Why We Should Maybe Stop Writing About Odd Future For A Little While (I Know, I Know, I’m Not Helping)

A teenage musical phenom records songs and videos on his computer, builds a dedicated fanbase through the quasi-meritocracy known as the Internet, and shortly afterward skyrockets to mainstream superstardom. We’ve seen this movie before, some of us even in 3-D: it’s called Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. But with next week’s release of one of the year’s most anticipated albums, Goblin, this might also become the story of Tyler, the Creator, the leader of the notorious, iconoclastic L.A. rap group Odd Future.

To speak ill of Tyler right now – let alone compare him to The Bieb – is enough to give plenty of music critics heart palpitations. Over the past year or so, Tyler and Odd Future (birth name: Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) have existed beneath a halo of buzz, composed of countless Wu-Tang comparisons, a few Sex Pistols comparisons, and an avalanche of online thinkpieces, most of which delve into some Very Important Questions. Can mild-mannered people enjoy violent music? What happens when an up-and-coming musical artist bucks the label system and uses the Internet to distribute music for free? What happens when adult white music critics create the critical narrative for a group of black teenagers? And also, are we allowed to like artists who glorify rape, as Tyler and his OFWGKTA cohorts do? This last question has been, arguably, the stickiest of the lot. And what’s made me feel more uncomfortable than any of Earl Sweatshirt’s verses have is that, with a few exceptions, it’s been asked and answered almost entirely by men.

This shouldn’t be terribly shocking. Much like filmmaking, composing, and the World Beard and Moustache Championship, music criticism is still an overwhelmingly male-dominated sphere. There are, of course, plenty of terrific female music writers challenging this imbalance, but the fact is that we are still in the minority, both at music magazines and in the publishing world at large.

And now, here’s a statement that I can’t back up with a pie chart, but hear me out: I suspect that women also read music criticism less than men do. I have developed this hypothesis through two highly subjective measurements: the feedback I get from my own readers, and conversations I’ve had with some of my best female friends over pizza. My findings: most of these readers are guys, and most of my best female friends don’t read music writing on a regular basis. I find this troubling and, as a woman who walks around in a near-constant state of stupefaction over all the wonderful things my male and female colleagues write about music, I don’t understand it. I tried to come up with a theory: Is it the inclusive notion of critical objectivity? For some women I talked to, this seemed to be the case. I asked some of my feminist friends: Are you less likely to read music reviews because the tone of their address often presumes that you already agree with male-defined value judgments about What Is Good, and as someone critical of all systems of male-defined hegemony, you don’t feel addressed by them because you don’t agree with what you’re already presumed to agree? “Mhmmmm,” almost all of them said. I wished they could have elaborated, but their mouths were full of pizza.

As a critic, I so badly want to eradicate this imbalance, to make more women write about music and to make more women feel more represented when they read about it, but I fear that the recent beatification of Odd Future is not helping either of these causes. This is because so many of the things written about them simply reflect back at female readers and listeners dynamics already prevalent in our misogynistic culture: how rape is constantly trivialized and misunderstood, and how speaking and writing critically about violence against women often precludes women other More Important conversations happening elsewhere.

In the past six months alone, the news in this country has felt a little bit like dialogue lifted from a Margaret Atwood novel. There was of course that ridiculous phrase in the wholly ridiculous HR-3 (the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act) – that the bill’s prohibitions don’t apply “if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape.” In one fell, adjectival swoop, the bill’s authors (spoiler: two white dudes) reinforced on the House floor the idea that rape isn’t a big deal unless it’s “forcible rape,” and, for that matter, that there can be a type of rape that isn’t forcible. There was also a much-criticized New York Times piece in which a reporter (also male) recounted the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in terms that felt more critical of the victim than her assailants (“They said the girl dressed older than her age, wearing make-up and fashions more appropriate of a girl in her 20s.” “Where was the mother? What was she thinking?” a neighbor wondered.) And the Internet flooded with loathsome comments at the news of journalist Lara Logan’s sexual assault in Cairo, some of which cost war journalist Nir Rosen his job at NYU’s Center on Law and Security. It feels almost surreal to have to ask, but which do you think is more distressing: the fact that someone felt the need to create an online poll asking “Is Lara Logan to blame for her sexual assault?”, or the fact that over 5,000 people (52%) answered “yes”?

My point is not just that people say all sorts of detestable things about women and rape, but that the boundaries of these conversations are largely defined and policed by men. To be fair, there are plenty of men doing vital and wonderful work to question and challenge sexism and the boundaries of rape discourse. But women’s voices are vital in these conversations, too, and sometimes I fear they get drowned out when there are too many male voices in the mix. These conversations also become stratified based on gender; we saw it pretty clearly in the things written about Julian Assange in the wake of the rape accusations against him. Those who wrote about the Assange accusations and what they revealed about rape culture (like online activist Sady Doyle) were often seen as writing about an outlying, niche “women’s issue,” while those who could “see past” the rape issue were able to debate “masculine” issues like democracy, privacy and freedom of the press.

I see this same stratification happening in the conversations surrounding Odd Future, too: those who reject their misogynistic worldview are seen as squeamish or easily offended – niche, feminist critics with opinions that don’t reflect the music establishment at large. Obviously, unlike Assange, no one’s implying that the guys of Odd Future really are rapists; they’re making art that highlights lurid and graphically detailed rape fantasies. And music critics haven’t exactly glorified this aspect of OFWGKTA’s music; in fact, most have written (and some very compellingly) of their uneasiness about enjoying songs that seem to revel in violence against women. And yet, after these internal debates, they all seem to come around, to say that the rape imagery is something we should “look past,” and that once we do, we’ll see the true value of Odd Future’s music. The near-unanimous opinion can be most pithily summed up by the title of the NPR Music article (written by a woman, Frannie Kelley), “Why You Should Listen to the Rap Group Odd Future, Even Though It’s Hard.” And though Kelley’s piece seems to be arguing against people who disagree, I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument as to why we shouldn’t listen to Odd Future.

Having spilt over 1,000 words on them at this point, I’d be lying if I said I’m not intrigued by Tyler and the rest of Odd Future: there’s something exciting about their gleeful commitment to DIY ethos, their embrace of the macabre, and their rebellion against the materialistic status quo of mainstream hip-hop (“I created OF ‘cause I felt that we were more talented than 40-year-old rappers talking about Gucci,” Tyler raps on the lead-off track on his mixtape Bastard). I think that most of their intrigue, though, lies in the critical narrative surrounding them; I’m still largely unconvinced that any of them are great emcees. Maybe Goblin will change my mind, but I have to say that I anticipate its release with a bit of a wince. I see the beginnings of a new, more inclusive and heterogeneous type of music criticism developing online (this especially feels true this week, after the release of the late feminist rock critic Ellen Willis’s collected essays and a highly publicized conference about her legacy), and I want as many women to enter that conversation as men. How do we make this happen? I think we can start by carving out more space for dissenting opinions, holding two-sided discussions about misogyny in music, and – though I realize I haven’t helped further this seemingly impossible cause – find some other artists to write about who aren’t Odd Future. TC mark

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    Nice critique

  • Dan

    Or we could try to begin a nuanced conversation about a difficult subject. I actually quite like this piece, but I fundamentally disagree with the idea that this is not something to be spoken about.

  • James

    What is it about music that makes impermissible to depict “evil” acts? Would one accuse a director who makes a film depicting a graphic rape scene to be “

    making art that highlights lurid and graphically detailed rape fantasies”?

    • eqv

      I'm pretty sure that the author of this article would argue that any kind of depiction of any kind of rape act is impermissible, in music or otherwise. That's just what I think, though.

      • Mick Kelly

        I'm pretty you entirely missed the point. The author clearly would just like us to take a look at what depictions of rape in popular culture mean both within the work and to consumers of the work.

        Depictions of rape can be used in so many ways, including to help audiences understand how it happens, and what it's _like_. But what is the meaning of Tyler's lyrics about rape? It's pretty unclear, and critics seem to gloss over that aspect, instead brushing past by saying it's just something you have to look past. It seems like something we should be looking more directly at, I think.

    • http://twitter.com/JosephErnest Joseph Ernest Harper

      Maybe I'm confused @1ef38abc99a9218dd3dd22b2a061601f:disqus , but I think it's not just the existence of rape in the music's lyrics. It's the fact that the rapists are the heroes. Maybe?

    • http://twitter.com/emceeharv Jack Spencer

      I mean, yeah, why wouldn't they? Where in the article does she say that it's okay elsewhere? I feel like a lot of people like to distract the issue, like, “Yeah, but there's like war going on and that's really bad too, so shut up”

  • http://rippedknees.com Ana K

    this is the best thing I've read of TC to date.

  • http://profiles.google.com/tmf.chrono Danatello Chrononaut

    Isn't statutory a kind of non-forcible rape?

    Just sayin'.

  • http://fwp.me Calvin Camus

    The “rape lyrics” media-cycle is so passe (I do concur with point I wish there were more music critics), what's more interesting to me is the leaking of Goblin and fans are forming opinions of the album without the usual sources of P4k/blogs etc. So,
    I wrote an essay explaining exactly where the leak originated from:
    http://goo.gl/Vn1HH

  • Casey

    swag

  • Paul

    “Inclusive music criticism”

  • Disco Vietnam

    The solution you're searching for isn't more female music critics Lindsay, it's more female musicians. If you have the courage to create and perform your music you've earned the right to say whatever you want, especially things that may offend people's sensibilities. It isn't the job of critics to police the creative discourse and concerning yourself with Tyler's misogyny does more to trivialize rape than any poorly written New York Times article. An army of new female music critics will only exacerbate that problem because any form of criticism concerned with anything but the art itself is fundamentally bullshit.

    I don't like Odd Future. I think they're frauds, unworthy of their hype and Goblin proves it. But it isn't because Tyler's lyrics are irresponsible, it's that they're poorly written, unimaginative, performed without any sense of joy over beats both uninspired and underdeveloped. We don't need more women to say that. We don't need to throw more people at the problem. If you truly want to “eradiciate an imbalance” then grab a microphone, a guitar, a keyboard, a drum machine, a pen and a pad and get to work.

    • professor bum

      There are many, many female musicians. I suspect it's harder for them to become popular, formerly due to the taste of labels and now more and more due to the taste of fans who have grown up listening to label-approved music.

  • Devil

    Bastard is an album, not a mixtape.

    I disagree. I think more talking about them more will help fuel discussion about difficult subjects, which we need to have. Ignoring them won't solve anything.

    Also, what is your response to the “we're rapping in different characters” argument? I'm not entirely on board and think that that argument is kinda BS-y, but I can't upright say they “glorify” rape as you do. The songs make listeners cringe, not go “oh, that sounds cool! I should try that!”

  • Chris

    These guys are doing this out of their juvenile disposition for attention. They aren't crazy, or ridiculous or even inventive. This isn't talent and expression needing to be emoted, it's a bunch of kids who know saying something ridiculous for the sake of being noticed WILL get you noticed in our culture. Scraping the bottom of the barrel for shock value isn't innovative, it's the antithesis of creativity. Create something new, rather than dredging the obvious.

    I'll stick to my Kool Keith thankyouverymuch. At least I know he's genuinely bizarre.

  • :-///

    Not sure if anyone of them is a good emcee? You're probably really concerned with 'real hip-hop' huh?

    • Kack

      Why can't she have her own opinion of what she considers good?

      • :-///

        my objection is with the dismissal of an 11 person crew because none of them are good emcees. that smacks of emitism. Waka Flocka is a terrible rapper, but he makes some great songs, Lil B isn't a rapper at all and he makes some of the freshest hip-hop out. Earl blows most 'real' rappers out of the water, if you don't like OF don't blame it on poor rapping.

        also I object to using OF as a vehicle to lament the lack of women in music writing, but whatever, were talking thought catalog here.

  • JonQ288

    Jet age of tomorrow and frank ocean are both apart of ofwgkta and neither of them use gross out lyrics. Also, you didn't take into consideration that these are young kids who are consciously trying to gross each other out, make fun of each other, and brag about things they feel are important. Basically they are acting like teenagers and yes it is irresponsible and yes rape is extremely ugly but they not only have been marginalized for being young and black in America but also by their peers for being interested into music and art that doesn't go a long with a stereotype the media portrays young black americans subscribe too (if you watched some of tyler's interviews you will hear him talking about that) which has made them angry, violent, and rebellious. Although this doesn't justify the glorification of rap it should be included when talking about the violence in odd future's lyrics. Also, you fail to recognize (in the article) that males can also be victims of rape. But I do agree that there should be more musical criticism from a feminine/ist perspective.

  • Kack

    I saw them at Coachella. They sucked.

    • Anna

      They feed off their fans. From what I've heard, most of the fans there had only heard of “Yonkers.” I went to their NYC show at Santos Party House in February and it was one of the wildest, most fun shows I have ever been to.

      • Greg

        @8572ca533069b5361c295bad88fd4b86:disqus agreed, this could be said about most shows th0ugh

      • Greg

        @5f05247682613040a82181f23058e997:disqus also, odd future feeds of small venues where they can cause riots…ironically, most of the lineup at coachella (and most festivals) are best seen in smaller venues(excluding you kanyes, eminems, LCDs, etc)..sooooo why spend the money??

  • Anna

    I'm a girl, care VERY MUCH about women's issues, and I find myself obsessed with Odd Future. I would be lying if I said I wasn't troubled by this, and somewhat confused as to why I listen to them nonstop everyday. Underneath it all, their music is so GOOD, and I have been bored by hip-hop for awhile, so their music is a breath of fresh air. I find their talent impossible to ignore. At the same time, their rape imagery is impossible to ignore, too. So, I find myself doing what other people have done – ignore that part for the sake of the music and everything else they are. I am not sure that is a good thing.

    Could you please point me to some female music critics that you like reading?

  • ellen

    2 things i want to add to the general discussion about OF:

    the self-made, skilled self-promoter artist has existed since long before the internet. creating controversy with shocking imagery, name-calling, and the cultivation of a distinct persona to generate hype and gain attention is nothing new. it's just a thing that some people always have and always will do.

    that said, i like Bastard. i also agree with you about a desire to see more female music critics. but one thing i want to see more of in the discussion of OF is writing about what is left in their music if you are going to look past some of those lyrics. i disagree with your assertion that tyler is not necessarily a good rapper. i think lyrics are at times imaginative and always well-executed over beats that are interesting and highly intertwined with the lyrics in a way that does not happen in most mainstream rap, where the rappers aren't the ones making their own beats.

    also, i especially like nitsuh abebe's obligatory OF essay.
    http://agrammar.tumblr.com/pos

  • http://twitter.com/emceeharv Jack Spencer

    Thank you for writing this, this notion has been at the front of my mind the entire time I've been following OF. I have noticed how a good chunk of the pieces about them, as well as the fans reactions, attempt to drown a feminine, or even a critical, perspective in favor of the fact that they're cool and exciting or whatever. Rape is “imagery” or “something to just get over” or “not a big deal” or “just being talked about, but that doesn't mean they're gonna do it”… Completely dismissive and ultimately regressive to the conversation.

    Earl Sweatshirt is a legitimately great MC in a number of senses; Tyler is great at energy and rhyme patterns but gets stuck with subject matter; Mike G, Domo and Hodgy are all decent but with a lot of potential; and Frank Ocean is the best RnB to come out in a long while. But their music is especially creepy to me in a society that thinks there is a difference between “forcible” rape and, what, nice rape? I do think it'd be good if the hype machine pulled back a bit so that this whole thing would be easier to digest and disseminate. Multiple perspectives are always crucial in any debate.

  • Francymommy

    “Why we should stop talking about misogyny in hip hop and music and start tackling real issues like gender and racial equity”

    Music is a manifestation of a cultural fabric. The cultural fabric in the US is tied together by colonial concepts of power, and so music will not reflect anything different.

    But your critique does not address the musical genius of those boys from LA who are actually changing the waves of hip hop and who do not just put out 100s of mixtapes filled with bullshit. Their music is deep and encouraging for people who appreciate good beats and talents rhymes.

    • professor bum

      She does establish that this is what pretty much every other evaluation of them says, and that she agrees. They're awesome.

      • Amro

        idk if she agrees. she mentions other critics might get heart palpitations if she speaks poorly of them. then she says she is intrigued by their aura, but doesn't think they're good emcees. this is not agreeing.

  • http://twitter.com/George20202020 George George

    For the record: OFWGKTA does NOT come original as 311 would hope. There is a whole genre of rap–Horrorcore– that has been around since the 90s, that OFWGKTA is mimicking. Gravediggaz are one of the originals in this category.Prediction:In an attempt for OFWGKTA to set themselves apart from Horrorcore, they knowingly/unknowingly will start bitting into the Death Rap sub-genere of rap. Inadvertently stepping on the toes, and ripping off rhyming styles/letter combinations of rappers such as Cage, Necro, and they like.In a nutshell:The only uniqueness that members of OFWGKTA display, is their ability to market themselves so heavily across the digital landscape. All and all, these guys have cultivated the skill-set of a new-age record label Web Strategist and should be compensated as such.

    • YoureWrong

      I disagree. OFWGKTA is not horrorcore. There's some aspects of the genre apparent, but I wouldn't call it true horrorcore by any means.

      • George George

        I agree. OFWGKTA are posers trying to bite horrocore: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H

      • Goblin Pierogy

        “We don't make horrorcore you fucking idiots listen deeper to the music before you put it in the box WOLF GANG.” quote from Tyler… soo…. ODD FUTURE

      • Augurae

        This is smart of them not to want to be labeled as Horrorcore marketing wise, or any genre as matter of fact which is why they don’t tell you which one they are.

        But unless you one of them personality stealing cocksucking fan who repeats everything they say including “oh no sir, this not horrorcore”…IT FUCKING IS.

        HORRORCORE = HORROR + HARDCORE RAP fags.

  • Ruthlezz

    I think we do, as listeners, consumers, web pirates, etc, have a responsibility to criticize lyrical content that we feel is at odds with our human values. For that reason, I'm doing my best to ignore Odd Future's music and still get upset every time I hear Kid Cudi's “Pursuit of Happiness” despite the infectious MGMT/Ratatat hook. Drunk driving is not cool. Rape is not cool. Not giving a fuck needs to stop being considered cool. We need to stop glorifying these things no matter how catchy and enchanting the music sounds.

    • http://twitter.com/straponheart Evan Hatch

      Tyler isn't trying to glorify any of this. Goblin depicts him breaking down while being fed by his alter-ego and killing all his friends, and Inglorious has him killing himself out of self-hate. He can't even listen to a lot of the songs he has made because it is too emotional for him. This is catharsis, not glorification. He even put a disclaimer on “Radicals” that states that it is all just meaningless bullshit anyways.

      • Ruthlezz

        I never said Tyler glorifies these things. The listeners do, by thinking it's cool or what have you. Maybe it's cathartic for him, but I suspect he's just writing the most vile lyrics he can come up with: a) for the thrill of it b) because it's selling. I've been a fan of gratuitously violent rap for years–I understand the allure. I'm trying to get past that and wish more people would too.  Just trying to avoid filling up my brain with meaningless bullshit.

  • SwagMeOut

    this is dumb. SWAAAAAAAG!

    • Ilovemusic

      agreed. one of the producers and dj of odd future is a a female. do more research.

  • http://twitter.com/straponheart Evan Hatch

    if you are “trying” to listen to odd future, rather than being drawn in by the energy and intensity of it, you obviously don't get it. kill people burn shit fuck school free earl.

  • KenjiSummers

    OF is smarter than 80% of the internet. I despise cultural critics that have not lived on both sides of the “fence”. We need to just let youth be youth, let them grow up and make decisions, whether good or bad.

    • Pinkthins

      Which fence would that be? And how does one live on both sides of it? At least this writer is articulating her ideas, whereas you’re just spouting platitudes.

  • Mina

    Let me begin by saying that this is probably the most personally relevant article I've read on Thought Catalog, maybe ever. As a woman struggling to bust in to the music writing scene, I certainly feel that I'm in the minority and find myself subconsciously masking my gender in some of my posts. I'm working to correct this, but it still begs the question, “Why should it matter?”

    Most of my fellow music enthusiast friends are also male, and I can't seem to pinpoint why in the world that would be. I've often been heralded by my male peers for being a girl that is “so in to music.” I don't get it, and I too wish this were not the case.

    That being said, I also happen to be eagerly awaiting the release of Goblin tomorrow despite my inability to stomach some of the lyrics. In response to your comments about the prevalent imagery of violence against women in OF's songs, I tend to view music and the presentation surrounding it as I would any other art form. Sometimes, the best thing an art piece can do is draw attention to an issue that might make people uncomfortable even if that was not the artist's original intention. Sometimes, I appreciate art the most when it in fact does make me feel uncomfortable. I'm not sure that this conclusively reconciles my utter disgust with rape culture in America [and arguably around the world] with my appreciation for Tyler and the rest of the OF crew, but I'm glad you started a conversation about it. It's good to know that I'm not the only woman/music enthusiast/feminist struggling with these issues. Thanks.

  • Cotton Davenport

    Tyler, the Creator is obviously not a rapist, nor does he condone rape. The lyrical content of his music does not necessarily represent who he his as a person. Tyler has many “alter ego's” which are basically vehicles for certain personalities or traits that he feels he, or everyone, has. Tyler, Wolf Haley, and Ace, the Creator are all different characters that Tyler uses to express different ideas.
    Tyler's point is that his music isn't really any different than say, a Hitchcock movie.
    What seems strange to me is how everyone points out the rape in his lyrics but not murder. He's not a murderer either, he doesn't condone murder, and I'm sure he doesn't feel like murder is nbd. Tyler also raps a lot about doing drugs, however Tyler is straight edge.
    My point is, Tyler's use of rape, murder, and drug use in his music is a way of expressing how he feels, because of depression, anger, whatever. Tyler says that everyone has these thoughts so why is it such a big deal when a black kid says them?
    Tyler, the Creator is undoubtedly an amazing musician and a huge success. If you feel uncomfortable with his lyrics, good. Rape and murder should make you uncomfortable, that's probably what he was going for.

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