The New York Times describes his new album “Goblin” as “spiteful, internal, confident, vitriolic, vividly bruised stuff, a shocking — and shockingly good album that bears little resemblance to contemporary hip-hop”. The Montreal half of Calgary born lesbian twin sister singing/songwriting duo Tegan and Sara, Sara Quin however calls his lyrics “sickening”, “repulsive and irresponsible”.
We are of course talking about none other than the brilliant Tyler, the creator. Who? Exactly. I had to wikipedia him too.
Now, according to my trusty, trusty wikipedia (STUDENTS! DO NOT DO THIS AT HOME!) “Tyler Okonma (born March 6, 1991), better known by his stage name Tyler, the Creator, is an American rapper and record producer from Los Angeles, California. He is the leader of the alternative hip hop collective OFWGKTA. He has rapped on and produced songs for nearly every OFWGKTA release.” There you have it.
I watched a few of his videos and read what the internet people have to say, and he seems like a pretty goofy, and sort of interesting twenty year old kid. He wears bright coloured knee socks, and says some kind of introspective things in interviews. It is possible that you could take his lyrics as social commentary…. I guess. He has a unique sound, and reminds me of both Will Smith as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Tupac at the same time.
Except that I don’t think Will Smith ever said this: Beat your bitch in her mouth just for talkin’ shit/You lurkin’ bitch? Well, I see that shit/Once again I gotta punch a bitch in her shit
or this: Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome/You got a death wish? I’m a genie, it’ll get done, or this: I’ll crash that f-ckin’ airplane at that faggot n-gga B.o.B is in/And stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn esophagus, or this: I just wanna drag your lifeless body to the forest/And fornicate with it but that’s because I’m in love with you, cunt
It’s easy to see why Sara Quin is outraged, posting on the Tegan and Sara website on Friday, “A Call for Change”.
Maybe it’s because I’m a human being, both a girl and a lesbian. Maybe it’s because my mom has spent her whole adult life working with teenage girls who were victims of sexual assault. Maybe it’s because in this case I don’t think race or class actually has anything to do with his hateful message but has EVERYTHING to do with why everyone refuses to admonish him for that message.
It is not without great hesitation and hand wringing that I enter into the discourse about Tyler, the media who glorifies and excuses misogyny and homophobia, and the community of artists that doesn’t seem remotely bothered by it. I can only hope that someone reading this might be inspired to speak out. At the very least, I will know that my voice is on record.
Meanwhile the New York Times asks: “Are the group’s lyrics reports of literal desires? The goofs of misguided kids? Does the difference matter?” Sara Quin thinks that words matter a lot. When a singer talks about killing women and faggots, their words do matter.
But then you listen to Tyler’s lyrics like this, and you wonder if we are all missing the point. Is it all a critique? If it is, what does it all mean? WHAT DOES IT MEAN? i’m not homophobic….faggot/what the fuck is a good performance? i get on stage and have as much fun as i can.
Even his fans seem to know that his words matter. An NME article states: “It’s an album that leaves you in no doubt that Odd Future’s leader is a rare talent – a brutally funny motherfucker with an imagination that squirms like a tub of maggots, old enough to know that words leave bruises but still young enough not to give a fuck about the consequences.”
Lots of people have been evaluating both Tyler’s lyrics and Sara’s response in terms of offensiveness, which I think is the wrong term, but the appropriate sentiment. I think that we do her critique an injustice just to say that Tyler is offensive or that he is offending women and gays. What I realized when surfing the internets is that we are often misguided about what the difference is between offense and the incitement of hate, and how to evaluate the repercussions of each. Let me put it this way: I think there is a clear and objective utility to offense and to offending.
Rhetoric, music, literature are all mediums in which we discuss and evaluate cultural norms and ideas, in which we offer criticisms and opinions. Offending people, offending others – regardless of how impolite it might be – is not, in my opinion, morally wrong or even dangerous. Attacking ideas and beliefs is what we do in law, in literature, and in music. There is no gravity in offense, so long as offense is an exchange of ideas and beliefs. Yes, words are important. Words have meaning, but those words are what we use to articulate our ideas and beliefs and to argue, to offend, and to attack the ideas of others and to express our own. Offense is a big part of democracy and of the free exchange of ideas.
Now, in an NME interview, Tyler responds to accusations of homophobia:
I’m not homophobic. I just think faggot hits and hurts people. It hits. And gay just means you’re stupid. I don’t know, we don’t think about it, we’re just kids. We don’t think about that shit. But I don’t hate gay people. I don’t want anyone to think I’m homophobic.
So this is where I take offense… no wait, not offense. This is where I object to the entire idea of offense, and where I differentiate between offense and the categorization and obscenification of an entire group of people. Tyler’s claim that “gay just means you’re stupid” is beyond offensive. It incites hate, stereotypes, and denigrates a group of people. This is what we consider hate speech.
Hate speech is not hate speech because it is offensive. It is the categorical denigration of a group of people based on a shared characteristic and is deemed hate speech because it encourages and incites violence, intimidation, and hatred towards that group. This is what Sara Quin was calling out. Not his offensiveness, but the fact that he is – with laude and congratulations – not insulting, but inciting hatred. And THAT is something by which we should be profoundly offended.