and influence in cinema–even if you had been alive during that time to see the impact it had first hand. Why? Because of the CONTENT.
          Anyways, your point about evaluating artistic merit separately from content–which is itself a fundamental and inseparable constituent of all art, though obviously it doesn’t represent EVERYTHING about a work–would make sense, were I to find Earl and his boys interesting to listen to. But, that’s sort of a moot point because they don’t appeal to me at the very basic level of entertainment or amusement, or just plain fun–and I don’t find them that groundbreaking the way you do. They don’t even bump. But, that IS all subjective, just like your praise for them. I gotta admit though, I’m starting to like this Mellowhype duo.
          I’m digressing again–point is, content isn’t everything (it’s more how you develop a theme or idea), but it is SOMETHING, and it DOES make a difference. I don’t care how you twist it–content is just as much a part of a song as delivery.
          I don’t think any of us is going to change the next man’s opinion, but it’s all good.

  4. Thun says:

    A few things:

    I disagree that they are glorifying, and I’m not interested in changing your opinion.

    You are incorrect in assuming that I am unable to name something as a favorite simply because of its content, and cannot for the life of me understand why you’d claim to have such a grasp on the process by which I assess the world around me. You are superimposing your views.

    I haven’t done any twisting here, I’ve mostly just tried to deconstruct your claims. You tend to make claims that are a bit heavy-handed to say the least … you speak of what MUST be the truth what is DEFINITELY the case, and how something DOES make a difference, and that type of reasoning doesn’t sit well with me. From a logical standpoint, it is easily refuted, because totalizing claims are seldom reflected in the evidence, in this case the “text” or the music.

    I am not suggesting that one’s assessment of art should be divorced from an assessment of content, I am suggesting that the way in which you assess content, by labeling some content as “good” and some as “bad” (or whatever binary you are relying on) and insisting against all protests to the contrary that content must make or break one’s appreciation, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

    You’ve been operating under the claim that the content of their music is confined to depictions of rape and scatalogical free association; a cursory listen to their albums suggests otherwise. Their content also includes depictions of home life, skateboarding, school, and of course the emotional/mental/musical/cultural preoccupations of them and their peer group, among other topics. Your reductive view of their content might make it convenient for you to dismiss them outright, but it doesn’t mean that you’ve engaged in an objective analysis of their work.

    if you don’t find them entertaining, groundbreaking, or whatever it is you find pleasurable, that’s fine. It doesn’t mean that your other claims about their artistic merit are valid, though, which seems to be what you’re implying. One can just as easily not like their music but accept that an intepretation that views their work as worthy of a listen is valid.

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