Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All is a controversial rap clique from Los Angeles that generates equal parts praise and vitriol from their listeners.
I submit, for your consideration, a tweet from Tyler, the Creator, de facto front man of Odd Future: “I Fucking Hate Ke$ha. I Will Sock Her In Her Fucking Mouth. Stupid Bitch.” Now, on one level, Tyler’s tweet is offensive and contains material that borders on legally actionable. On the other hand, I doubt Tyler is actually going to go out and punch Ke$ha in the face. Oh, and those aren’t typos — Tyler capitalizes every single word in his tweets and other writing.
Now whether or not you find Tyler’s tweet funny (full disclosure: I don’t find that particular one funny, but for the most part I enjoy him), you have to admit the lines it transgresses are serious ones — violence towards women, irrational hatred of strangers and the plain-ole misogyny of the word ‘bitch.’
Proponents of Tyler’s maintain that his rap and the persona he cultivates on Twitter connote a tongue planted firmly in cheek. I’ve had conversations with friends — female friends, I might add — about the clique confirming this suspicion. Further support for this hypothesis comes from a more recent tweet: “Clarissa Explains It All Was So Fucking Cool.”
These conversations, however, do not change the offensiveness of the art and the fact that Tyler’s stated mission (via another tweet) is: “I WANT TO SCARE THE FUCK OUT OF OLD WHITE FUCKING PEOPLE THAT LIVE IN MIDDLE FUCKING AMERICA.” Whether or not you find him funny or enjoy Odd Future’s music — it is, in my opinion, as important as Black Flag for similar reasons — it is clear that transgression is his mission. Like NWA before them, Odd Future are here and do not intend to leave quietly.
So far I’ve presented evidence to support the hypothesis that Odd Future transgresses social mores, but for what purpose? Is it enough to offend just for the purpose of offending?
Argument in favor of offense for offense’s sake is asinine — if we accept that transgression is enough to exclude art from criticism, then “Achmed the Dead Terrorist” protects Jeff Dunham from judgment as a hack, no-talent ventriloquist famous for dubious reasons — but offensive art can often be great art with its transgression at the heart of its greatness.
Richard Pryor, for example, made an entire career out of his ability to twist racial slurs and prejudice into groundbreaking humor. Muhammad Ali is considered great because of his boxing but also because of the uncomfortable truth of statements like, “No Viet Cong ever called me n—–.” Both of those men, and others like them, would lose some essential part of themselves if we reject the controversial aspects of their art. The controversy, in many cases, is much of the reason that such performance is considered great in the first place.
Now it could seem that I defend Odd Future because of the truth of their statements. This could not be further from the truth. I seriously doubt the veracity of the following lines: “Hopefully my dick don’t shrivel up, when it’s time to bust / In this rusty cunt, that won a cup in collectin’ dust / Boogyin’ with Jesus and a bunch of Nazi hoes / In the front row at a holy Justin Bieber show.” No, the reason I defend Odd Future is due to the humor of their transgressions and to the overall quality of their music.
Would I give an Odd Future tape to my grandmother? Of course not — she doesn’t like rap, and I doubt she would understand the Justin Bieber reference. Do I think this line is funny and part of an overall oeuvre of such quality that it demands acceptance? Emphatically, yes. I would rather listen to a constructed persona that transgresses social mores with skill than an artist who feels restricted to discussing only the things that Middle America (I mean both geographically and demographically) wants to hear.
However, the argument that Odd Future speaks to some sort of social issue by talking about boogying with “Nazi hoes” is just as ridiculous as the one that accepts offense for its own sake. These statements have merit as humor because they are ridiculous and untrue — Nazis attending Justin Bieber concerts would be a giant problem for more reasons than one.
Ultimately, Odd Future and artists like them must be judged independently of their offensive content. Yes, they offend and they do it on purpose, but they also bring phenomenal energy and artistic innovation to a form that has ballooned into an artistic obesity reminiscent of late-’70s dinosaur rock like Journey. Oh, and also: go listen to “Yonkers” — it’s the best.