Hilary Crowe and Kristen Powell discuss the possibilities of intellectual and creative strap-ons.

Kristen: So, Hil, I introduced you to Odd Future a couple days ago. Since I broke my foot a few weeks ago I’ve been trapped inside reading the Internet, and you have been leading a more exciting life as an academic with really, really cool things to do. What did you think of them off the bat?

Hilary: Well, my intro was the video posted on their website, “Yonkers,” where Tyler, the Creator raps over one of the most interesting beats I’ve heard in a while. And eats a cockroach, vomits, and talks about raping women and murdering Bruno Mars until he ends it all and hangs himself. It was minimalistic, formalistic, and actually quite beautiful and interesting to watch. And to hear. And offensive! I think I gasped with every line and frame change. But you couldn’t deny his talent, and the visual intelligence of the video. In short, I was impressed and upset.

You’ve been aware of them longer than I have. What do you think about them, assuming you’ve had some more time to digest what’s going on?

Kristen: I don’t know, honestly. I listen to them a lot. But it would be inaccurate to say that I don’t get upset by what’s being said. The Bruno Mars thing? It shows up a lot, along with some digs at B.o.B. and that girl from Paramore who sings on “Airplanes.” Tyler’s super critical of what he considers homogenized mainstream music. A lot of what Odd Future does is about shock value.

Also, those killer beats? That’s only girl in Odd Future, Syd tha Kid. She’s AWESOME.

Hilary: Is that her voice on “Slow It Down”?

Kristen: I’m not sure. She doesn’t rap, and the only song that she actually did everything on was “Flashlight.” Her brother is also in OFWGKTA.

Hilary: About being shocked and upset by their music: I think it’s a good thing, and perhaps an admirable endeavor as an artist. In my own research, I’ve been thinking a lot about spectacle, and Guy Debord’s notion of the Spectre of the Spectacle—how fascination with one artistic creation and consequent over- reproduction leads to a depletion of its original meaning. Which I think gets to Tyler’s frustration with mainstream music. I’ve been nostalgic for spectacle, asking myself, “What is spectacle?” today, and whether anything can be truly spectacular again. Perhaps “upsetting” is the new “spectacular”?

Like, my eyes almost popped out of my head when I heard “Yonkers.”

Kristen: I mean, it’s not like being offensive for the sake of being offensive is new in music. The group’s gotten a lot of comparisons to NWA but Alex Vesey at Feminist Music Geek compared Tyler to Darby Crash. And damn, that’s apt. What Odd Future is doing, to me, seems to have a lot in common with punk. I mean, maybe I’m biased because I’m a huge punk devotee, but how is what Odd Future is doing that different from, say, the Sex Pistols?

Except Odd Future is talented.

Hilary: I totally agree. It’s that deadly combination of talent and knack for spectacle (and the DIY self-promotion that goes along with it). But punk was spectacular theatrically, if unsophisticated musically. Odd Future is like a throwback to the truly spectacular, like Victorian-era spectacular. I guess I was thinking more along the lines of the fact that these guys are young, intelligent, led by an extreme talent, and know how to present themselves to maximum effect/affect. I think it’s because of all of that, and their strong sense of self-determination and focus, that I think they break with punk. Also, a lot of punk was political, while I think Odd Future, at least from the interviews I’ve read with Tyler, is more social-political, specifically analyzing issues of race and class as it affects their (again, I guess I mean Tyler specifically) experience of being educated, pretty well-off, black kids. In an interview Tyler did with The Drone (posted on their Tumblr), he talked about how he dressed like a goth kid, listened to Good Charlotte, and was shit on for it. Basically, he’s angry, obviously, and he’s doing something productive and creative with that anger.

I guess I’m more fascinated with them from an art criticism perspective. Can and should we evaluate music based on content or form? I think this is why I have problems with the music: I love the sound, I hate the message. What’s a girl to do?

Kristen: Their level of spectacle, you’re right, is remarkable. It is interesting too, that Tyler was mocked for being into Good Charlotte and ended up choosing a mode of expression usually associated with young black men (like him). It reminds me of Harry Belafonte bringing calypso to the masses. Except opposite. Belafonte used his status as a “privileged exotic” to make a traditionally political music form seem safe, which was really subversive. Odd Future totally does the opposite; they use the medium expected of them to surprise and stretch the boundaries of what’s acceptable.

And I totally agree with with the form/content issue. I also showed you Lil B in the same breath as Odd Future, and what a huge difference.

Hilary: GOD, Lil B is so untalented, and I don’t think the form is that interesting.

Kristen: In particular, I showed you “Ellen Degeneres,” which we both found pretty offensive. But in “Sandwitches” Tyler also kind of puts Ellen down.

Hilary: I mean, sure deconstruction, as you mentioned, whatever. But really, it’s been done before, and done better.

Kristen: Exactly! They’re hitting some of the same points, but I’m definitely giving Odd Future a pass. Because they’re interesting. I think it’s kind of impossible to divorce the message from the medium, since the medium kind of is the message.

Hilary: I agree. But, then, what is the effect of this discourse—this unbelievable catchy, viral presentation and circulation of Tyler’s rape-crazy cultural commentary? I guess I’m concerned with how his words circulate and contribute to the visibility and social compliance with rape culture. Even if he is supposedly writing from the perspective of a serial killer, or so he claims about “Yonkers.” (I really freaking love that song, clearly.)

Why is it that when a man writes about rape, documenting the horror of it (as if he can imagine), it’s viewed as upsetting and important, it’s talked about, while when a woman writes about it, she’s being predictable, it’s boring, and nobody—except other feminists—bats an eye. Let alone devotes a lengthy Pitchfork deconstruction of the artist’s importance in culture. Are women just inept at choosing an effective medium? Or are women’s words so devalued that they can’t be recovered, even by a rap prodigy? Has a woman tried to do this? I am ashamed I’m not even aware of that possibly having happened.

Kristen: Honestly, Tyler’s obsession with rape is pretty indefensible. (Note: I kind of hate how we’ve reduced Odd Future to Tyler.) I would love for him to move on. I mean, I know, he’s what, 19? Young dudes love being shocking in the basest way possible. But, also, on “Bitches Brewin‘” (a Miles Davis reference no less!) he talks about losing his virginity to a twenty-six year-old. That’s interesting! That’s worth talking about! Guys never talk about losing their virginity, especially not in rap songs. That kind of stuff is ACTUALLY subversive. It’s not the musical equivalent of drawing a dick on a bathroom wall. Rap is already filled with assholes talking about bitches and hoes and whatever. Writing a song about rape is like drawing a dick over a urinal: there are already dicks everywhere. What I’m basically saying is, I’d like to see Odd Future use their powers for good.

Hilary: I mean, that still doesn’t get to my question about women as cultural producers of a discourse that runs counter to the musical equivalent of bathroom dick graffiti. Why do we ask dudes to mature and move on from their juvenile rape focus (not that we and they shouldn’t)? Why don’t we hold women responsible for creating a counter argument?

I think it goes back to the idea of the privileged position of cultural producers. These dudes did it themselves. DIY, and he got his video on MTV. Plus, I mean listen to those beats. He’s pretty fucking talented. But the bigger issue here, and I would venture to say also related to Lindsay’s post about women in film, needing strong characters: Okay, are we as women going to write those characters and make those films ourselves, or are we going to write about how someone else needs to make those films? Are we going to use our agency to complain or to create? Odd Future, I’d argue, uses their agency to do both—he calls himself “Tyler, the Creator” for God’s sake! If we don’t like it, time for us to talk back.

Kristen: Amen. Even the song I referenced before that Syd wrote all of is basically a ballad. Where are the subversive women in rap? Moreover, is there an acceptable way for women to talk about rape that would work in music?

Hilary: I would venture to say that yes, there is. Women could express the anger and violation they feel about rape perfectly in rap. Also, not that I agree with violence for violence, but why couldn’t women rap about murderous retaliation against rape? Tyler raps about killing his dad because he left him alone. Why not rap about someone who harassed the shit out of your body? I think a lot of times rape survivors are painted as passive, at fault, and unsympathetic because they are reluctant to report the violation. As if there are no consequences to rape for rapists. Or to rapping about rape. A bloody rap about revenge, I think, might make people rethink the passivity of survivors. (Or will it be ignored, because it’s expected/feminist, etc.? Not if it’s offensive enough!) And I would say that it’s possible these raps exist. I mean I think/hope they’d have to, but maybe the women who create them aren’t as good, or aren’t as good at self-promotion. I think it gets to issues of spectacle, gaze, and empowerment.

I’ve heard the argument that women aren’t confident enough to step into the role of cultural producer because they have no role models, or are cut down, or are worried and taught to worry about what people will say about them, always conscious and subject of a panoptic gaze (including that of other women). But the role model thing, I’m beginning to realize is partly bullshit.

I still don’t really have a woman I look up to, it’s all dudes. (Though I’ve recently struck Iggy Pop from that list.) None of them went to college (or at least finished college). They just did it. We could talk about the androcentric environment that contributed to their success, and not a woman’s, but the fact is we are a lot freer now and could theoretically do it. But either we’re not doing it or we’re not doing it as well, with as much conviction, bravado, or knack for spectacle (maybe because we are tired of being looked at?). But maybe I never did it like Ian MacKaye or John Waters because something in me placed just enough distance between what I saw in them versus me. Like the length of a penis.

Kristen: I see a lady call to arms in there. I think you just proposed a dick-measuring contest we could win.