How ATLien Matt Martians hooked up with Odd Future via the Internet
Syd and Matt's grown-and-sexy R&B takes mysterious detour from OFWGKTA mania
Matthew "Matt Martians" Martin and Sydney "Syd Tha Kyd" Bennett are open books. They invite conversation about fist-pumping tour DJs, the meddling police presence at Odd Future shows, and their suspicion of media personnel — this writer not necessarily exempted. When asked to disclose the whereabouts of Wolf Gang deportee Earl Sweatshirt, however, both Martians and Syd curiously stay mum.
While Syd deigns to offer one word ("No"), Atlanta native Martians can only speculate on the 17-year-old's comings and goings. In 2010, Earl was shipped indefinitely to a Samoan reform school, putting the brakes on his young career. His absence dealt a blow to the group that is tough to overstate.
"I fucked with little Earl, but I don't talk to him," Martians says. "We don't even know if he's really coming home after he turns 18." The question appears to have struck a nerve, but Martians reassures CL to the contrary.
"It's all good, man," he says. "It's all gravy."
That the collective's most naturally gifted MC could up and disappear, seemingly without a trace, says a lot about the anarchistic rules by which it operates. Two years of overexposure haven't depleted OF's air of mystery. Combining word-drunk irreverence with gangsta grandstanding, the members of Odd Future have fashioned an offshoot of hip-hop as similar to DIY punk as it is to the Wu-Tang Clan. They skateboard, shoplift freely, and spin impromptu yarns about cocaine-induced throat soreness, all with the maturity of a problem ninth-grader.
"Why do we have to be serious?" Martians challenges. "Everything's a joke: life, work, politics. Just run through all this shit laughing."
It's not hard to find the thorny contradictions in that logic. True to their pitch-black comedic roots — OFWGKTA has never been shy about sending up early targets like Bruno Mars and Chris Brown — Martians and Syd intersperse Purple Naked Ladies (Odd Future Records) with hints of knowing self-parody and pop culture satire. The songs are very funny on average; even the title gently spoofs radio-rock cornballs Barenaked Ladies.
In many ways, the Internet are kids out of their time. They often recall Virginia production team the Neptunes, who turned smutty disco-pop into surrealist poetry a decade ago. Martians followed the 'Tunes religiously as an adolescent and seems to have adopted their gift for well-toned flights of fancy.
"In my iPod, those records have held up," Syd says of the Neptunes' past glories. "They're timeless."
As the more visible half of the duo, Syd is Pharrell Williams to Martians' less style-conscious Chad Hugo. And like the most deeply felt Neptunes compositions (think N.E.R.D.'s In Search Of... or their work on Justin Timberlake's Justified), Purple Naked Ladies is a surprisingly serious record. Syd's bruised, tired vocals speak to an irrevocable despair only latently addressed in her past work. The Soulquarian nu-funk of "They Say" lays the predicate for Syd's would-be inspirational talk, which she seems to believe only narrowly: "Don't let 'em faze you/Hold your ground," she murmurs with half-throttled conviction.
Syd drew wider attention following the October release of her video for promo single "Cocaine," a groundbreaking piece of narrative that unfolded over three minutes and change, even capturing the erstwhile crooner and her girlfriend locked in an embrace sultry enough to induce conservative aneurysms. The video was casually stunning, but in person Syd is shy and averse to pomposity, well-suited to her role as Odd Future's in-house DJ.
"All I'm doing is playing someone else's song, and people go so ham," she says with trademark self-effacement. "I don't know what it is about me, but I think it says a lot about social behavior."
Syd describes her journey to boutique stardom as "overwhelming." She points fondly to the salad days of the late aughts when the crew — including Earl, Taco Syd, and Hodgy Beats — would wreak havoc on unsuspecting customers outside of L.A. storefronts such as Reserve, where Tyler, the Creator worked as a not-so-doting intern.
Martians says that his creative courtship with Tyler began as early as 2005. "I met that nigga when he was, like, 14," he says. "It was on this Neptunes fan site, and Tyler had all these beats. A lot of them went on Bastard and The Odd Future Tape."
After an uncountable number of digital exchanges, Tyler brought Martians on as Odd Future's resident conceptualist. Ditching his Atlanta stomping grounds for the sunnier embrace of Los Angeles, Martians let his freak flag fly with abandon, first as the esoteric sonic brawn behind the Jet Age of Tomorrow and later as half of the Internet. Syd, meanwhile, manned the mixing board for Tyler's spring breakthrough Goblin, which swung expertly between manic highs and depressive lows.
Purple Naked Ladies imbibes a similar gray area, so it's fitting that Martians keeps his work close to the chest. "With the Internet, I tried to focus a little less on structure, to be more abstract," he says. When asked about the creative process behind that impulse, though, Martians once again stays mute.