So its already here. Well before Tyler’s label debut, the first wave of post-OF rap is upon us. To the envy of bloggers everywhere, Jay Cue of Nobody Really Knows has been listening to OFWGKTA since their first tape. So it is immediately obvious to me that talking about an album like this is hard, because, not only has Jay been an OF fan for much longer than me, the influence of Odd Future is highly self-aware. OF members (Jet Age), in fact, are involved in the project. Thus I think It helps to take a way of thinking from the Waka Flocka phenomenon, the other seminal rap act of the past year or so. There are those who frantically asked Lex for “Hard in Da Paint”-type beats, in the hopes of taking part in the rapidly changing spotlight. See, for example, “H.A.M.”. Then there are rappers like Gunplay, those who are influenced but also personally involved in the music. Gunplay may sound like Waka, but that doesn’t keep him from also sounding like himself. I’d like to see the NRK Crew as Gunplay to OFWGKTA’s Waka Flocka. That does not mean, unfortunately, that this album is as good as Inglorious Bastard. It turns out that sounding like OF while developing your own sound is pretty hard.
The largest, and strongest, influence on this album is its incorporation of jazz discord. While Odd Future often uses jazzy changes in their bridges and breakdowns, such as in the “fuck Hayley Williams” section of “Yonkers”, Jay Cue’s use is pervasive, giving the entire album a sort of woozy, laid back feel. So the most compelling parts of the album are its dazzling instrumental segments, like the second half of the intro and the albums last track, “Finito”. These songs really benefit from meandering, multi-part structures, where themes from earlier segments rise to the top and are redeveloped. In the instrumental sense, they have taken the Odd Future sound and made it there own, not just by making it different, but creating a lot of internal uniqueness. It’s lush, sometimes silly, sometimes depressing, and basically always disorienting.
It’s really when the vocals come in that the problems start. Thematically, the album is organized around one general idea: “there’s no stopping us”. That in itself isn’t necessarily a damning concept, but using the EarlWolf-style force of delivery that goes with it is like trying to sprint through a swamp. The vocals just drown in the vaporous beats. And yet because of their aggressiveness, the lyrics are impossible to ignore. They always seem to be trying to get your attention when you really just want to listen to the beats, poking you in the chest when you’re trying to lay back and stretch your legs.
When the two elements do come to some sort of agreement, it just brings up more issues. NRK’s goal-directed message is so straight-forward that the combination of go-getting beat and go-getting lyrics is just too much. In the instrumentally aggressive chorus to “Obstacles”, Jay raps “I ain’t stopping for any obstacle/so if you in my way, you got to go.” Later in the track he states, boldly, “Failure is like sneezing with your eyes open/It’s impossible, n*gga, we unstoppable.” Yeah, we get it.
Finally, while I am a supporter of the OF influence, a lot of times its overbearing. They imitate the OF style but neither replicate nor replace its substance. Odd Future, as everyone has said, has composed its own little world from a tight set of interrelated elements. Utilizing only one element from the set removes almost all of that piece’s effectiveness. While pitch dropped vocals in some of Tyler’s songs have the effect of making him sound both bone-chilling and playful, the same effect in the chorus of “Lunchbox” just leaves me confused and unconvinced.
In terms of rapping, Earl Sweatshirt specifically seems to be a big influence on Jay Cue, to his stylistic detriment. While he is not necessarily a bad rapper, he sometimes lifts whole cadences and metaphorical concepts from various parts of Earl’s catalog. On “Awesome Sauce”, for example, he raps, “I’m trying to muster up courage to hit my mother up and tell her that she’s fuckin’ up by sendin’ me to such a rut.” Its a good line, but it sounds an awful lot like “Hurry, I got nuts to bust and butts to fuck and ups to chuck and sluts to fuckin’ uppercut.” The comparison that he forces us to make does not lean in his favor.
In the end I’m left with the impression that they feel the need to use certain thematic, lyrical, and musical tropes without knowing why. I would, however, not necessarily want to cast a dark light on this album and NRK as a whole. While the album is not necessarily “good”, it shows its influences in very unexpected ways. In that sense it is at least interesting, and I think if Jay Cue and the rest could learn to isolate only their most effective and malleable influences, they could be a serious stylistic force.
Pyramid Life is available for free download hereShare