To Odd Future rapper, ‘it’s funny’ that rape, murder lyrics anger people
BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org July 12, 2011 7:10PM
Tyler the Creator performs with Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All on July 2 at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. Though peppered with violent imagery, the group’s songs also contain much clever wordplay. | Gorm Olesen~ap
PITCHFORK MUSIC FESTIVAL
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◆ $45 for Friday or Saturday tickets (Sunday tickets and three-day passes sold out)
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Updated: October 25, 2011 12:30AM
They’ve been called “the future of the music business” for their freewheeling, Internet-based approach to recording and distribution. They’ve also been called “inexcusable,” “reprehensible” and “dangerous” for lyrics that are frequently violent, misogynist, anti-gay and anti-police.
They’re called OFWGKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All), and they’re a large, young, hip-hop collective that’s become one of the most divisive topics in music.
Odd Future, scheduled to perform Sunday at the annual Pitchfork Music Festival, has turned heads with some of the freshest sounds in hip-hop, heard mostly in tracks given away free online and on myriad solo projects by the group’s members. Their songs are wildly aggressive and boundlessly creative, the wordplay crazy-clever and surprisingly sharp.
But it’s those rhymes — peppered as they are with rape, kidnapping, murder and torture fantasies, blasphemy, homophobia, you name it — that have fixated the press and helped elevate this cult rap collective to the level of a Billboard magazine cover in March and last month’s in-depth New Yorker feature. And it’s the casual, matter-of-fact delivery of them that makes parents and activists apoplectic.
† “Kill people, burn s---, f--- school / Odd Future here to steer you to what the f---’s cool / F--- rules, skate life, rape, write, repeat twice” (“Pidgeons”)
† In the song “Splatter,” Odd Future’s biggest breakout star Tyler the Creator boasts of having sex with “your teen daughter … always against her will” followed by the same with “this grandmother named Jill.”
† In “French” a business plan is hatched that, for some reason, includes a sex act with the Virgin Mary.
At 20, Tyler and Hodgy Beats are the oldest of the mostly teenage group. 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.”
For some, it’s not enough to write off songs that mention rape and murder to being humorous or simply “not serious.” Several Chicago advocates for gay and women’s rights in recent weeks promised to protest before the group’s afternoon performance at Chicago’s Union Park. But the festival announced Thursday that local organizations, including Between Friends and Rape Victim Advocates, will have “an onsite presence at the festival” in the form of an informational booth in the park.
“When we didn’t have a booth at the festival, we were going to stand at the entrance to the Pitchfork festival and hand out 6,000 fans that have messages on them — one side lists resources for women who might be involved in domestic violence or a violent relationship, the other side a message about violence against women,” says Kathy Doherty, executive director of Between Friends, a 25-year-old domestic violence agency. “Now we have a booth and can still give out the fans as well as information there. … It’s not a protest, it’s an awareness-raising event.”
Odd Future certainly isn’t the first music act to terrify the predominately white media with tales of violence and gore, nor will they be the last. The once-hot controversies of N.W.A., Ice-T, 2 Live Crew and even Eminem are now so distant in pop cultural memory as to seem quaint. These Odd Future kids count the social pathologies of the Geto Boys (late-’80s pioneers of a subgenre called “horrorcore”) among their inspirations, as well as shock-rock groups from Black Sabbath to Slipknot.
“When I was 15, my tape collection consisted of Geto Boys, N.W.A., 2 Live Crew,” Mike Reed, a local music promoter and musician who co-owns the Pitchfork festival and oversees its booking, wrote in an e-mail to the Sun-Times. “At the time I thought it to be fun. I’m 37 now and have the maturity to see how silly it is/was. I’m not really offended by Odd Future but can see why people are.
“I think the factor that they are so young is also very shocking for most white media members. Not sure how much this is an issue in more African-American music press.”
Hodgy Beats, born Gerard Damien Long (not in Chicago, as many online rumors suggest) and raised in New Jersey, answered our questions in few words and fragments. “It’s hard being interviewed,” muttered the laconic rapper, clearly inexperienced and more comfortable slinging rhymes than speaking to the media. “I don’t like being asked a lot of questions.”
Reacting to the flurry of attention the group has received, he said, “The media is stupid. Niggers should ignore it.” He paused, perhaps considering the context of his statement, and added, “I’m honestly not mad at the media. They help sell records, I guess.”
He chalked up the gross-out element of the songs to boyish competition and bravado in the recording studio. “Sometimes it’s us seeing who comes up with the sickest s---, the most disgusting thing they can throw in,” he said.
Hodgy Beats and another Odd Future member, Left Brain, also work together under the name MellowHype. The duo’s self-released 2010 album “Blackendwhite” was reissued Tuesday by Fat Possum Records with extra tracks, and a new album, “Numbers,” is expected later this year.
Asked what’s the coolest musical sound the duo created for “Numbers,” Hodgy Beats said, “A bitch moaning. We got some sounds like a bunch of whores just moaning. It’s the most perfect sound you could use. It’s crazy. Imagine bobbing your head to bitches moaning. That’s what ‘Numbers’ sounds like.”
Near the end of our conversation, Hodgy Beats attempted to explain Odd Future’s lyrics in the context of street slang and evolving language. “There’s gays running around and s---, but when you call someone a faggot people think you’re talking about a gay person,” he said. When I asked for clarification as to how else he might define and employ the word “faggot,” the phone went dead. We either lost the overseas connection or he hung up.
Odd Future has one female member, Syd Tha Kid, a lesbian who also seems baffled by any controversy around the group’s lyrics. “People just choose to be offended by stuff,” she told Billboard. “If they are, then that sucks and I’m sorry, but they don’t have to keep listening. Words are words. They don’t act out what they say, they just say it.”
The group’s members have not made news for any actual violent acts. Tyler the Creator, a k a Tyler Okonma, was arrested in May in Los Angeles on a charge of disturbing the peace, then quickly released. Frank Ocean, the group’s R&B crooner and most likely crossover star, ranted online in April about being arrested in L.A. for unspecified charges.
Odd Future tickets have sold well in recent months as their live shows remain popular. (Though last weekend, the group’s set at Scotland’s T in the Park festival ended approximately 20 minutes early when fans began throwing bottles at them.) In March, Billboard reported that the group’s actual record sales have been “modest,” though Tyler the Creator’s second solo album, “Goblin,” debuted at No. 5 on the magazine’s albums chart in mid-May based on first-week sales of 45,000.
Doherty at Between Friends says she wants her group’s message to have the chance to compete with Odd Future’s at the festival. “We certainly believe in free speech, and with that in mind, Odd Future has the right to sing and use the lyrics they do. But the rest of us in Chicago have the right to balance that point of view with powerful messages of our own about violence again women,” she says.
“We work with kids in schools who often get caught up in lyrics but don’t think about what they say. So when we talk about that, then they begin to realize that other people using derogatory language — calling women and girls ‘bitches’ and language against gays and lesbians — can be presented as fun and not serious, but it really has a domino effect … and doesn’t send the right message about how we like to see people talk about each other.”