4Apr/1125

Blog Watch Edition 9: Odd Future, Again and Again

Everyone’s talking about Odd Future but most online writers keep a cool distance between themselves and the collective’s actual musical content. Details after the jump.

Cord Jefferson isn’t shy about revealing the heavy handed agenda that drives his piece “Odd Future’s Odd Fan Base,” in which he encourages readers to eschew careful listening and simply trust him when he suggests that the group’s members “always … rap about rape.” Skeptical? Jefferson assures us that anyone who has “read anything about Odd Future recently, or listened to just a few of their songs” will find that the collective “specialized in gross-out rhymes.”

This isn’t true, strictly speaking. Aside from Earl and Tyler’s albums —which both cover plenty of topical ground outside of rape and murder—- Odd Future’s material is pretty low on gore and mayhem. But Jefferson has a point to make, a story to write, and an agenda push, so it’s important that he dissuades you from embarking upon your own analysis and arriving at your own conclusions.

Jefferson is thoroughly disinterested in context. Whether lyrics are recited in an angry or tongue-in-cheek manner, included as details in a fantastic narrative, or woven into somber reflections, they all fall under the umbrella of “gross-out.” By generalizing about Odd Future’s musical content, while insisting that such generalities can serve as the foundation of valid critical claims, Jefferson prepares us for his main argument, which is that Odd Future’s popularity is attributable to white critics “fetishizing black male rage.”1

Jefferson defuses the simplest logical refutation of this claim by admitting that Odd Future have some black fans2 but quickly dismisses this curious fact because it doesn’t accord with his theory. Plus, it demands a more thorough and nuanced examination of their music than he seems willing to commit to; in the article he only mentions to listening to three albums associated with the collective.

Dom Passantino points out that Jefferson might have been on to something in claiming that “indie”-oriented3 critics have been warmly receptive to Odd Future, but also claims that Jefferson loses his way when he attempts to attribute this friendly reception to racial matters. A better explanation for any apparent disparity in coverage, Passantino notes, is that Odd Future have been essentially boycotted by popular rap-centered blogs like NahRight, for …. publicly dissing popular rap-centered blogs like NahRight.

Jefferson sells us a narrative of a tradition of cultural tourism. The story goes that white audiences strap on their safari hats and gleefully embrace figurative expressions of black male rage, but then hypocritically register disgust if the same figures move on to real life violence. Passantino feels no other urge than to mock this idea outright. Though it’s a silly notion, it isn’t without precedent; it reminds me of instances where Rick Ross’s fictional crime lyrics are treated as worse transgressions than if they were actually carried out.

In “Here Comes Some Odd Future Backlash,” Amos Barshad refutes Jefferson’s spurious claims that “Odd Future’s lyrics break new boundaries of civility.” He points out that Eminem, a white rapper lauded heavily by whites, wrote songs that were just as gruesome as anything penned by Tyler or Earl, one of which is a fantasy about slaying the real life mother of his child.  He further notes that it’s difficult for rational adults to consider the most outrageous lyrics of Tyler or Earl as anything more than “winking provocation. “But like most other writers who theorize about Odd Future’s reception, Barshad doesn’t engage in close analysis of their music.4

Barshad instead defers to Nitsuh Abebe’s problematic think-piece, which attributes the press’s embrace of Odd Future to a more general “critic vs. civilian” divide. In this narrative, critics are positively smitten by the collective’s angsty, alienated, smart-ass self-expression, while non-critics run from their music, horrified and offended. Abebe penned a follow-up piece for his own blog in which he suggests that Odd Future’s gory, nihilistic side is the least interesting part of their appeal. Rather than examine other aspects of their music, however, he focuses on lyrics with misogynistic and homo-negative overtones, quietly denouncing them as divisive and alienating motifs.

In “Hip-Hop’s Great Gay Hope: Rainbow Noise” Brandon Soderberg observes that openly homosexual rap group Rainbow Noise’s employs the kind of motifs that enrage online critics when Odd Future drop them. These motifs —namely “will to power agression,” “mackin’ bitches,” references to physical and sexual abuse— position Rainbow Noise to defy both the “political correctness vortex” of rap’s detractors as well as the homo-negative attitudes of many artists and fans. In Soderberg’s estimation their transgression is constructive, even positive.

Soderberg also correctly notes that the members of Odd Future, by virtue of both their age and their affiliation with openly lesbian engineer/DJ Syd, are probably not unreconstructed homophobes. Both Odd Future —whom Soderberg notes are at least partly influenced by figures like Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West who have made public pro-homosexual statement and gestures— and Rainbow Noise, it stands to reason, are engaging in similar transgressive play to ends that are different but not opposite. This level of insight cannot be gleaned if one limits his criticism to denouncing every single usage of the word “fag.”

Andrew “Noz” Nosnitsky previously noted that the criticism directed towards Odd Future’s lyrics is never redirected at rappers who rap or speak casually about assaulting or killing other black men. I’m curious then, if the same critics who consider Odd Future to be purveyors of exclusion and even instigators of hateful violence are willing to hurl similar invectives at an openly homosexual rap group like Rainbow Noise.

If not, one has to wonder whether or not these critics are more interested in policing (heterosexual, male, black) artists whose decontextualized lyrics offend their personal sensibilities than providing the public with fair, rigorous, incisive critiques of musical content. The latter requires that writers sit down with a piece of music and listen to it, again and again,5 while the former only requires the briefest perusal of articles written by people of the exact same ideological orientation and cool distance from the music in question.6 — Thun

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  1. g points out that the “cultural voyeurism” argument is nearly as old as rap itself. []
  2. Conveniently, he doesn’t acknowledge the fact that Odd Future has been lauded by black critics. []
  3. “Indie” of course being synonymous with “white.” []
  4. Even B Michael Payne’s objective if overthought analysis of Odd Future is more focused on their controversial appeal than their music. []
  5. Abortatron insists quite sensibly that his readers  take the time to listen to carefully Odd Future’s music before denouncing their content; I cannot understand why this position seems to be so unpopular. []
  6. Nick Southall opines confidently at length about Odd Future’s allegedly objectionable content despite admitting to not having listened to one second of their music. []

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26 Responses to “Blog Watch Edition 9: Odd Future, Again and Again”

  1. I’m not sure my piece involves me “[opining] confidently at length about Odd Future’s allegedly objectionable content”; they are a very brief mention as a way in to discussing the idea of objectionable music as a whole.

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    • Thun says:

      While it is true that your the majority of your article is not centered on Odd Future, they comprise much more than a brief mention. By “at length” I meant relative to internet writing, and I stand by my statement. For several paragraphs, you discuss their music, its effect on the listener, its social impact, its appropriateness, and its appeal, all before having completed downloading their material. It’s certainly your prerogative to do so, but you can surely expect that when you make claims about music you haven’t given so much as a cursory listen, ears will prick and eyebrows will raise.

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  2. done says:

    If these music critics knew a little bout the music they judge I wonder if theyd be as concerned with it’s sociological impact. With that said rap really is held to completely different standards, there was always that “play the record backwards” type stuff with other genres but nah. RNT and Yayo both made good points bout how its judged differently the other day actually.

    The young black male argument is spot on, it was before my time but didnt NWA and Ice-T have to kill cops before Tipper Gore and em started the pr campaign? Think Buchwick had to fuck some dead lady too.

    “Nick Southall opines confidently at length about Odd Future’s allegedly objectionable content despite admitting to not having listened to one second of their music.”

    – ah now. That and The Root peice had me rollin, it should really be a lot harder to get a degree in journalisim.

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  3. WattsUp says:

    oh good, another blog about Odd Future. Definitely why I subscribe to this blog. thanks man.

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    • Thun says:

      Odd Future are

      a) Very good at rapping
      b) Frequently denounced for the content of their lyrics

      They are relevant even to the aging hip-hoppers, at least those who retain a curiosity/concern about the current direction of the genre. The criticism of their music is in some ways a throwback to Tipper Gore/PMRC/Bob Dole/ Reverand Calvin Butts/ C Dolores Tucker.

      I’m sorry that you signed up to this website specifically to avoid any discussion of them. I’ve been writing about them for months, though.

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  4. WattsUp says:

    whatever the quality of their rapping or lyrical content, I was under the impression that the point of this blog was to focus on the classic/golden era/old school side of the music. it says so at the top of my screen.

    Obviously people that like Wu or G Rap might like Odd Future aswell but when theres a piece on them on e’ry fuckin webiste I dont really get what you expect to achieve other than alienating this blog’s target audience. If you’re putting that much effort into your writing surley you’d prefer it to be read by a more receptive audience
    Maybe if you want to spend your days analysing other articles you could set up a side-project on a ‘media assassin’ tip?

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    • Thun says:

      What I expect to achieve is discussion about hip hop. I’m one of the founding members of this site. Focusing on older hip hop doesn’t mean we have to report exclusively on it. It’s our site, we’ll make the call on what’s appropriate or not, thanks.

      I’ve gotten plenty of positive feedback for my writing that deals with more contemporary rap, so I don’t believe that I’m alienating my target audience here. Our audience keeps growing, so I’m skeptical of your claims that readers are unreceptive. If there are people who are so hardcore in their devotion to remaining mired in the past that the occasional discussion of a new artists is intolerable, I’d rather not have them as readers to be perfectly honest.

      Maybe it’s more a case of you needing to find a website that caters more closely to your tastes. You could always start your own blog, too. I’d prefer that you remained a subscriber; it’s not as if you can’t simply ignore the posts that don’t appeal to you. But you aren’t doing anyone a favor by sticking around and suffering if this is really such a huge issue. There are plenty of websites that focus strictly on past music and will never even acknowledge Odd Future.

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    • Thun says:

      BTW, do you also post here as DJ Step One and EihtHype? I’m asking because you share the exact same IP address. Also, you already expressed displeasure at the Blog Watch feature last week.

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      • done says:

        Yeah man its not really very hard to skip posts that your not interested in. Your tagret audience should be whoever’s interested in great writing, not posts that strictly pandersto some narrow interpretation of whats appropriate for an old-school blog. It never hurt Fat Lace much. (though them stopping the updates did. Come back!) I seem to remember EPMD having some song about giving the people what they want. Chuck D too – “give them what they dont know they need”.

        Thun youv been readin from the Dom P handbook, pulling out the IP adresses on em.

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  5. Victor says:

    Once again good work Thun. I think this is a relevant discussion in the sense that it re-opens the debate on the impact of hip hop culture and the differing standards that it is held to. Odd Future are, at this moment in time, in the lane once held by Eminem, it is very odd that in this day and age, where comics, film, much of tv and many other forms of media do not recieve this level of critique for “distasteful” content. It is important to try and find out why hip-hop is privy to the kind of blind journalism you mentioned.

    I haven’t listened to much OF but considering the content we encounter on a regular basis nothing I have seen or heard even approaches the truly shocking. It’s almost as if it is thought that the black populace are unable of filtering entertainment from real life.

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  6. I can definitely see why people would have a problem with the content of Odd Future’s lyrics–I personally find a lot of their songs to be over-the-top and purposely constructed to offend. You can’t deny that a large part of the OF catalog consists of shock value raps–obviously they’re more than that, and I’m not trying to typecast them completely–but it DOES play a prominent role in both their popularity and controversy (both of which are a bit overplayed at this point).
    At the same time, I think you (and done) tend to dismiss all criticism against Odd Future by using the excuse that “Rap is held to a different standard.” Well, it definitely is in some respects, but not really when it comes to content like that found in Odd Future’s music.
    Critics hated the French film “Irreversible” for depicting rape–no holds barred and completely uncensored–for several minutes. It was panned by a tonne of critics and a lot of people hated it, even though it was anything BUT glorifying it.
    Odd Future on the other hand, despite being rather facetious, DOES glorify a lot of that crap, and they DO rap about rape/misogyny A LOT. So it makes sense that they would catch flack for it (quite frankly, more people excuse the content in Odd Future’s lyrics today than those who excused “Irreversible”‘s rape depiction). So no, in certain areas rap isn’t judged differently–nor should it be.
    Is Odd Future the first and only group to do all of that? Of course not… Not at all. It doesn’t mean the criticism isn’t valid, though.

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    • done says:

      While I do agree with what Thun says in these posts a lot of the time its not really fair to him to just lump us both together on one “side”, especially considering he has a lot more clearly defined stances on this shit than I usually do and is able to articulate them a lot better.

      The post isnt decrying that people are offended by Odd Future, simply that that seems to be the focous of everyones criticism with nary a mention of the music. you know the actual reason we care in the first place. While its near impossible to be fully objective and ignore how content affects you in any worthwhile criticism it shouldnt be held up as the only relevant and definiting charachteristic of the group’s music, especially when its realy not, as anyone who has listened to them at length would tell you. While I dont think people should ignore the rape/homophobic content in Tyler and Earl‘s work they defintly shouldnt remove it from its context where its fairly obvious if youv gained any understanding of their music that its not endorsing that stuff or even neccisarily irony, just mostly facetious shit-talk from some kids who think theyve flipped whats offensive to a lot of people into a daily word. Whether theyve succeeded or not is a different conversation.

      Rap music is without a shadow of a doubt held to different standards.
      Patti Smith released a song called <rock and roll n**ger long before NWA that didnt seem to raise as many eyebrows and is in fact quite well respected (again context, whether or not you think its cool for a white lady or 5 black men to use the n-word should be kept relative to the intent and circumstances its used.) and I sincerely doubt a rap group called Anal Cunt could have got off the starting blocks in 1988. These are just afew examples but seriously, rap music thats mysoginistic/violent towards black men & women is judged far disproportionatly to homophobic or anti-white content, not to mention anything particularly politically/socially subversive.

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  7. Teddy C.D. says:

    Also, bringing up Noz’ point that critics rarely attack rap music for “promoting” black-on-black crime is valid, but it doesn’t justify, excuse, or defend rap in any way from the areas that cause the most controversy (ie. misogyny and homophobia). I don’t know why we even bring it up like it’s a suitable defense–it’s a completely separate topic that needs to be addressed as such. It’s like when people defend Mike Vick’s bullshit by bringing up how OTHER athletes got lighter sentences for drunk driving– BOTH are bad! They’re two completely independent cases; just because one is treated lighter than the other doesn’t mean the other should be excused as well.
    Now, I believe in free speech after all, and frankly a rapper has the right to say anything he/she damn well pleases. And I’m fine with that. If I don’t like what I’m hearing, I won’t listen and I sure as heck won’t buy it–not that I like censoring in any way, shape or form.
    But at the same time people have the right to criticize AND the right to be offended, and I can understand why they do both.

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    • Thun says:

      I feel like we’ve arrived at this impasse at least three or four times before, so right now I’m going to respond as clearly and forcefully as possible. If you continue to refuse to address the majority of points that I make and attempt against all protests to steer the discussion in the direction of generalizing dogmatic statements that accord with your pre-established views, I’ll simply refer back to this post, as there will be no need to repeat myself.

      1. Nothing in this post, or any of the Blog Watch posts that deal with Odd Future, expresses surprise or incredulity in regards to anyone’s visceral response to Odd Future.

      2. Nothing in this post, or any of the Blog Watch posts that deal with Odd Future, suggests that people do not have a fundamental right to respond to any work of art in whatever manner suits them.

      3. Nowhere in any of my writings is a denial that Odd Future’s catalogue includes lyrics that some might find objectionable, distasteful, offensive, politically incorrect, upsetting, etc.

      4. This article does not advocate the idea that Odd Future are above criticism. It simply calls for critics to employ logical consistency and a modicum of objectivity when writing critiques. As an extension of this, the article asks that critics get closer to the music they are criticizing (you know, actually listen to it) and analyze it for its own qualities, rather than letting their most visceral responses, be it conservative pearl clutching or insane fanboyism, guide their analysis off a proverbial cliff into a ravine of nonsensical babble.

      5. Rap is most certainly held to a different standard than other music forms, and white and homosexual rappers are apparently held to a different standard than black, heterosexual rappers.

      6. I disagree with the notion that Odd Future’s discussion of rap/misogyny etc. is a unilateral glorification. Can you explain how you arrived at the conclusion, using examples? I’d appreciate it if you didn’t capitalize entire words to emphasize points and relied on citing evidence from the music instead.

      7. Let’s define our terms more precisely. There’s a difference between “valid criticism” and an “understandable response.” See points #1-5 for further clarification.

      8. Noz’s point has nothing to do with defending lyrical content, because all of these articles presuppose that adults do not need critics to object to content. This is an issue of prorportion and perspective, not right or wrong. Your Vick example doesn’t apply here, as I do not consider the rapping of lyrics to be a crime that needs to be denounced as “bad.”

      9. Nowhere has it been suggested that anybody should be denied the right to criticize or the right to be offended. Quite the contrary. How this eludes your comprehension is kind of mind-boggling, with all due respect.

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      • Teddy C.D. says:

        Capitals? REALLY? It looks like you and done both completely missed the point of my Mike Vick comparison. No, I was not comparing a real crime (a terrible one, at that) to writing rap lyrics–re-read what I typed or don’t reply at all. I think I’ve been pretty clear on everything so far; I’m not getting where you think I’m overgeneralizing. Have I seen you quote Odd Future lyrics directly in your pieces to disprove any of these so-called “generalizations” that critics and detractors alike are making? (Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I’ve seen it). I also haven’t seen you address any actual lines from Odd Future songs–the “controversial” lines especially–in disproving anything the critics have had to say, or in defense of the actual music.
        All I’m saying is, though I don’t find Odd Future’s music appealing enough in the first place (that’s just my opinion) to be outright appalled and up in arms about their content, I do understand why other people would be. And I don’t see why you or anyone else would have a problem with it–overall I think the “controversy” is being blown way out of proportion, both from the OF detractors and their fans/supporters trying to disprove of it. Most of these critics you’ve been citing aren’t even conservatives, and I don’t think conservatives would actively take the time to criticize Odd Future in the first place (they probably wouldn’t even know who they are). If anything, that’s the real sweeping generalization here.
        Anyways, it does look like we’ve been going around in circles. It’s all good. Keep doing what you’re doing; I don’t care about Odd Future nearly enough to keep this up, though my original opinion still stands. And I know what you’re going to say (“Then why are you commenting in the first place?!?!), but I’m just giving my two cents–not trying to shit on your piece or anything like that.
        If anything, the diametric points of view concerning Odd Future end up working in their favor. “They scream obscenity, but it’s publicity…”
        I’ve said just about all I have to say on this matter. I probably won’t be continuing the discussion. I appreciate the subtle condescension, though. 😉
        Peace, fellas.

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    • done says:

      I think Noz’s point wasnt that it justifies it, just that it demonstrates how narrowminded and selective the critical reaction is. If your going to judge some of it, judge the rest too, which includes <the actual music. No ones arguing that they should be excused for their language cos everyones mean to the rappers, its not fair, just that music critics start doing their job and listening to the music they critique in its entirety.

      Mike Vick commited a real-life crime and should probably be judged accordingly. OF(TYLER and EARL) write rap songs that occasionally contain potentially offensive content, how that should or shouldnt be judged is not as straight forward as you make it sound. keep it in perspective.

      Sorry if i just parroted your points Thun, ha some of that language was a bit hard for me to understand tbh.

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  8. ESEUNO says:

    The KIDS are ill. I dig ’em.

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  9. Bjack says:

    I appreciated your thoughtfulness here. Good piece.

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  10. scjoha says:

    Re: the Cord Jefferson article: Jefferson seems to imply that 2dopeboyz, nahright, and XXL are “black press”:

    “Not that Odd Future doesn’t have any black fans, of course — hip-hop heavyweights Questlove and Mos Def are both major supporters — but the disparity of buzz for Tyler et al. between the black press and the white press has been interesting, to say the least.

    In its write-up on Odd Future, Pitchfork noted that the rap blogs Nah Right and 2dopeboyz have never given the group much coverage, a decision that has resulted in Odd Future’s trashing of both blogs in their songs. And on its most recent “Freshman Class” list, a rundown of all the best up-and-coming talent in hip-hop, XXL magazine found no room for Odd Future.”

    I heard that XXL wanted OF for their freshmen cover, but Tyler declined. Another point: Are NR and 2DBz “press” at all?
    But these questions aside: What constitutes black press? has it to be black owned (probably does not pertain to XXL. And I’m not sure who “owns” 2DBz – whether the black guy, Meka, or the white guy, Shake or if both have equal shares)? Or does it require a majority of black writers (don’t know if that pertains to XXL. Does not pertain to 2DBz. Don’t know about NR – is that Nation guy black or white? Whatever.) Or has it to deal mainly with black culture and adress black readers (well, is hip hop still black culture? Are the majority of readers on these three outlets black or white?)?
    Yeah, sorry, I posted this here, because I should actually ask Mr. Jefferson himself. But I don’t feel like registering at theroot.com just to post it as comment no. 111. And I don’t expect an answer from him. Like you already pointed out, Thun, Jefferson has to make a point, a story, so all these questions, that render it moot, are not to be considered.

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    • Thun says:

      Yeah man, it just goes to show that these writers are hesitant to employ a level of logic and objectivity than most readers. Just look at the comments sections of any of these articles I’ve linked and you’ll see fair, persuasive, insightful rebuttals from readers.

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