(UPDATE: Sorry y'all, I realized this morning that the video is no longer available via YouTube so instead of starting at a black screen, I pulled it.)
When I was at SXSW I was talking to someone who had recently seen Odd Future's showcase. "It was crazy, a mixture of Hip-Hop, but the crowd was nuts," he said. "People were stage diving, moshing...there were people puking, blood....it was one of the craziest things I've ever seen."
I was intrigued. I had heard of the LA -based Hip-Hop group by reading an article in Spin a couple of months before, and even though I don't listen to much ( well, any) Hip-Hop these days, I thought that they might be a cool group. I liked the fact that they were young, and had this crazy attitude, even thought I wasn't a fan of their music. Too Eminem-ish, which I don't like (or get) at all. I was interested in their live performance, which to me seemed pretty righteous - a mix between the Hip-Hop scene and a real punk / hardcore aesthetic - Perhaps two cultures mixing together? Cool.
After all, these are young Black kids who were influenced by a myriad of music and culture, I hoped, so perhaps their crazy live show was a symptom of that. Who knows? If so, kudos to them, because I really promote the idea that just because you are Black, doesn't mean that you have to ascribe to a specific culture and / or musical preference. A sign of their generation / times? I hoped so.
Over at The Root, writer Cord Jefferson talks about the uneasiness he feels over the his assumption that the majority of Odd Future's fan base are white:
For their part, it's not that white music critics and fans are self-loathing (at least, not all of them are); what it comes down to mostly is that whites have fetishized black male rage for years now, and Odd Future is just the latest testament to that interest.
This made me think: I knew from previous experience that despite the myriad of 'urban' artists at SXSW, that the crowds are predominately white. And that made sense, I guess, if Black folks from Austin didn't attend the Festival. Also, for a Hip-Hop group to be lauded in Spin and Pitchfork, chances are that it was a silent understanding to white folks that yes, this was 'urban' music that they could openly appreciate and attend shows.
Think I'm foolish? Years ago, I saw The Roots play twice in about a two-year span. While I love the band, there is no way in hell I would see them live again. The first time, while I noticed the crowd was predominately white, it didn't make much of a difference. Everyone was cool, whatever. The second time I went, it was at a different venue and there was maybe a handful of brown faces in the sold out venue, which holds about 1,500 or so. Again, I didn't mind too much, but I did mind when white kids were glaring at me and my friend, in that why are you here?' type of manner. My friend was like 'what the fuck?' we felt uncomfortable and left.
?uestlove has DJ'ed in Toronto quite a number of times over the past decade. The first time he came, me and my friend went, dressed in T-shirts and jeans and had a great time dancing in a predominately Black/brown/Asian club. The music was a mixture of old-school rap, some metal ( Slayer, Anthrax) and some deep House. The next year, the music had become a bit more Top 40 and more white folks showed up. The time after that, we were we pushed off the dance floor by overzealous white suburbanites and we left, never to see him play again. Both me and my friend felt that all of a sudden, we were not wanted there, even though the performer was Black. Yes, it was 'our' music, per se, but it felt like we were intruders.
Now to be fair, it isn't fair to pit music as this racial thing, where only Blacks can listen to certain genres and others listen to music by their own. But it is the crowds that make me a bit wary, because in reality, this seems to be exactly what is happening. So for Odd Future, it doesn't necessarily surprise me that because they are an oddball group, that their fan base veers more towards the melanin-challenged than not. Their music, while Hip-Hop, is more experimental, takes more challenges than let's say, Jay-Z or someone else (I wouldn't say Lil' Wayne, though). They are weird, and do not 'floss' like other Rappers do. Because of that, apparently Hip-Hop magazines have all but ignored them and alternative mags have embraced them.
By why is that so? The Root article suggests that its minstrelsy, and I tend to agree. The Village Voice points out the over-the-top violence in their lyrical content and wonders why the group is getting so much hype. However, if you read the comments ( which are more insightful than the article), people have their own opinion. Yes, there have been tons of white artists who have done the "I want to kill you and fuck your stump" thing over again....so why haven't they gotten the press?
Is there a vicarous thrill to see young black kids act like the stereotypical niggers that many feel they must be?
Is that harsh? I wonder. I think about how I cringed when I heard about the Kill Whitey parties, DJ nights where white Hipsters would go to all-white club nights in gentrified neighbourhoods and listen to the 'forbidden fruit:' Gangsta Rap. There was a sense of irony that made me feel uncomfortable, that the same music that talked about the objectification of women ( Black and Latino) was being enjoyed by those who would most likely never be a target of that misogyny and hate. They could chant 'nigga' along with the black protagonist, relishing the chance to say such a forbidden word amongst people who looked like them. It seemed as though it caused more of a separation between them and their neighbours, the poor minorities in which they were living beside, taking advantage of cheap apartments and bragging to their friends that they were 'slumming.'
For me, Hip-Hop...back in the 80's that is....was more than just a music form. It was Black folks telling stories about life. Some of that resonated with 16-17 year-old me, who was craving for something that could tell me about being Black. It felt that finally, someone was telling me that it was not only okay to be proud of who I was, but also that it was okay to feel angry. But the messages were motivating, to 'Fight the Power' and never show them your weakness, to stay strong and to fight for equality. These days? I really don't know what the Hip-Hop groups are doing.
I still applaud Odd Future, for just being buckwild and just saying 'I don't give a fuck.' They are kids - let them be. The rape imagery and the violence in their music? I am hoping that one day, they will stop, because it ain't humorous and in this day and age, while I applaud their brashness, this misogyny is pathetic and immature. I read an interesting comment from The Voice article that made me think:
Its justified because we will justify crime done to "them" to increase the power and identity of "us." he will not rape our women, he will rape theirs. its why historically the reward for an armies occupation of a foreign city is wholesale rape, as a rule. this is the reason for the prevalence of torture porn. And this is understood to be simply the way things work, we accept these things. Like we talked about the other day we maintain power through oppression.
Is that part of the allure? As with Varg Vikernes, it seems as though some people can separate the messages from the music. As long as they comfortably know that the singer / lyricist isn't talking about them, that is......what do y'all think?