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Rethinking “A Call For Change”: Examining Sara’s Criticism of Tyler, the Creator

 

Violence? Check. Homophobic lyrics? Check. Potential for social transformation? Check.

Currently making buzz amongst music geeks is this rant from Sara of Tegan and Sara regarding the lack of criticism about Tyler, the Creator’s homophobic, sexist, violent, lyrics.

Two caveats before I move forward:

  1. I’m not an apologist for offensive lyrics. Frankly, much of the violence – specifically towards women – in the album is troubling for me to hear.
  2. When his crew is causing riots and generally rabble-rousing, I kind of doubt Tyler will get an Elton John to come to his rescue.

That being said, I have a hard time in general lambasting the content of most work for being “offensive.” It reeks of elitism to shy away the ideas, language practices, and recurring tropes of one genre or another. Yes, Tyler’s album may be more violent and more homophobic than most, but criticizing this album, is no different that writing off the bulk of mainstream hip-hop. It’s a problematic genre for critical analysis, but the same recurring ideas, concepts, and language is prevalent in other genres and even other mediums if only slightly more subdued. Just yesterday, Daye and I discussed the racist overtones of the noble savage in The Game of Thrones series. Does the fact that it’s a polished work on HBO adapted from a lauded book make it a more excusable exercise in reinforcing oppressive social norms?

About the lack of criticism of Tyler’s music, Sara writes, “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.” Again, I think she’s off on this. Tyler is now the scapegoat for a larger lack of attention to the origins of violent lyrics that neither starts nor end with rap. Will I recommend my mother listen to Goblin? Of course not, just as she’s ceased to recommend I listen to Dave Koz.

Tyler is unapologetic about blaming an absentee father for much of his verbal aggression. Adolescent rejection, issues with authority, and witnessed violence in the community all present themselves throughout Tyler’s lyrics. In essence, his is a life lived as an urban youth. It’s a quintessentially American album that Tyler’s released and I can understand how that is something that will make a lot of people uncomfortable. How we move forward with an album like this is what is interesting to me. With each swear word, each image of misogyny, and each hyper-violent threat, Tyler invites us to imagine what steps are necessary to move this democratic experiment a step further towards equity.

Funnily enough, I was thinking about the rise of ODD FUTURE WOLF GANG KILL THEM ALL as another example of a Beautiful Dark Twisted Pedagogy. Within months, the group has gone from  obscurity to the subject of derision for mainstream artists, selling out concerts, and getting profiled and reviewed by the majority of music press. This article not only captures the essence of ODD FUTURE’s approach, but it also provides key points to take away from the music group’s entry into mainstream popularity. Educators, it would be great to think more critically about the group’s approach to the sharing of information and engagement with audience. [Related, the post’s author also published a really useful series of interviews that point toward ways to redefine education.]

 

P.S. Free Earl?

 

EDIT: After 12 hours being up, here’s a summary of  the searches that lead people to this blog:

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