A few weeks ago, I read Ryan Bassil’s intriguing article, “The Conspiracy Theorist’s Guide to Tyler, the Creator’s ‘Wolf’ Trilogy,” in which Bassil hypothesizes that “Tyler, the Creator has created a directorial story-telling masterpiece…the best multi-faceted storyline since Slim Shady told me to go and stick nine-inch nails into each one of my eyelids.” And I’ll admit, I was interested.
With Bassil’s (incorrectly dubbed) conspiracy theory at my mind’s forefront as I perused the tracks, I continued to find myself at the least entertained – possibly impressed. His lyrics were dark, yes; but they displayed an extreme irreverence that I appreciated. I particularly enjoyed his revulsion at religion. Finally, we have a hip hop artist who doesn’t comply with the religious paradigm of the genre, I imagined. “But then again, I’m an atheist that just worships Satan / And it’s probably why I’m not getting no fucking album placements.” A rapper who can openly poke fun at the misconceptions and discriminations of nonbelievers? I thought we had a winner.
After the first go-round of his tracks, some red flags waved feebly, and I chose to ignore them. I quickly dismissed the criticism of Tyler that assumed his homophobia. His close relationship with and support of Frank Ocean (an openly gay hip hop artist) and repeated assertion that his incessant use of the word “faggot” works to deplete the word’s potential to demean persuaded me enough to continue to give Tyler the chance to be the good guy.
But the more I listened – and paid attention to – the lyrics (and the controversies surrounding them), the more it became apparent that Tyler the Creator is decidedly not a good guy.
The worst of his offenses comes in the form of outright misogynistic lyrics. And we’re not talking about subliminal, euphemistic, kind-of-rapey, “Blurred Lines”-esque misogyny (though that too is a problem). In the case of Tyler the Creator, we’re looking at full-fledged, graphic endorsement of rape. Take this excerpt from a song devoted almost entirely to rape imagery, “Transylvania“: “And now the slut is under the fucking assumption / That I will be fucking and munching her muffin / Cunt will be bleeding, but that’s not from the time signature of the month, umm.”
Apologists for Tyler have tried to explain these lyrics away. According to them, Tyler is embodying the personality of a rapist and is actually ridiculing the lonely assailant. Perhaps this is the case, but Tyler has allowed for this alternate personality to spill over into his real life.
At a 2011 show at the Highline Ballroom in New York, a “blonde girl surfed her way onstage and kissed Tyler, who announced, “I might legit have herpes.” The crowd laughed and started a “show your titties” chant, and she refused, looking bashful. “Then get the fuck off the stage!” Tyler yelled.”
Furthermore, after migrating into the crowd, Tyler announced:
that near the bar, he’d “bumped into a bitch and she got mad.”
“Bitch is a stripper!” he yelled, and lots of people cheered and laughed at the prospect of the bitch being a stripper. “Why come to an Odd Future show if you gon’ get mad?” he asked. “Pussy musta got like five licks. Bitch is a fuckin’ stripper, yo. You can go home if you don’t like it.”
In a room full of young men, many of whom could share Tyler’s misogynistic tendencies, I worry that women in these positions literally stand in the presence of physical danger. His behavior is not that of someone who relegates an alternate personality to his music. Tyler’s insistence that a woman’s worth is determined by her willingness to succumb to the demands of aggressive males perpetuates a culture that allows for the execution of the acts to which Tyler alludes.
Another defense of Tyler, the Creator stems from precisely that which I admired about him upon initial listening – his irreverence. Vulgarity can at times serve as the pitchfork with which we poke oppressors. Take Louis CK, whose sometimes obscene comedy routines regularly mock those deserving of mocking – the rapists, homophobes and racists. As Christopher Hitchens said, “One of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority.” The defenders of Tyler often posit that this is what he is doing.
However, closer inspection of his content reveals more predictability than polemics. As Sady, a writer for the blog Tiger Beatdown notes, Tyler isn’t saying anything that hasn’t been said by misogynists of the past. All Tyler is doing is weaving his chauvinism with clever rhymes. He’s spitting his venom louder and with much fervor, but it’s still the poison of the past.
Tyler’s Twitter feed, which regularly includes the same type of hate found in his music, serves as a sample of the person Tyler has become (or always was). Most of his tweets are in ALL CAPS, giving the impression that he is yelling. Yet nothing on his feed is of the level of importance that it deserves enthusiastic shouting. Tyler is the epitome of volume over substance.
Do I believe that Tyler, the Creator has the potential to shake up the hip hop genre? My adamant answer is yes. But nonconformity requires disrupting the norm; and right now, Tyler is but a coarse parrot for anti-woman sentiments that existed long before Tyler’s lame attempts to commandeer them.