“Earl was the sickest rapper,” a guy standing near me in the crowd explained to his friend. “And then he went away. But now he’s back.”
Nobody really knew what to expect last night at the Hammerstein Ballroom, where Odd Future played to celebrate the release of their new group album The Odd Future Tape, Vol. 2. Their long-lost-but-suddenly-found ace in the hole Earl Sweatshirt had been with them in New York City, taking the time to be interviewed by Peter Rosenberg and even appear in OF’s newest music video, but halfway through the nearly 2.5 hour show, he hadn’t joined them onstage. I thought back to something he said during his Rosenberg interview, when asked about his time away: I got to see that shit isn’t fun all the time. Maybe to him, seemingly a healthy kid who's more interested in balance than pleasing everyone all the time—performing onstage wasn’t fun.
That isn’t to say that the show wasn’t going to be great even if Earl hadn’t had shown up. After a year or so of consistent touring, the LA skate-anarcho-psych-whatever rap crew has pretty much nailed the art of the chaotic performance, structuring it as their own one-crew Warped Tour, each member enjoying some solo time while others meander about, coming on and offstage on a whim. Left Brain and Hodgy Beats took turns brandishing an open umbrella at the crowd. Crowd favorite Mike G rapped while holding a toy lightsaber, positively killing his version of Jay-Z’s “A Million and 1 Questions.” All of them kept taking their shirts off, only to put them back on a few minutes later. The energy would take a tick skyward whenever Tyler, the Creator would scream his way through one of his songs, and Domo Genesis—an able technical rapper, if a sedate one—smoked pot a lot. Thirty seconds after Hodgy rapped, “Where we goin? To free Earl from the fuckin’ Samoans” from “Tang Golf,” it looked like Earl's perfect cue to hit the stage had passed, and he might not show up after all. Then, Earl came out onstage and rapped “Orange Juice,” and everybody freaked.
Amidst a near-constant barrage of hugs, Earl momentarily took the wheel of the usually Tyler-steered Odd Future truck, taking a quick dip into his material from the group’s mixtape Radical, as well as a couple songs from Earl, his short but ferocious solo release. Earl's comfort onstage will come with time—until then, his fans are just happy he’s putting himself out there. And Earl seems happy, too. When the entire group rapped along with Tyler on “Yonkers,” you couldn’t have knocked the smile off his face with a shovel.
Just when you thought the energy (and collective Tweet frequency of the crowd) could not have gotten any higher, Frank Ocean also came out and—sporting a zen backpack and his signature bandana—helped Tyler through “She." Then, Ocean took a seat at the piano to play OF Vol. 2 highlight “White.” Tyler threw in a, “This is for the bitches!” lest the mood get too contemplative.
The show closed out with what Tyler claimed would be the only live performance of the group’s epic new posse cut “Oldie” ever, complete with verses from Ocean and Sweatshirt. At their best, OF are a classic American success story, the group of misfits, burnouts and losers who improbably, triumphantly made it big. And at last, they’re whole.