On White Men and Their Fascination with Odd Future


Looking for a database of Odd Future’s lyrics, I came across this article last fall in The Voice by Zach Baron. I remember reading it, but I didn’t have the head space to process and write about it. Baron writes,

To condemn Odd Future for their lyrics we’d have to talk about Eminem, Cam’ron (unspeakable misogynist in rhyme), and Clipse (drug dealers who know what they do is wrong but do it anyway, at least in song)–all rappers who have long since made it into the pantheon of most working critics and music fans. “The avant-garde need not be moral,” Jon Caramanica once wrote in these pages about Cam’ron’s Purple Haze, a sentence that has been pretty influential in sorting out how me and my friends process music with reprehensible content. And it’s true. It’s also true, however, that the real line of defense most listeners have for stuff like this is they didn’t actually do it. As Jay-Z writes in his new book, Decoded, “The rapper’s character is essentially a conceit, a first-person literary creation.” He would know. And after all, Jay writes, it’s not like we actually think Matt Damon is out “assassinating rogue CIA agents between movies.”

Few thoughts:

Is saying it doing it? If we take this “well they ain’t really doing it, so it doesn’t count” logic seriously, let me ask you this.

If Sarah Palin or Michele Bachman got up and said “kill all the n-words” (the one with the ‘ers) and “kill and rape all the ‘illegals’” would that logic stand?

Would folks be willing to say “well they ain’t really doing it, they saying it.” I am inclined to think no.

People buy what makes them feel comfortable. Why does Odd Future make White men feel comfortable?

Doesn’t comparing Matt Damon to Odd Future the Clipse and Cam’ron obscure the fact that mainstream media does not feature African Americans prominently; That Black men and White men have two different, yet connected, histories in this country.

In my post about Nate Dogg, I talked about how White desire for Nate Dogg’s catalogue had a specific impact on Black women’s lived experiences.

And this is where article takes an interesting turn. Baron brings in a Jay-Z’s decoded to discuss WHO the listener identifies with. He writes,

And yet it’s disingenuous to separate Odd Future from their lyrical content, dishonest to say you can enthusiastically listen to the group without constantly encountering and processing the incredibly dark stuff they’re talking about. Why does art like this appeal? InDecoded, Jay-Z talks about how he’s heard that executives and businessmen listen to his songs about shooting people and slinging crack and use them for motivation before big meetings, PowerPoint presentations, and job interviews. The point he then makes is that with art like this you never identify with the victim, the proverbial “you”; you identify with the person speaking, and that person is a bad motherfucker, and thus so is the listener. Through this type of identification, art allows us to explore the weird frisson between reality and fantasy, the gulf between who we are and who we’d like to be.

Again.

The point he then makes is that with art like this you never identify with the victim, the proverbial “you”; you identify with the person speaking, and that person is a bad motherfucker, and thus so is the listener.

Well shit gina, I don’t know what to say.

The comments in the post are telling as well.

Thoughts?

What do you think of the “saying it ain’t doing it” logic?

Do people buy what makes them feel comfortable?

Comments

  1. As Paul Mooney might have said it,

    White people love Odd Future because they believe it makes Birth of a Nation look like Seasame Street. It’s that Neo-Bigger Thomas ish.

    Which leads me to think that, if White Middle Class cats are self-identifying with OddFuture raps and feel empowered, perhaps it’s in the way the man who killed Emmit Till felt empowered. Or the way the guy who walks his wife across the street from a Black pedestrian feels empowered.

    And it makes me wonder why America is obsessed with Black boys hanging themselves.

  2. I just dont’ understand the appeal. I do identify with the victim. I AM that victim. Seriously, I can’t get jiggy with this shyt.

  3. It gets complicated but there’s some male privilege in these kids saying “I don’t see why people get so worked about this s—”, and that’s what pushes me away. I don’t feel comfortable around that. As I see more reflection on why so many middle-aged white males like this stuff, I start to find another discomfort with it.

    In a more general sense, as a white male consumer if I like a kind of music my inclination is to follow the artist’s lead. Do they feel like they’re making music that says what they want it to, as opposed to what *I* want it to? When Dave Chappelle walked away I respected that, but until he did it was too much of a knot to tie myself into to worry about that question on his behalf.

    Maybe this is lazy of me, though, and maybe I should reconsider? But I’m worried. If I start analyzing what every artist tells me and second-guessing the legitimacy of their message as a means to sell a commodity, I have a feeling I’m not gonna be left with much.

    So I have to draw a line, and it seems safe to draw that line on the safe side of racism and sexism, but the real work seems to be figuring out where a specific thing lies on the spectrum. Is Jay-Z selling something that appeals to white masculinity? Or is he selling something that appeals to *his* masculinity, and appeals to white people as a by-product? Is it fair to judge him by that discrepancy?

  4. @Ptp.

    Thank you for engaging.

    You bring up a few excellent points. Why do so many middle aged White men enjoy Odd Future. I can see the energy from the shows, and why that may be exciting. But I am interested in how those moments where lyrics about “raping pregnant women” are negotiated. Like really? What part of the game is that?

    But I’m worried. If I start analyzing what every artist tells me and second-guessing the legitimacy of their message as a means to sell a commodity, I have a feeling I’m not gonna be left with much.
    ==============
    Well, many would say that this is the price we pay for having a greater awareness. This is not to say that we/you go around knitpicking every little thing.

    In fact, I am one of the silliest people I know, while I am sure it doesn’t come across in blog posts like these, lol.

    The discomfort that you may feel may be the contradiction between liking something that you sense is janky. Lord knows I have. Or it may not be “all janky” just portions. For the record. I am a huge Black Album Fan. It is one of my top 20 favorite rap albums.

    ….but the real work seems to be figuring out where a specific thing lies on the spectrum.
    Is Jay-Z selling something that appeals to white masculinity? Or is he selling something that appeals to *his* masculinity, and appeals to white people as a by-product? Is it fair to judge him by that discrepancy?
    ============
    That is a great question. A profound question.

    Given the history of Black men in this country, what do you think?

    Given the fact that capitalism co-opts anything that attempts to subvert it (ie hip hop) what do you think?

    I look forward to your response. How did you find this blog, btw?

    -R