Humor, Truth, And Odd Future

In light of yesterday’s conversation about rappers’ personas, I was interested to read this profile of Odd Future in Spin. Two things stuck with me. First, there was Syd tha Kid’s decision to formally come out with her video for “Cocaine.” I think Julianne Escobedo Shepherd may be somewhat overstating the importance of that decision — Odd Future, for all their critical acclaim, aren’t exactly a mainstream hip-hop group. And more importantly, given the differences in the way gay men and lesbians are perceived, I sort of suspect that — Fat Joe’s protestations to the contrary — it will take a gay man who is a significant, established, mainstream star coming out to really change hip-hop’s attitudes towards gay people.

The other thing that caught my eye was two paragraphs towards the end of the piece:

In a few days, though, Tyler will release a video for “Bitch Suck Dick,” Goblin’s most lunkheadedly brazen song. It’s an absurd, spoofy clip featuring, among other things, Jasper rolling around in a tracksuit and Lionel ripping apart his shirt. “It’s an ignorant-ass song,” says Tyler, anticipating backlash. “If I’m not listening to cheesy indie-jazzy rock shit, I’m listening to ignorant-ass rap shit like Waka Flocka and OJ Da Juiceman. And I made a song that sounds like that energy, but in my world. I think making a song about punching a bitch in the face is funny, because if you’re a regular person, just hearing that is fucking crazy, and 90 percent of the people know I’m just fucking around.”

But as Odd Future’s new projects are released — and as they become an ever bigger force in hip-hop — will his approach shift away from contrarianism and provocation? “Talking about rape and cutting bodies up, it just doesn’t interest me anymore,” he says, contemplative and sincere, looking directly into my eyes, now sitting cross-legged on the hotel bed. “What interests me is making weird hippie music for people to get high to. With Wolf, I’ll brag a little bit more, talk about money and buying shit. But not like any other rapper, I’ll be a smart-ass about it. Now it’s just girls throwing themselves at me and shit, but I got a girl back home. People who want the first album again, I can’t do that. I was 18, broke as fuck. On my third album, I have money and I’m hanging out with my idols. I can’t rap about the same shit.” The look on his face is uncompromising. The man knows where his power lies.

The thing that’s intriguing to me about this on a structure-of-humor-level is the assumption that people hear lyrics about, say, abusing women, and assume they’re funny or crazy because they’re implausible. I don’t believe Tyler or anyone else in Odd Future goes around assaulting people in their private lives. And I would really like to live in a world where the societal taboo against domestic violence or sexual assault was so high, and education and enforcement were so good that the prospect of a man abusing a woman was genuinely ridiculous. But we don’t actually live in that world. I don’t think that, say, rape jokes are an impossibility. But it’s hard to argue that you’re raising the bar, being “not like any other rapper,” if your edgy jokes mostly reinforce tired fallacies.

All that said, if Tyler and company are moving beyond “talking about rape and cutting bodies up,” I’m curious to see what he does next — and if the strong sense of identification fans have with the group will give Odd Future permission and space to do things that are genuinely daring. Turning Syd into an out lesbian hip-hop superstar beyond the group’s critical acclaim would be awesome. Ditto for speaking some actual truths about sex and gender.