At this point, the idea of an Odd Future member growing up isn’t necessarily newsworthy. Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt—the two best-known members of the hip-hop collective outside of Frank Ocean—have both managed to build careers that move beyond the controversy of their earlier lyrics. That’s not to say they’re completely above rapping about stomach-churning sex, violence, and general juvenilia, but even a sick joke of a song like “Fucking Young / Perfect” at least has a conflicted morality to it. So it’s not just a matter of each artist growing up. That was always inevitable. It’s more about how they grow up. It’s about how age affects their music. After all, that’s the only way most of us will ever get to connect with any of them.
Throughout Fireplace: TheNotTheOtherSide, the first studio album from Odd Future’s old reliable Hodgy, the how means an increased value on responsibility and spirituality. It’s arguably the most unwaveringly moral of any of the Odd Future solo releases, including anything put out by Ocean. Over an immersive jet stream of neo-soul production (the glass-calm choir on “Barbell” couldn’t be further from the demented cartoonery of The OF Tape Vol. 2), he embraces living in the moment on “The Now,” waxes optimistic on “Glory,” and reflects on his faith in “Kundalini.”
While the arrangements radiate an L.A.-centric kind of warmth and there are creative turns of phrase peppered among the lyrics (on “Kundalini,” he vows to cut demons off him like a circumcision), the positivity often suffers from a lack of detail. Hodgy’s never been the most autobiographical writer, but it’s hard to get invested in his personal evolution when several of the songs never move beyond merely acknowledging said evolution. The bars on “Kundalini” are individually creative, and yet they never give us a concrete idea of why his beliefs have changed or now have a stronger conviction. Surely his becoming a father in real life has something to do with it, but that rarely gets talked about. Likewise, “The Now,” “Glory,” “Laguna,” and others are the lyrical equivalent to a self-help book. Even if the message is admirable, it only scratches the surface of what truly goes into personal change. The metamorphosis comes off as too easy; too fully formed. And that somehow makes it feel less real than it actually is.
Still, the consistency in and of itself is an improvement over the half-baked adulthood of Dukkha and Untitled 2, both of which seemed eager to mature from tadpole to bullfrog, even if they never fully shed their tails. And to Hodgy’s credit, several of the tracks on Fireplace do manage to break free of vague personal change into songs that are resonant for their tension. “They Want” offsets any number of gangsta-rap hits by calling out a drug dealer for the pathetic lame-ass he really is, and unlike “Kundalini,” “Resurrection” finds Hodgy actually taking a complex look at his faith.
There’s a struggle there as he fights back against the cicada drum fills and bursts of nervous saxophone, trying to stay devoted but recognizing the lure of temptation. Ultimately, it’s humility—a recognition that everyone is going to die someday—that keeps him grounded. Guest spots from Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne on “Final Hour” and “Tape Beat,” respectively, further diversify the dynamic, if not lyrically, then at least sonically—their gruffer tones spiking the EKG meter of Hodgy’s smoother, more nasal register.
Despite the lack of lyrical specificity throughout, closer “DYSLM” hits hard for being the one track that’s an honest-to-God story song. In it, Hodgy stews over his partner abandoning him, mentally toggling back and forth on whether he should retaliate against the new guy or just stay inside and play video games. After keying his enemy’s car and getting caught in the act, he chooses the latter. While some may view that as the slacker’s path, it’s actually the most—here’s that word again—mature decision he can make. He suppresses the violent urge in favor of an activity where no one, save for maybe a pixelated character or two, gets hurt. Will that completely satisfy Hodgy? Probably not. Those bad old feelings will likely rise in the near (odd) future. But no one said growing up is easy. It would be nice if some of the other songs on Fireplace recognized that, too.