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Nothing radical about Odd Future’s hate speech at Pitchfork Music Fest

Updated: May 9, 2012 9:38AM

For controversial rap group Odd Future, Sunday afternoon at the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival began with a little damage control.

Less than an hour before taking the stage in Chicago’s Union Park, members of the group delivered boxes of cupcakes to the anti-violence organizations on site — the same organizations manning booths and handing out paper fans containing domestic violence resource information specifically to counter what they saw as dangerous expressions of hate, violence and homophobia in Odd Future’s music.

“They took some of the fans, too,” said Amanda Wapiennik with Family Shelter Service. “One of them said, ‘See, we’re nice.’ I said, ‘We never said you weren’t.’ ... That’s exactly the kind of dialogue and exchange we’re looking for.”

It was nice while it lasted.

Odd Future’s set, at the height of Sunday’s swelter, was rife with the usual foul language and appalling exhortations to violence and misogyny — lots of “smack you, bitch,” “f--- the police,” “f---in’ ‘ho,” happy tales of “punches to the stomach” and advice to “shoot that f---in’ nigga, aim for the head,” and I lost count of the number of times someone shouted “f---in’ bitch!” — even while they gave lip service to opposing voices. Group leader and breakout solo star Tyler the Creator, his left leg in a cast for a broken foot, said, “A big shoutout to the domestic violence groups out here.” This came as the echo of the latest “f---in’ bitch!” died away and right before the next song, “I Got a Gun (You Better Run).”

Shock tactics simply are in the young group’s DNA, and the 15-song set was thick with the confrontation that’s caused such a fuss all year around their mostly free online recordings and raucous live shows. Problem is, the shock and awe is all they brought. Odd Future knows how to engage a crowd with nasty talk, stage diving (even Tyler, in his cast) and the mystical bond between crowd and performer created by the middle finger, but musically the 45-minute set was a very average hip-hop show. (Big Boi, on this same stage and nearly same slot last year, brought so much more.)

Members Left Brain and Hodgy Beats opened the show, dishing up a song from their reissued MellowHype album “Blackendwhite.” DJ Syd Tha Kid provided most of the beats and musical backing, thin as it usually was; Odd Future’s recordings sound much more inventive. At times, five members were prancing back and forth at the lip of the stage or diving over it. The whole thing was like watching a “Chinese fire drill,” but the often monotonous beats and hate speech was more like listening to Oi! (a punk subgenre) without guitars.

In the end, though, the rappers wanted us to know, as they repeated over and over, that they don’t care what you, me or anyone thinks of them. Before launching into “Pidgeons,” with its refrain of “Kill people, burn s---, f--- school,” Tyler dedicated “this beautiful song to everyone who don’t like me, every protester ... everyone writing a faggot-ass review of this show.” There was extra, unprintable advice for the latter, even though reviews like this one and other articles about the group’s controversy are likely the chief reason Odd Future has seen a spike in sales.

But of all the hot air, the most absurd thing the group shouted during “Radicals” may have been this:

“I’m radical! I’m f---in’ radical!” There’s really nothing radical about their potty mouths and juvenile gross-out humor. If anything, it’s old.

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