[Reaction] Odd Future’s Odd Appeal and Fan Base

03/29/2011

Cord Jefferson

Cord Jefferson, a freelance journalist, recently took a critical look at Odd Future’s, the buzzing and “ground breaking” young hip hop collective, misogynistic and violent lyrics. Since the group’s performance on Jimmy Fallon they’ve been compared to Wu-Tang Clan and Eminem, revered as black “punks,” and called the next big thing. Cord Jefferson’s article “Odd Future’s Odd Fan Base” offers many critical insights.

Jefferson begins by establishing the context of their lyrics:

To be sure, many of their raps have nothing to do with rape, murder, torture or general mayhem — but many others do.

On the song “Splatter,” Tyler raps, “F— Tyler, I’mma change my name to Uncle Phil, ’cause every girl I … f—, it’s always against her Will.” He then says he’s going to go into a retirement home and have sex with an old woman. On another song, “Seven,” Tyler says he and Odd Future “go skate, rape sluts and eat donuts from Randy’s.”

The darkness neither begins nor ends with Tyler. On Odd Future team member Earl Sweatshirt’s eponymous solo track, “Earl,” Tyler’s right-hand man boasts, “Earl puts the ass in assassin, puts the pieces of decomposing bodies in plastic.” And on “Couch,” Earl fantasizes about feeding a woman acid, binding her in duct tape and putting her in the trunk of his car. “Now you ain’t laughing, huh?” he asks his victim at the end of the gruesome verse.

He then poses the issue: many of the group’s fans are only white.

The thing is, a lot of people are laughing — laughing and fawning. One thing that jumps out at you when you look at much of the criticism of Odd Future is that hardly any of it is very critical. Indeed, most of America’s revered music-news outlets — and many of the British outlets — love Odd Future. Another thing that jumps out at you is that most of these critics are white.

Later, he theorizes where the anger of these kids arises and compares their content to Eminem and Wu-Tang, both comparisons that  are universally being made:

And going back to Frannie Kelley’s NPR article, Kelley theorizes, “I think that, for years, Tyler thought he’d never met anyone as smart as him. I think that enrages him. Makes him feel trapped and unheard. I think Tyler feels bad about some of the things he says, but it feels so good to say them out loud. To scream them. To make some people feel bad, and other people feel good.” (Kelley may be partially right here, but in fact, Tyler himself notes throughout many of his songs that a lot of his anger stems from his absent father, a source of pain much bigger than feeling smarter than his peers.)

In his earlier years, Eminem had some of the most violent lyrics around, and members of the Wu-Tang Clan have occasionally dabbled in rape talk. But neither of those entities –both of whom Odd Future have been compared to — ever really dealt in the kind of sustained, traumatic murder music that’s made Odd Future so big.

Towards the end, Jefferson addresses the shock and appeal of the group’s lyric during their performance, and how the crowds’ reception provides a different understanding to the music.

At a recent show at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, Odd Future played for about 15 minutes before Tyler, angry at the lackadaisical, giggling crowd, swore at some of the audience, derided the soundman and stormed away, his group in tow. “Ain’t s— funny,” said a member of the band before leaving the stage.

The mostly white audience’s response to the actual black frustration before them? They laughed it off. So much so that Phoenix New Times music writer Martin Cizmar called the experience a “turnoff.” “[I was] unsettled by how the mostly white crowd related to Odd Future’s angry music,” Cizmar wrote in his review of the show. “Something about wealthy white yuppies laughing and smiling as black teenagers pour out their rage at an unfair world through hip-hop didn’t sit well with me … [T]here’s something unseemly about white people getting a big kick out of it.”

He concludes that the appeal is a fetishization of black aggression, and suggest their is a limit citing Chris Brown, Mike Tyson, and Ike Turner.

This is a very interesting article, and a must read. Click here to read “Odd Future’s Odd Fan Base.”

Odd Future Criticism

My Reaction

As a music journalist myself, I heard Tyler, The Creator’s “French” about six months ago. At the time, I was amazed at his lyrical prowess as a rapper and uncomfortable with his dark content. I chose not to publish the track.

On my way to SXSW this year, like Jefferson’s friend (see the article), I took the time to download the many respective Odd Future albums and listen closely to each track. I had also singled out the quote Jefferson highlighted by Earl The Sweatshirt and Tyler, The Creator. These two seem to be the most intelligent (and skilled) of the bunch.

While the quotes Jefferson highlights suggests the misogyny and violence of their lyrics, I thought to point out some of their critical awareness:

“I’m half privileged, think white and half n**** lips, tad different/ Mad smart, act ignorant / Shit I’ll pass the class when my dad starts giving a shit” –Earl Sweatshirt “Blade”

The racial imagery poses the question, “Is Earl Sweatshirt forcing us to question black stereotypes and imagery?” His line, “Shit I’ll pass the class when my dad starts giving a shit,” is an earnest look into the life of the African American community where many children grow up fatherless. Couple this analysis with Earl’s line “Mad smart, act ignorant” and it seems that Earl knows exactly what he’s doing. Maybe Jefferson’s criticism, and that of the Phoenix journalist, was necessary (even sought by Odd Future) in defining the group’s original intentions.

While Tyler, The Creator is the most offensive, he too seems to bring to light these black on white comparisons:

“White bitch, white girl, white drug, black bitches don’t do it, but my type does / fucking it in my white van, beat her with white night stand until I give her gashes until it’s nothing but the white meat…double d, whitey gargle yellow bumble bs, use my whitey for intercourse for my dinner course, so much whitening Dark Vader have a dinner force, but of course I’m the white boy that shows no remorse, pull up on a stark with enough white kill a whore, black Friday, fuck a n**** Friday, Wolfgang made the pregnant white bitch want to abort, bring the remaining red and white pieces to the fort,” –Tyler, The Creator “Oblivion”

Is this intended to just get a rise out of us or is there more? “White bitches, white drug, black bitches don’t do it, but my type does” suggests the fetishization of white women in black culture and class distinctions (cocaine v. crack, which the latter is often known as “black rock”). Yet the brutally gruesome line that follows, “fucking it in my white van, beat her with white night stand until I give her gashes until it’s nothing but the white meat,” smacks listeners with a confrontational juxtaposition. Why did he chose that line to follow–that’s the real question.

Until we understand their motives, at least to some degree, it’s unfair to dismiss them as uncreative brats just pushing the envelope and even worse, laugh at their antics like it’s Jackass: The Movie.

Here are the tracks mentioned in this piece:

Tyler, The Creator “French”
[audio: http://www.box.net/shared/static/t0jvlsg33h.mp3]

Tyler, The Creator: “Oblivion”
[audio: http://www.box.net/shared/static/e6r07pojyx.mp3]

Tyler, The Creator: “Splatter”
[audio: http://www.box.net/shared/static/7bnundk4tf.mp3]

Earl The Sweatshirt: “Blade”
[audio: http://www.box.net/shared/static/2cfocz8fta.mp3]