[caption id="attachment_30607" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Tyler, The Creator in Los Angeles, November 2011. Photo: John Shearer/WireImage"][/caption]
… So goes the familiar cry that has rung out across the Internet for the past month, after rumors, speculation and false sightings ruminating on whether Earl Sweatshirt, Odd Future's exiled member, has finally returned to the fold after being unceremoniously sent off to some sort of military school in Samoa by his mean ol' mom. Figuring out the dynamics of Earl's whereabouts and place in the Odd Future pantheon has provided the message boards massive with hours of fun -- not least the undertone that he's now under the wing of Leila Steinberg, who in the past either tutored 2Pac to greatness or is instrumental in some sort of cult-making machine.
But Earl's return has also overshadowed the rest of the Odd Future phenomenon. Group members have been strangely quiet and sometimes ambiguous about the Earl situation on their Twitter accounts; gossip has at times wondered whether Earl is about to split the camp (along with Tyler and Frank Ocean, Earl exudes star appeal). It's all conjecture for now -- and an appearance on Peter Rosenberg's radio show with Tyler suggests solidarity, even if Tyler did act up, irked at the lack of attention on himself. This also means that the new Odd Future mixtape, titled The OF Tape Vol. 2 and out today, is a hollow experience. Lacking both Earl's lyrical heft and the crew's usual attention-snaffling shenanigans, it resonates flatly when in the past OF has always raised ire.
Clocking in at 18 tracks long, the tape is a rag tag assortment of collaborations and styles: Domo Genesis and Hodgy Beats' "Bitches" has the duo spitting back and forth over a perky beat; but the Internet's "Ya Know" threatens to break-out into an acid jazz jam session towards the end. It sticks with the usual OF angle of mining a noir cartoon channel of humor-slash-shock appeal, although having left their smear across with the world in the first place, there's little shocking about hearing, say, the opening intro "Hi" which attempts to self-referentially dis each member. (Sample synopsis: "Syd gay ass' putting her clit on other bitches nipples and shit.") Likewise, MellowHype's "50" relies on a chorus of "Fuck the police! Break the law!" that comes off as almost quaint, pitched over 20 years since N.W.A. first hollered the phrase to infamy.
Dulled of an abrasive edge and any aura of controversy, you begin to wonder about the value of releasing a mish-mash of songs in this fashion. Tyler own boisterous solo project was buoyed with the sort of personality and singular vision missing from OF Tape Vol. 2; now should be the time for his lower profile band mates to really assert their own credentials, not hide away in the collective depths of Odd Futuredom. So while OF Tape Vol 2. may remind the world that L.A.'s oversized group of rap oiks still technically exists, these days the real artistic intrigue comes only with waiting on Earl's next move. He's home from Samoa, but artistically Earl might soon be about to inhabit a whole different space to his old OF pals.
OF Tape Vol 2. is out now via Odd Future Records. OF (including Earl Sweatshirt) will appear on Rap Fix tomorrow, March 21 at 4 p.m. EST. Watch a preview below: