For good reason I postulate that over the past week thousands of Kiwi hip hop music fans awaited the weekend with bated breath. This is because superstar and self proclaimed ‘Rap-God’ Eminem was billed to perform on Saturday accompanied by rambunctious California rap collective Odd Future. Now whilst Eminem is no doubt a household a name in the UK, for a decade grandmothers across the world have been asking their grandchildren what a ‘slim shady’ is, Odd Future have only just started to invade English iPods. I was brought to their attention last year whist studying abroad when an American friend (shout out to Doug) showed me the video for one of their songs entitled ‘Rella’. The memory is a powerful one because I was particularly struck by one scene in which lead member Tyler the Creator, dressed as a centaur, insufflates a colossal mountain of white powder before spitting a hectic and deranged verse discussing both your girlfriend’s love for him as well as his own erectile dysfunction.
Okay, take a second to let that surreal, incredulous and perhaps shocking image sink in. Whatever emotions was evoked, whether you are in a state of confused intrigue or just outright appalled, I’m sure indifference was not one of them. This is Odd Future in a nutshell.
In just the same way Eminem did in the early 2000s, Odd Future have received unprecedented popularity amongst the disaffected and Ritalin-fuelled American teenage populace, whilst sparking huge amounts of controversy amongst the parents and conservatives who are outraged that this gang of youths (they range from 19–23) have been able to invade their children’s earlobes with such obscenities. Indeed, Odd Future have been called everything from misogynists to devil worshippers. Now this kind of reaction is to be expected, in fact it has occurred so many times in the past twenty years that an American mother on FOX news complaining about hip-hop music is about as commonplace as not being able to get your campus card to scan in the library. However, to get back on topic, New Zealand’s authorities took this opposition one step further and decided to ban the group from entering the country. Six members of the group had their visas declined on an injunction that has previously been used to prevent white supremacists and high profile Holocaust deniers from entering the country. The decision was justified on the basis the group were capable of inciting violence due to the rowdy nature of their shows and lyrical content and hence were deemed a threat to the public order. The group’s dream of hearing their signature phrase ‘Golf Wang’ in a Kiwi accent on Saturday was thus sadly shattered.
Now I am stating the absolute obvious when I say that Odd Future do anything but shy away from controversial subject matter. The definitely don’t discriminate with the use of the n-word and a number of their older songs feature rhymes that evoke gruesome imagery of rape and murder. Having said this it is important to not take these elements of their music out of its artistic context. This is because I believe that the group’s musical identity is based on a complete disavowal of the way hip-hop music is perceived by the American populace. In an attempt to subvert the prejudiced stereotype that Middle America paints of black men promoting gun violence and drug use, the group portrays elements of it with superlative hyperbole thereby unravelling the construction of the stereotype itself: revealing its absurdity, through absurdity. Hence for any reflective listener of the music, it is clear that the songs are filled with irony and a self-awareness that make the songs deliberately hilarious but at the same time speak to the listener with an air of relatable angst and profundity. Just as Eminem wrote that there could be a ‘slim shady’ lurking at burger king, ‘spittin’ on ya onion rings’, Odd Future attempt to confront Middle America directly with what they fear the most with such an over the top degree of severity that the fear itself succumbs to deconstruction.
Hence, I think that New Zealand have misunderstood Odd Future and I can’t help but feel that if a little time was put into researching the group and perhaps listening to the music (or maybe reading this article) their apprehensions would have been disintegrated. Arguably this incident is another example of how our politically correct modernity deems controversial subject matter unquestionable.