I’m not sure that Lil B actually, as the title of his song “I Got AIDS” suggests, is actually HIV-positive — a lot of his recent work’s been about making declarations designed to get people to show their worst selves in their reactions, as he did when he announced that the title of his last album would be “I’m Gay,” which he later changed to “I’m Gay (I’m Happy).” But even if he’s not, there’s something sort of weird about ?uestlove’s snarking at him for it, declaring “2007-12 the ‘Post Modern Ye-ified Narcissist-Histrionic disorder’.” It’s pretty bizarre that rappers regularly get praised and defended for taking on alternate personas in order to give them cover to say wildly anti-social things, but that if one does it in order to tweak his peers about homophobia and safe sex, it’s histrionic. The song itself is fine, nothing special, sort of melancholic:
And it’s nowhere near as clever as Salt-n-Pepa’s realtalk about the limitations of the pill in “Let’s Talk About Sex”:
But that’s okay. Songs serve different purposes. Lil B may be self-aggrandizing, but he’s serving a pretty valuable social purpose along the way.
Tyler, the Creator, seems unlikely to change his ways in response to protest.
I have really profoundly mixed feelings about the news that a coalition of groups is going to protest Odd Future’s performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Right now, Odd Future’s core brand is in being shocking, and so any opportunity for them to behave more shockingly, particularly by showing that they’re impervious to calls for decency by, for example, by telling two lesbians that “If Tegan and Sara need some hard dick, hit me up!” is an opportunity for them to reinforce the thing that’s been their most effective way of getting attention. And calling out people for listening to and supporting Odd Future might make some people embarrassed, but I think it’s more likely to reinforce the idea that liking Odd Future makes you edgy and transgressive, someone who can rise above moral and political objections to appreciate art, even when the artist is throwing temper tantrums at you.
There’s something to be said for standing up and saying that something is wrong, but I’m not sure that protesters are going to walk away from this with anything other than a sense that they’ve done the right thing. I just can’t work out the calculation in my head, the value of telling the truth versus that truth being swept away and dwarfed by the ridiculousness of whatever the response to it is.
If you want Odd Future to talk about things other than raping people, or to stop saying terrible things about gay people, the incentives for them need to shift. If Earl Sweatshirt came back, the focus could be on his technical skill, rather than on Tyler, the Creator being outrageous. If folks hire Syd and Tyler to produce songs and albums, the headlines about them could be about their role in revitalizing hip-hop’s sound—Frank Ocean’s already signed up to work on Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne. When Ocean’s nostalgia, ULTRA gets its re-release in July, if it goes huge, or even pretty big, then the story about Odd Future can be how the group helped a bunch of folks with different sounds collectively promote their work (I actually think there’s a good chance Odd Future doesn’t last very long as a coherent entity once the individual members are on their ways to the careers they want). And if you can’t resist the urge to pick apart Odd Future right now, maybe it’s worth mounting an aesthetic critique of them (which might be difficult, there are some talented folks in the crew). One of the reasons Eminem’s been such a persistent force in American culture is that his technical skills as a rapper are patently undeniable, even if you’re horrified by the ends to which he’s sometimes applied them. I bet the members of Odd Future would be a lot more freaked out by a detailed and authoritative takedown of their artistic abilities than the fact that they use those abilities to say shocking things.
Or, you know, buy Lil B’s album I’m Gay (I’m Happy), which dropped today on iTunes. However watered down his backing off the original title, which was just going to be I’m Gay, however transparent a publicity stunt it is, declaring yourself even metaphorically gay in hip-hop is a lot more genuinely audacious than rapping about raping nuns: