I wonder if Tipper Gore has heard Tyler, the Creator.
Once upon a time, the Second Lady of the United States was the great arbiter of explicit lyrics in music, attempting to slap earmuffs over the ears of American youth with the strategic placement of Parental Advisory stickers on albums with nasty content. If you wanted to purchase such filth, you had to prove your age — no different than buying things that can kill you: cigarettes, booze, rental cars.
But now record stores hardly matter. Anyone can buy a record on iTunes, stream it on Spotify or poach it off the Internet for free. The days when 2 Live Crew and Metallica shocked us and when censors wondered if Black Sabbath were a bunch of Satanists are long gone.
But if this were 1990, simply listening to one minute of Tyler, the Creator’s latest record, Wolf, would be enough to reduce a puritan like Tipper Gore into a pile of free-speech-hating ash. I’d even be so bold as to say that the 22-year-old rapper is one of the most offensive musicians to ever walk the planet. There aren’t Parental Advisory stickers big enough for Tyler.
For more than an hour earlier this week, I sat at my cubicled desk and actually tested this theory. Using the glorious F-word as a litmus test — since it’s one of the only words The Inlander won’t print — I sat and tallied each time Tyler or one of his rapping cohorts said f---. It was hard to keep up with: 10 tracks in, he’d said it around 125 times. But by the end of the 18-track record, f--- and all of its variations (f---ed, f---er, motherf---er) was uttered, sung, rapped and groaned right around 194 times (there were a few instances when the word was whispered, I think, that I missed).
So lets just call it a round 200. That’s about 11 times per track — and keep in mind, some of these tracks are only about 3 minutes long. As someone with notoriously filthy language, even I can’t imagine how you could cram so much f--- into one tiny space.
And among all of the f---s on Wolf are a lot of words far more offensive words — words commonly used by racists, homophobes and generally hateful people.
But that’s not Tyler. An LA Weekly article last month says the rapper recently sent cupcakes to a domestic violence group that criticized him for his lyrics. He was banned from a New Zealand music festival because of his “extremely homophobic, misogynistic and hateful lyrics.” All the while, Tyler laughs the haters off — hell, two members of his rap crew, Odd Future, are LGBT. As the LA Weekly piece points out, that’s “two more than any rap crew ever.”
But after really listening to the big-cheeked, lanky-framed, dopey-looking, often-annoying Tyler, it’s easy to tell that the young rapper isn’t a racist. He doesn’t hate gay people. He’s not ignorant — in fact, he’s the opposite.
Tyler, the Creator is a kid who loves shock value as much as any other boy reared on pop culture in America. Those profanity-packed songs are often about being a stupid kid with nothing to do: flying kites and riding bikes and eating ice cream and picking boogers. Sometimes he makes pissed-off tracks about hating his dad — the guy who up and left him and his mom, whose ethnicity makes it tough for Tyler to grow a beard today as a young man. His music videos are snapshots from American suburbs: skateboarding tricks, girl fights, humping inanimate objects, puking and hanging out car windows.
It’s not hard to see that Tyler, the Creator is not only a master of tongue-in-cheek humor, but an insufferable realist. He creates hip-hop that points out how ridiculous and squeamish and politically correct we’ve all become. He uses bad words — a lot of bad words. But that’s life. People say horrible things. They’re just words.
And kids are going to hear them, no matter how hard you try to cover their ears.
Tyler, the Creator with Earl Sweatshirt • Wed, May 8, at 9 pm • Knitting Factory • 911 W. Sprague Ave. • $20 • All-ages • ticketweb.com • 244-3279