The fact that Odd Future rap about murder, rape, and other indefensible behavior has, without a doubt, been scrutinized. Almost all of that analysis, though, has attempted to defend the practice of listening to Odd Future as they rap about murder, rape, and other indefensible behavior. Today, Cord Jefferson at the Root offers a theory as to why that’s been the case: Odd Future’s hype is held up almost entirely, says Jefferson, by white music critics “fetish[izing] black male rage.”
The argument, boiled down, is: (a) white critics are freaking out over Odd Future but black critics have chosen to ignore them; (b) the reason for that is white critics have been lured in by the exoticism of Odd Future’s extreme “black rage.”
Okay then! First: It’s true that many sites generally identified as “white” — most notable among them, Pitchfork — have reacted positively. But is it really fair to say that there is a division between white and black writers? Jefferson points out that the popular rap blogs NahRight and 2DopeBoyz don’t post Odd Future stuff, and get called out on Odd Future songs for it. But Odd Future had been bashing those sites since before their material was noticed by anyone. That means the trajectory most likely went like this: Odd Future sent their stuff to NahRight and 2DopeBoys and were ignored, like countless other unknown rap acts are; then, by the time they started getting attention via other sites, they had even more targets to lash out against. NahRight and 2DopeBoys continue to ignore them despite their popularity because, you know, they continue to get shat on. It’s also just a part of Odd Future’s strategy. Whether they’d admit it or not, they know that acting antagonistic toward harmless popular rap blogs adds to their mystique much more than being regularly featured on harmless popular rap blogs ever could.
(Jefferson also points out that XXL left them off their recent “Freshman 2011” cover. But that doesn’t mean that XXL has exactly banned Odd Future coverage. A quick search on XXL.com pulls out the March 18 post “10 Reasons We Like Odd Future (Besides Their Music).”)
More important, though: Jefferson argues that Odd Future’s lyrics break new boundaries of civility:
In his earlier years, Eminem had some of the most violent lyrics around, and members of the Wu-Tang Clan have occasionally dabbled in rape talk. But neither of those entities — both of whom Odd Future have been compared to — ever really dealt in the kind of sustained, traumatic murder music that’s made Odd Future so big.
This is actually insulting to Eminem. On the early track “97 Bonnie and Clyde,” Eminem raps to his infant daughter as he drives to the beach to dump her mother’s body. Not made explicit, but certainly heavily implied, is that Eminem is the one who murdered her. And these are real people he’s talking about! Nothing Odd Future has yet done reaches the level Eminem did on “97 Bonnie and Clyde” alone.
But Eminem’s fandom, Jefferson would have to agree, wasn’t rooted in “whites … fetishiz[ing] black male rage.” That’s because, conveniently for the counterargument, he’s white. But it’s also because Eminem’s rage stemmed from a more general alienation — a general alienation that is not so far from the one motivating Odd Future.
Jefferson wraps things up by explaining the appeal of Odd Future as “the same charge people got from listening to Biggie’s robbery schemes on ‘Gimme the Loot’ … Consider it a kind of cultural tourism in which spectators get to feel dangerous without ever really approaching danger.” His implication here is negative, but the portrayal is accurate. We also understand it at some level as a winking provocation. It’s hard to take something like Odd Future’s recurring stage chant, “Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School,” as anything but.
Not to be get all home-team biased, but Vulture’s Nitsuh Abebe’s take on the press’s crush on OF makes a bit more sense: “They have exactly the same emotional tenor that countless grown-up music-nerd males had in their goony, alienated teen years, when someone slipped them whatever eye-opening rap, cathartic metal, or angsty rock album turned them into music nerds in the first place. (Plenty of music-nerd women, too.) … It’s practically a foundational myth for both: smart-ass teenage rebels so clever they can bend a dim, dull world to their will.” So: not so much a race divide as it is a critic vs. civilian divide. That means if it seems like a disproportionate number of white music critics are fans of Odd Future, that might just be because a disproportionate number of music critics are white.