I've been listening to a lot of the catalog of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, aka "Odd Future" -- the hiphop collective out of LA that is garnering a hefty amount of critical acclaim, and no small amount of criticism for their dark and brutal lyrical content -- often centering around dark murder/rape fantasies, misogyny, homophobia, and so on. For a brief intro, see the lyrics to Blow, or VCR. Much has already been written, so I won't reiterate what's already been said.. The charisma and appeal of the music itself is undeniable -- and it's the primary reason that people are so excited. But not everyone is convinced. In one corner, we have the apologists, decrying criticism by pointing out that one of the members (Syd, their producer) is herself a lesbian, and drawing parallels to predecessors like Eminem, Cam'ron, Clipse, et al, whose lyrical content is alternately fictional or at least not meant to be taken at face value: shocking for shocking's sake. In the other corner, we have the (usually sympathetic) critics, who acknowledge the musical prowess but are not content to dismiss the content as childish antics or shock-value provocation: rape, homophobia and misogyny are problems that are simply too real to chuckle at or turn a blind eye to.
My jury is still out, but I think my take is pretty well summarized by feministmusicgeek:
This brings me to the major source of my boredom, which emanates from being too grown for this nonsense. I don’t think Odd Future are subversive. I think they need to grow up. I would like them to broaden their scope, hone their skills, and diversify their lyrical content. I don’t necessarily think they should get into message rapping or “elevate their people” or any of the other things white liberals ascribe to young black people who make them uncomfortable. I also think that some folks’ objection to the group’s rape narratives stem from the racist myth of the black sexual predator, which the group may be responding to. However, I think I’m meeting people more than half-way on that one. Because I never, under any circumstance, find rape funny. I also cannot abide by any of their casual homophobia and jokes about ass rape.
To me, there’s little difference between the intent of many of their rhymes and what the kid who sat next to me in the first grade was trying to accomplish by flipping his eyelids. Or what a high school acquaintance was after when he said that girls who get raped should just lay back and enjoy it. Or why young men (Tyler among them) develop obsessions with A Clockwork Orange (I recommend they read Gary Mairs’ critique of its legacy before donning bowler hats). Or what a group of homophobes are up to when they wail on a couple of gay men leaving a bar. It’s supposed to seem bad and cool, but it’s just childish and frequently awful. And please don’t tell me that as a feminist I have no sense of humor. I do. I’m also really funny when I go off on a rant or spill queso on my shirt. I’m just not laughing because you aren’t funny. You can do better. Odd Future can do better, but I’m not willing to give them the mantle of the new big thing until they do.
I'm inclined to agree. There are a lot of things going on here -- the debate in a lot of ways reminds me of the Penny Arcade "Dickwolves" controversy. I read a lot about that whole thing and I think I can safely say I sided pretty heavily with the Penny Arcade dudes. Rape (or anything else) is not offlimits for art -- and that includes humor. As for Odd Future, it's pretty clear that they're not actually kidnapping, homophobe ass-raping misogynists. But I'm also just not convinced that anything worthwhile (with respect to the shock value) is being said.
Aaaaaand then you have Nostalgia, Ultra, the new album by Frank Ocean (a OFWGKTA member), which is a pretty solid more-straightforward R&B effort that's worth checking out on its own. It certainly provides an interesting contrast to the rest of the OFWGKTA material.