Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Response: Jim DeRogatis interviews Pitchfork about OFWGKTA

Posted by Andrew Hertzberg

Yesterday Sound Opinions music critic Jim DeRogatis posted on the WBEZ blog about the west coast rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. Nothing new there. The group’s got a lot of press over the past year from a myriad of sources, discussing everything from live show antics to morally questionable lyrical content glorifying murder and rape with general misogynistic and homophobic overtones. Ok, whatever; this is hip-hop and they’re just teenagers. They’ve probably never actually done anything they rap about and they should be given credit for rapping with tongues firmly planted in cheek. I can be caught giving the camera a finger too at certain times and I listened to Guttermouth in high school.  I don’t want to let them off the line that easily, but after reading a lot of these articles about them, I can’t conclude anything other than they’re just a sideshow that shouldn’t be given any real animosity for the innocuous Die Antwoord / Charlie Sheen meme that it is. If anything, they should be derided for just perpetuating the hip-hop trope of anger, hate and violence.

But you know what? It’s not that simple. It still bugged me that after I helped Pitchfork sell out their weekend passes for their festival without a single band being announced, that this was one of the initial groups on the bill. I didn’t give it much thought at first, and considering their excessive coverage of the collective, wasn’t that surprised. I had never really got into the music, one of the excluded from their repulsive lyrics (and generally just not really a hip-hop fan).

But I thought more about it. I thought where my money was going. That I’m supporting the preservation of groups like this. Did I want to do that? And then I thought, well, Henry Miller and William Burroughs are two of my favorite authors, the former just as misogynistic as OFWGKTA, the latter essentially an incoherent junk-slinging mess. Sarah Kane’s brutal and graphic plays are actually artfully told love stories, albeit tough to stomach at times.  And I would never really think twice about Blink 182 wanting to fuck a dog in the ass. So how could I drunkenly claim one night that I would sell my weekend tickets in a small effort of protest against the festival (a claim quickly rescinded)? Still, something was constantly bothering me about this.

Apparently the same thing was bothering DeRo too. Luckily, his stature grants him better contacts and he was able to snag an interview with head Pitchforker Ryan Schreiber and president Chris Kaskie. The gist of the interview involves DeRogatis criticizing Pitchfork for not bringing the moral issue of the band to a head. Schreiber responds that they do cover the controversy in almost every feature on them. For my part, I could really only find two quotes that involve the moral question of the band from the same article. On Tyler, the Creator’s Bastard: “Morally, it's repugnant, but the pure shocking force of it is so raw and distilled that it carries a certain appeal of its own.” On Earl Sweatshirt’s Earl: “EARL, just 26 minutes long, is a dark fantasia of blood and rape and evil, and I absolutely hated it the first time I heard it. Now, months later, I still can't shake it, and I sort of love it.” In an entire article devoted to them last October, not one condemnation or questioning of the lyrical issues. (If anyone can find anything else, please comment; have been reading a lot of articles and may have overlooked some).

DeRogatis mentions that he attempted to contact the female performers at Pitchfork about being on a bill with Odd Future, but none have responded. To their credit, the group does have a female DJ pumping beats and she has never felt threatened: “Actions speak louder than words, and they treat me as an equal.”

I’m not trying to condemn Pitchfork. I’ve been a long herald of them even if I don’t always agree. I bought the tickets blindly because the festival has consistently been a great addition to the Chicago summer. I don’t think they are consciously trying to support such degenerate and maniacal behavior. While I don’t really find anything that appealing about Radical, this behind the scenes video with Tyler does showcase a certain talent and energy. Everyone always mentions his charisma as to their attraction with the collective. I don’t really get how that justifies why he raps about what he does, considering their MTV play that reaches a more impressionable audience. How many of the over 7.5 million viewers are the alienated, misunderstood high schoolers that don’t yet realize their outsiderness is only shaping great things to come? Videos like this can spurn an already confused teenage mind in a million ways, with the possibility for self-destruction always seeming the most attractive.

So: Sorry to end this with HROesque book circle questions, but I want to generate a discussion.

Do you find any redeemable qualities to OFWGKTA?
Do they deserve the hype?
Are they just a gimmick or is there some actual talent buried down there?
How do you feel about the largest music Internet publication supporting them?
How does describing a group as “the Internet trolls of rap” a compliment?
Is the music blogging community making too big of a deal about them (positively and negatively)?
If Pitchfork doesn’t actually condone these lyrics, then why even allow these ‘artists’ to reach a wider audience?
Can you really listen to hip-hop for ‘the music?’ Does anyone else think their beats aren’t really that good?
Is Jim DeRogatis just a cranky old white Midwesterner that doesn’t ‘get it?’
Should XL Records be condemned as well for signing Tyler, the Creator?
Am I just jealous of Tyler’s 163,000 Twitter followers?
Am I one of the hypocrites? Perhaps I’m one of the Odd Future critics that “take a casual interest in black men killing other black men on record on a regular basis with nary a cry of morality. But as soon as women or homosexuals become the target it's a talking point.”


  1. Odd Future is just another act in a long history of shock rock/rap. This think piece has been written about 20,000,000 times with 20,000,000 different bands. It's not a musician's job to be a role model and Pitchfork is in the business of making money. People like Odd Future, so they perform, P4K covers it, and everyone else buys the album. There's not much use in wringing our hands over it.

  2. And yes, Jim DeRo is clearly a cranky old white Midwesterner who doesn't get it - but that's HIS job and he does it well.

  3. Jim DeRogatis is quoted as not being a hip hop fan nor does he cater to the generation that listens to this music. The fact is, is OFWGKTA is extremely gripping hip hop and some of the finest I have ever heard. The lyrics are obviously meant to be taken with satirical value. Also, Who the hell ARE you JIM? TIPPER GORE???

  4. @mike: I guess my point is, it is just another link in shock tradition, so why does Pitchfork, a website I generally hold in the esteem of forward musical progress, feel the need to report and spread this? Further, why do humans still feel the need to shock and use our creative powers towards destructive ends? Not to be a fucking hippie about it, great art has come through self-destruction and violence (Iggy, the Pistols, the millions of artists that have abused alcohol and drugs). I guess with so much else out there going on, why do we let our limited attention land on this? (yes, I recognize I fell victim to it too)

    @NNTL: Really, lyrics aside, they don't even have that good of beats. Like I admitted, not the biggest hiphop fan myself, but its difficult for me to grasp that this is some of the finest you've heard. For myself, I know things out there that I may not like or consciously listen to but still respect and understand its value. But those qualities are just lost on me with Odd Future. And to his credit, Jim never mentions that he wants to censor them: "As a journalist, I’m a free-speech absolutist; I’d absolutely fight for these rappers’ right to say these things. But then my job as a critic is to say that what they’re saying is repugnant." And just because they're satirical doesn't make them good rappers.

  5. Andrew, you've got great questions but they belong to philosophy, not music journalism. Why do humans need a little spice in their cultural diet? Who knows. But it's screamingly obvious that all kids ever ask of pop music is that it be exciting and maybe a little bit dangerous. Odd Future has that in spades.

    I don't understand what you're saying about Pitchfork and forward musical progress. They cover new music. Odd Future is new music. So they cover them. Why should P4K nanny its listeners? It (at least tries to) give them what they want, namby-pamby moralizing be damned. The 'rape-gaze' incident shows that they will act on moral imperatives when everyone gets pissed about it, but who's pissed about Odd Future? They're not doing/saying anything that Eminem hasn't said/done worse, more offensively. No big deal, but Jim seems like an interesting character - funny to read him playing the country parson, as if P4K is obligated to put little NC-17 ratings on its reviews - he knows better, but windy moralizing bluffs seem like his schtick, at least from what I've seen/heard of him.

  6. I think we've passed the point where people will just talk about how awesome OFWGKTA is without beginning to seriously question the lyrical content, no matter how terrific (and it is terrific) the music they're constructing is. Is it just a self-aware satire B.E.E. style? I don't think so. I think it's more a "we throw this shit around without really understanding because we're too young to care about anything other than shock."

    But that's just me.

    The one thing I know for sure is that ten years from now, Tyler will be pulling the same thing the Beastie Boys did down the line and grow deeply embarrassed with how little thought he put into his earliest work lyrically, and how that effects it when compared to his presumably large canon to come.

  7. @mike: I guess I meant it in the sense that they are generally aware of the effect that certain musical creations have on culture as a whole. They don't give lower ratings to things they just subjectively don't like, but also, say, when an artist puts out the same record they have been for 10-20 years. It may be decent enough, but its been done before, and doesn't deserve a BNM tag. Likewise, trendhoppers as well. And I did what you're saying about danger and music. Totally. Thought the singer of Foals was gonna fall from the scaffolding at the show the other week. It was intense. I guess I'm just not getting the hype otherwise since I don't find really anything aurally pleasing in their sound.

    @tankboy: I don't know, I think there's got to be some self-awareness. I saw that behind the scenes video on Pitchfork while writing the article, and Tyler does come off a bit more self-conscious than his raps, other videos, or twitter feed make him out to be. Either way, all of the hype and attention they're getting are sure to affect them in some way, whether they continue on to further shock until it just becomes GG Allin spectacle or (hopefully) progress and come into their own, becoming more self- and culturally-conscious.

    At the very least, get some better beats, yo.

  8. Guh, I guess if I really care about these issues I should get into sociology and find out what the fuck it is to make people do this:


  9. I don't know -- no one in this comment thread has addressed the underlying question, which is, would P4K have booked Odd Future if their lyrics treated a particular religious or ethnic group the way they treat women? I'm almost certain that the answer is no. So the larger question is, why is it still OK to rap abusively about women?