I came across this post from Steve Albini this morning and want to pass it on. He’s known for his, uh, blunt opinions, and I usually think he’s a bit harsh (as in his lambastings of Smashing Pumpkins, findable here), but I think he’s got a fair point here, and he makes it pretty well:1 whatever you can say about Odd Future’s viability as artists, I don’t think many people, Cornel West and Puff Daddy included, would want to spend time with them in an enclosed space.
And really I don’t much like Odd Future or their music either.2 My doubts as to their talents remain unanswered, I think their appeal is base, and their branding as next generation of hip-hop is a product of a very cynical, very conservative hype machine, which is always motivated by dollars and cents.3 They appeal to younger listeners with the chance for easy anti-authoritarian sentiment. They offer older listeners an easy recapitulation of the history of hip-hop, particularly with regard their offensive lyrical content.4 In neither case do they advance the argument or possibility for hip-hop as an important art form; in fact they probably set that argument back focusing attention on a debate about lyrical content that took place almost twenty years ago.
1 Especially for anyone who has listened to the kind of conversation in which “motherfucker” and the n-word represent 20% of the sum vocabulary; in the past few years I’ve overheard such exchanges of profanities most often on northbound one trains in New York; the participants were black, white, and latino, which makes me think that the n-word isn’t a racial insult so much as a means of showing who is in and who is out.
2 I’ve seen one of their videos and many thousands of words dedicated to them in magazines and online forums; the hype machine liveth.
3 I’m inclined to be equally cynical; what does it mean that record companies choose a group of profane, scatological, thirteen year olds to represent the face of hip hop, a subculture most associated with African Americans?
4 i.e that Odd Future have created art in spite what we in politically correct circles call disadvantaged circumstances,1 that they represent of a section of America that most media gloss over, and, perhaps most important, that their rhymes, because of they are so offensive, make us defend our treasured freedom of speech and ultimately makes us better by forcing us to take the moral high road.2 For one thing, this isn’t a point that needs to be made again,3 and for another it works only so long as rappers rely on repugnant motifs like misogyny and violence, unlike, say Shakespeare, who only partially relies on repugnant motifs like misogyny and violence.
1 Never mind that some of them come from middle class backgrounds, like Eazy-E of NWA, and that they’ve got a comparative advantage, at least in terms of street cred and thus hip hop marketing, over my upbringing in the mostly white, upper middle class suburb of Strafford, PA.
2 Not that this lets rappers off the hook. The colonial British, after all, let John Adams take the high road by giving him the chance to defend them and the right to a fair public trial after the Boston Massacre.