It was one of those perfect sun-drenched spring afternoons in Tempe, the sort of day that draws so many kids to America's most shat-upon institution of higher learning, Arizona State University. It's not hard to see why a group of college kids playing kickball and drinking beer on a small grassy lawn at Gateway student housing complex at University and McClintock don't seem to give a shit what the national media say about this school or the state — they're having about as much fun as college kids can have by daylight.
Domo Genesis, however, is not enjoying the weather on what will turn out to be his last day as a student before abandoning his studies at ASU to become a career rapper. If you don't recognize the name Domo Genesis (real name: Domonique Cole), maybe you'll recognize the name of the mega-buzzing Los Angeles rap collective he's part of. That'd be Odd Future — technically Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All — a group that's on the cover of a recent issue of Billboard magazine and has garnered attention from everyone who's anyone in the hip-hop industry.
Domo Genesis, 20, is the group's designated "stoner" and recently made MTV News over his feud when "Black and Yellow" rapper Wiz Khalifa titled his new album Rolling Papers — the same title as Domo's 2010 album. Few people anywhere know, however, that he was a student in the Phoenix area.
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The day is nice enough that I'm not complaining about the fact that I'm standing outside his ground-level apartment, next to three smelly trash bags full of beer bottles and take-out containers. A mountain bike leans clumsily against the patio's iron gate. The smell of weed and the sound of someone gathering up beer bottles slip out from behind the door. I knock again, and the bottle collector stops and announces to his roommates that someone, probably a complex employee, is outside their front door.
I'm allowed in to find Domo and a friend playing Madden on a small flat-screen television. Two other roommates play Call of Duty on another screen just a few feet away. Every few minutes, Domo pauses gameplay to respond to a girl who is feverishly tweeting him pictures of her tattoos and to change which Waka Flocka Flame song he's listening to on his white MacBook. Eventually, he migrates to the couch and starts to tell me about himself.
"A lot of people find it funny that outside of music, I am like a dork," Domo says. "When I get my first real amount of money, I'm gonna get me an iced-out Charizard chain, because Pokémon is my favorite shit."
The future of rap is odd indeed.
A few weeks after this interview, Odd Future would be the cover story of Billboard magazine's SxSW edition and steal the show at a SxSW showcase. Two of the collective's rappers would perform on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and, in the process, cause fellow guest Mos Def to lose his shit while mimicking the teens' "Swag!" chant into the camera until his voice cracks and the directors cut to commercial. Odd Future will play Coachella in April, and the group's face, Tyler the Creator, recently signed a one-record deal with indie super-label XL Recordings.
As we begin talking, Domo rolls the last of his weed into a joint with one of those plastic joint rollers. Around 4 a.m. that day, after hours of drinking and playing Call of Duty, Domo and his friends had each tossed in $20 for a bag of weed. Now, as Domo lights his joint, the weed is almost gone.
Domo has a wide, round face with a wiry soul patch bridging the gap between his lower lip and the beginning of his chin. His brown almond-shaped eyes are half-covered by long, drooping eyelids, which make him appear stoned and aloof, even when he isn't. He has several tattoos on his forearms — some Scripture, a dove to represent inner peace, and two characters from Super Mario Brothers: the star and a ghost. Domo speaks from the back of his throat, often letting the last few sounds of a sentence go unuttered.
The Los Angeles native likes to play video games, especially 2k11, Dragon Ball Z, and Pokémon. He fills his Tumblr blog with pictures of naked tattooed girls and weed. He restricted the songs on Rolling Papers to the same subjects, described on "Buzzin'" as "smoking weed, fucking bitches, and eating cereal!"
While Odd Future is widely known for what the New York Times calls their "arty emo rape fantasies" and their cynical overtones, Domo's music is tripped-out and stoner-y. He would sooner proposition a girl with a fat doobie and some liquor than a knife.
"The difference in music from them and me is pretty cool," he says. "We can reach out to a lot of demographics. Some people won't like Tyler, but they'll like me, and some people won't like me but they'll like Tyler. At the end of the day, it's all Odd Future. So we pull in a bunch of different crowds, which is great to expand our fan base."
In fact, Domo is largely Tyler the Creator's opposite. Domo went to high school with Tyler in Los Angeles but kept his distance until he heard Tyler's music and liked it. At that exact moment, Tyler was streaming himself on the Internet, playing the drums discordantly and shouting out obscene nothings. If Tyler was the troubled skater kid on a steady Ritalin regimen in your high school, then Domo was the friendly weed dealer.
"He's, like, one of my closest bros," Domo says of Tyler. "We've shared a lot of shit. I think he's a genius, but I'll never tell him that."
Unfortunately for Domo, he was unable to share Odd Future's early success with Tyler. While Tyler, Left Brain, Hodgy Beats, and Mike G were playing a sold-out show in London in November, Domo was stuck in design classes at ASU.
"I hated that with all my heart. Hated it!" Domo says. "When they went to London and I couldn't go, my heart was broken. I felt so sad. But at the same time, I was rooting them along. One of us make it, we all make it. We are like a family, so it was like a love-hate thing."
Not that Domo wasn't experiencing a more modest rise to fame in Tempe. Shortly after releasing Rolling Papers in August, Domo was walking through the halls of Campus Suites on Apache Boulevard when heard someone playing the album in his apartment. It was surreal, Domo remembered.
Pitchfork published a story on his song "Super Market." When the Smoker's Club Tour played the Clubhouse in December, Smoke DZA surprised Domo by bringing him on stage to perform "Rolling Papers." Then in February, Wiz Khalifa titled his new album Rolling Papers, setting off a wave of backlash from Odd Future fans on Twitter. Domo didn't care. It brought some attention to himself and resulted in 16,000 additional Rolling Papers downloads that week.
Supposedly, kids attend college to figure out their own paths in life. For Domo, the road was beginning to look as though it led back to Los Angeles. He is not the first rapper to attend a Valley school only to figure out that success was waiting for him in California. Ice Cube studied architectural drafting at the now-defunct Phoenix Institute of Technology in 1988 after he had already released "Boyz-n-the-Hood" with N.W.A. We all know where that story went.
After missing the London show, Domo realized that he wanted to leave school and commit to Odd Future full-time. He returned to ASU for his fourth semester only because his mother wanted him to.
"Of course, you want to do whatever makes your mom happy, but you want to live your life, too," Domo says.
It's strange to realize that the members of Odd Future have barely left adolescence and their mothers might actually still be influencing their career moves. For instance, Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler's 16-year-old brother and the group's best lyricist, went missing as soon as the group began to gain notoriety.
"It's O.F. buttercup / Go ahead fuck with us / Without a doubt a surefire way to get your mother fucked / Ask her for a couple bucks / Shove a trumpet up her butt / Play a song invade her thong / My dick is having guts for lunch," he rapped on "Earl." It's easy to imagine his mom hiding him from the public eye after hearing that.
Since he went missing, Odd Future have run around shouting "Free Earl!" in the vein of Bun B's "Free Pimp C!"
Domo's mother didn't react drastically. Before Rolling Papers, she had no idea what a stoner Domo really was, so the album, and its heavy dose of marijuana references, came as a shock. Eventually, she warmed up to the album and his music.
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"She's the kind of mom that's like, 'Speak your mind,'" he says. "So she's not gonna hold me back from anything I want to say. I'll call her and rap a new verse to her, like, 'Oh, look, Mom, I got this new verse' full of cuss words talking about spraying in bitches' faces and shit. She likes it, though, as long as it rhymes and sounds good."
Domo's new album, still nameless and scheduled for release any day now, will have a much broader perspective — one he forged through his college experience.
"I don't want to be compared to Wiz Khalifa for the rest of my life," he says.