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?

Making Connections between Odd Future x Jay Z x Beyonce

In my head I have been trying to make sense of Beyonce, Jay-Z and Odd Future and how audiences have received, accepted and criticized their work.

I have written about Beyonce here and here. Jay-Z here. I add Odd Future because I have yet to see a feminist analysis of them and I am theorizing that there is a connection between how audiences see them and how audiences see Jay and Beyonce.

Jay and Beyonce

Many of my friends get incredibly irritated when I say that I want Beyonce to sing about her husband. To talk about how he likes his eggs. Does he like cheese on them, hot sauce, cracked black pepper, scrambled hard.  I am not interested in how the man likes his eggs per se. I am using it as a way to open up a conversation about how audience desire shapes what artists talk about. I contended that Jay Z does not talk about loving his wife because honestly white and black audiences, and multiracial audiences are not interested in hearing about him talk about her.

“Take em out the Hood, Keep ‘Em Looking Good, But I don’t Fucking Feed ‘Em. – Jay Z, Big Pimpin‘.

In fact in this post Britini Danielle @ Clutch Magazine discusses Wiz Khalifa claiming Amber Rose publicly and the proliferation of the “we don’t Love them ho’s comments on blogs.

I am interested in Black people being rendered as human being in pop culture and in there day to day lives at work, on the train and in the grocery store. Why? I want all people in general and Black folks in particualr to be rendered as human beings. Singing about how your lover likes his or her eggs is incredibly humanizing. Talking about how much you love them is humanizing as well.

Honestly, I prolly wouldn’t care how Jay-Z liked his eggs if Black men and women controlled how their stories were created, told, distributed.

1. If they could greenlight their own films and Hollywood and control how they were distributed.

2. If there wasn’t a need for documentaries exploring the “lack” of women in hip hop.

3. If there was a space for Black women in pop culture who don’t fit the “Long haired thick red bone” aesthetic. Peace to Jennifer Hudson.

Does pop culture have to be humanizing for Black folks? If no, what is at stake if it doesn’t humanize us. If yes, what does that look like?

Odd Future

The first time I heard a DJ spin Tyler’s Yonkers, I was like who the hell is this? The beat sounded bare like early Clipse work. As a blogger, I read about what music bloggers are writing about, often before or whenI listen to the music. In fact conversations tend to percolate in my twitter timeline before writer #Natureofthebeast.

Here is Odd Future at a show performing Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School. @1:42. 109,664 youtube views.

Here is Tyler the Creator’s Yonkers. 14 million + youtube views.

There as been a ton written about Odd Futures popularity on the Black and White blogosphere and with multiracial audiences.

In the Chicago Sun-Times profile by Thomas Conner, Odd Future members contend that,

Odd Future’s lyrics, they maintain, are preposterous artistic expressions rather than reportage or incitement to action.“Nothing is really serious,” Hodgy Beats told the Sun-Times this week from a tour stop in London. “It’s just like all the things in our music. It’s in the atmosphere, it’s in the world, and it’s in our lyrics. … I think it’s funny that people flip out about s— like that.”

In an article titled “Odd Future and the Middle Class White Music Geeks that Love Them” the author writes,

It’s the general consensus of music writers everywhere (almost all of them white) that Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All can do no wrong.  The 11-piece L.A. collective, consisting of singers, rappers, producers, and visual artists between the ages of 16 and 23, has been praised as the next Wu-Tang Clan, the future of rap, the ultimate 21st century hip-hop group, etc., etc.  Their confrontational lyrics and gritty No Wave approach to hip-hop seem to attract more people than they scare off.  However, almost all of this praise has come from middle-class white critics and fans with interests in underground music. A photo of one of Odd Future’s notoriously raucous gigs shows a sharp contrast between the black, teenage group members onstage and the pale, white, twentysomething audience.

What does it mean that the most laudatory voices for Odd Future are White Male “music geeks”?

Should Odd Future be able to make the music that they desire, for largely White audiences given the history of Black images in this country?

Beyonce x Jay Z x Odd Future

Earlier in the post I stated that there is a connection between how audiences see them. However, we can’t really have a conversation about Black people and images without looking at the history of Black images.

Dave Chappell walked away for a reason ya’ll.

So, what is the history of images of Black people in the US? Whitney Peoples in the article “Under Construction: Identifying Foundations of Hip-Hop  Feminism and Exploring Bridges between Black Second-Wave and Hip-Hop Feminism” gives a thorough explanation. She writes,

Much of mainstream rap music has been reduced to a never-ending obsession with monetary gain, appropriation of patriarchal notions of power, material possession, partying, women, and sex, all of which are secured and protected through the hyper masculine threat of violence. Mainstream rap music is most easily commodified because it represents ideas of blackness that are in line with dominant racist and sexist ideologies; it has economic potential only because it works hand-in-hand with long established ideas about the sexual, social, and moral nature of black people.
In other words, the images of black male violence and aggression that dominate mainstream rap music are highly marketable in America because of already existing ideologies of racism that long ago named the black male as supreme aggressor and physical and sexual threat. Similarly, the images of sexually available black women that pervade rap music are marketable because of already existing ideologies that designated black women as hypersexual and morally obtuse.
Peoples is essentially saying that mainstream rap and I would extend that to say Odd Future (they are clearly underground but beloved by “White music geeks”) is popular and earns corporations money because they affirm already existing ideas around black men being homophobic, violent and hypersexual.

Having written this, I am left with a few questions.
Does Odd Future get a pass because “White music geeks” have the power to legitimize rappers with a sizeable fan base who think that rapping about rape, murder and homophobia isn’t really that serious?

Does Beyonce need to write about how her husband likes his eggs?  What does it mean that a middle class woman, who earned $80M in ’07-08 , spent a significant portion of her career writing about men soldiers, men who hustle, etc?


Is it legitimate for Jay to have continued to rap about crackwhen he was a millionaire? Is this selling a fantasy of a certain kind of Blackness to young people of all races? Can the man who wrote about Big Pimpin’ write about his wife?