In the early hours of July 4th, Odd Future member Frank Ocean came out on his personal blog with the story about falling in love with a man four summers ago. His bravery was met with positive reactions from the hip-hop community, including Russell Simmons, who lauded the young singer-songwriter for his honesty. He also received a nice response from Odd Future frontman (I suppose?) Tyler, the Creator, who posted on Twitter, "My Big Brother Finally Fucking Did That. Proud Of That Nigga Cause I Know That Shit Is Difficult Or Whatever. Anyway. I'm A Toilet." A very emphatic statement!
Days later, of course, it has become time to spark a discussion about what this means for Tyler, the Creator. The rapper, as well as the Odd Future collective as a whole, came under much scrutiny last year for their misogynist and homophobic lyrics, which were often coupled with violent rhetoric. (This is where I come clean and admit that I've never taken much time to listen to any of Odd Future's various members' music except for Frank Ocean.) It's particularly unsettling as Frank Ocean has come out (as what, that is, is unclear, as he has not specified if he identifies as gay or bisexual), and considering Odd Future producer and DJ Syd tha Kid is a lesbian.
So, is it fair to call Odd Future a homophobic rap collective? Tyler, the Creator claims he is not homophobic at all:
Chatting to a fan on social media website Formspring, he wrote: "hahaha yeah, ive know for a while, he told me a long time ago. it was just funny cause i was getting bashed as a homophobe or whatever and i kept saying dude how am i one? i have gay friends like what the fuck leave me alone haha. yeah thats my nigga tho, shit is hard for him but he did that."
To be clear, Tyler was labeled a homophobe for his repeated use of various gay slurs on his debut album, Goblin—231 times, to be exact.
Former BlackBook editor and current Observer writer Foster Kamer posits, via his personal Tumblr, that Tyler's frequent use of "faggot" and its variants do not, inherently, make him a homophobic artist, nor does it mean one can toss the same criticism to Odd Future as a whole:
Besides all of the wonderful things that will come out of Frank Ocean’s “outing” himself—or whathaveyou—the idea that labeling Odd Future as a homophobic collective just became more complex and frustrating to people who are fans of oversimplifying complex issues as a matter of making an argument (but really: jumping onto whatever outrage bandwagon is getting “liked” on Tumblr more than others on any particular week) is also a particularly delightful one. The world needs more nuance. It needs to frustrate our most simple thinkers (who have the loudest, angriest voices, as is often the case). And those people should be upset more often, and more often they should be upset by evolving realities like this one: That, in the entirety of rap—or hip hop as a culture—Odd Future has had the most success commensurate with the fact that their DJ is a gay woman, and their most arguably famous member is a bisexual man, while also being one of the most maligned groups for their ostensibly homophobic and misogynistic music. That’s a reality worth savoring.
It's an interesting and complex thought, for sure, but I'm not sure I buy it. Tyler, the Creator can now claim that he's not homophobic—two of his best friends and colleagues are not straight!—but that sort of claim is, as we all know, bullshit. That's a very definitive response that any non-straight person can make. As a gay man who grew up in a rural town in Virginia, there's a lot of my personal life that I do not share with friends and family back home. I'm certainly out and open, and most people know about it and accept it! But that doesn't mean I don't get incredibly uncomfortable when I am around people who casually make homophobic remarks. (And don't get me started on the casual racism, because oof.)
Basically, intolerance runs deep, and it's not always a blatant thing. But I know that even if one of my very close friends was expressing him or herself with homophobic language, I would feel uncomfortable and hurt, mostly because I make it my beeswax to not be around people who toss around "faggot." So, in the end, if Odd Future members continue to do so, I (and plenty of other people) will continue to combat it with the word "homophobic." In all honestly, I get the vibe that Tyler, the Creator likes the attention that comes from being aggressive—he is a performer, after all, and getting attention is his job. But there's no need for the hateful and violent language, and considering that two members of Odd Future—a minority, for certain—do not identiy as straight... Well, that is certainly a complicated problem, isn't it?