Odd Future's Odd Fan Base
So what if Odd Future's music makes critics feel "weird and awful"? The rap group is a success -- especially among white music writers.
And as you can tell from the passages above, it's not in spite of this darkness that these white people like Tyler and his crew; it's because of it. It's because they're intrigued by this seething rage that, as Baron writes from his point of privilege, they don't normally get to see. It's grotesque, but more than that, it's exciting.
At a recent show at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, Odd Future played for about 15 minutes before Tyler, angry at the lackadaisical, giggling crowd, swore at some of the audience, derided the soundman and stormed away, his group in tow. "Ain't s--- funny," said a member of the band before leaving the stage.
The mostly white audience's response to the actual black frustration before them? They laughed it off. So much so that Phoenix New Times music writer Martin Cizmar called the experience a "turnoff." "[I was] unsettled by how the mostly white crowd related to Odd Future's angry music," Cizmar wrote in his review of the show. "Something about wealthy white yuppies laughing and smiling as black teenagers pour out their rage at an unfair world through hip-hop didn't sit well with me … [T]here's something unseemly about white people getting a big kick out of it."
The French call it nostalgie de la boue, or "yearning for the mud." It's a great phrase for describing what these white writers mean when they say they like the way Odd Future's music makes them "feel weird and awful."
It's the same charge people got from listening to Biggie's robbery schemes on "Gimme the Loot," and the visceral thrill that made audiences get to their feet when Mike Tyson used to manhandle opponents in the ring. Consider it a kind of cultural tourism in which spectators get to feel dangerous without ever really approaching danger.
Because the real key to Odd Future's success is that, for all their scary talk, they're still just a bunch of teenagers who can't even drink at the clubs in which they perform. Some of them are still in high school, and rumor has it that Earl Sweatshirt got in trouble with his mom for his foulmouthed exploits and was sent off to a military academy.
It's this overarching sense of youthful whimsy, this idea that they don't mean most of what they say, that keeps Odd Future in white fans' good graces. Because history has shown that white critics have a very low tolerance for actual, tangible black rage.
Ike Turner, Mike Tyson, Chris Brown -- all black men whose anger went from latent to gruesome, and whose reputations were shattered irrevocably in the process. Because the fetishization of black aggression has its limits. And while white people love to hear you say you're going to beat and rape some women, God help you if you ever actually do it.
Cord Jefferson is a contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.