Odd Future's lyrics — particularly those of frontman Tyler, the Creator — aren't for the faint of heart. (Believe it or not, they're even worse than the fiery, president-killing rhetoric of hip-hop renegade and incorrigible cop-killing badboy Common!) They revel in all the worst stuff of life: murder and rape, homophobia and violent misogyny. With Tyler scoring major notice from his mainstream debut, Goblin, a backlash is starting to warm up.
For a while, the unease has been running parallel to the Odd Future hype; way back in November, the Village Voice ran a piece titled "On Odd Future, Rape and Murder, and Why We Sometimes Like the Things That Repel Us" (which nicely summarizes itself). More recently, The Guardian, in the throes of near-fatal UK Wolf Gang fever, has devoted two hefty posts to exploring Tyler's lyrics and persona, coming to the conclusions that: a) Tyler probably isn't homophobic, but he does say "faggot" an awful lot; b) Tyler is pretty great, despite the terrible rapey stuff, and here's hoping he outgrows all that.
This week, Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara upped the blogosphere ante with a post that drew the battle lines clearly: if you tolerate Tyler, the Creator, you're down with misogyny, homophobia, and rape culture. "While an artist who can barely get a sentence fragment out without using homophobic slurs is celebrated on the cover of every magazine, blog, and newspaper," wrote Quin, "I'm disheartened that any self-respecting human being could stand in support with a message so vile. . . . I think people don't actually want to go up against this particular bully because he's popular. Who sticks up for women and gay people now?"
It's strange to imply that enjoying (or even tolerating) morbid lyrics means endorsing their content. I don't think digging Clipse makes you gung-ho about selling coke, or liking "Brown Sugar" means you're down with slave sex. But, hey, shit is getting pretty real out there. Politicians are tampering with the actual definition of rape, and few people are in a mood to joke about it — anyone who wants to choose this moment defend the artistic merit of Tyler's grodier lyrics does so at their own considerable peril.
Quin drifts onto a slippery patch by claiming that critics are afraid to confront Tyler's lyrics for fear of being called racist: "In this case I don't think race or class actually has anything to do with his hateful message but has EVERYTHING to do with why everyone refuses to admonish him for that message." I'm not so sure. It seems to me like the debate is so far proceeding along approximately the same lines as the Eminem furor, and he was white and poor, while Tyler is black and, I don't know, upper-middle-classish. Plus, she'd be glad to know that Tyler is getting some pretty sharp admonishment indeed. More than a few reviews have trashed Goblin for leaning too hard on shock, and one or two have flatly condemned the lyrical content. Even the most glowing notices throw in a few obligatory lines of collar-tugging about the problematic lyrics.