Like an unchecked pour of beer at a kegger, cursory critiques of Odd Future’s nihilistic ethos from self-consciously conscientious critics froth over the edges the internet. If you need a rundown of just what’s controversial about the 11-member Californian rap pack, well… Google? Suffice to say, shock value is the crucial to the group’s much-romanticized success story.
But there’s some complexity worth exploring in Odd Future’s sticky codes. Take The Internet for example: a new collaborative effort between Matt Martian and Odd Future’s sole female member Syd tha Kyd. Along with being the tour DJ and, even more impressively, the group’s engineer, Syd is an out lesbian and so the lynchpin in fanboy defenses of the copious “fag” and “bitch” jabs that punctuate most Odd Future lyrics. (Let’s be clear: Syd’s presence doesn’t mean shit. That’s like saying “I have black/Asian/Jewish friends so I’m not racist.” Please stop saying that.)
This morass plays out in the video for The Internet’s newest single, “Cocaine”—a fluffy, Neptunes-inspired wisp of a tune with a creepy subtext. In it, Syd sidles up to a clear-eyed, curly-haired, girly girl date at a carnival, asking in a bright, threadbare chirrup, “Do you wanna do some cocaine?” Playing the lascivious aggressive as they roam the fair, get high, make out and then unceremoniously part ways, Syd—heretofore largely enigmatic —proves just how she rolls with her posse of extreme dudes.
If you’ve been following the circus, it’s a fascinating moment when hypocrisy seemingly collides with reality in the form of a masquerading teeny-pop video. So what now? There’s no demonstrable evidence that this eradicates the careless ignorance of Odd Future’s male members, but Syd unleashing her unapologetically dyke swag on the crew’s rabid fan base definitely complicates the equation. Rather than confronting the contradiction, she embodies it.
Misogyny isn’t just the domain of heterosexual males and maybe Syd qualifies. (A 2005 documentary, The Aggressives, exploring the divergent lives of a group of New York City lesbians touches on this idea). But she could also be cast as the unlikely hero of the Odd Future phenomenon, audaciously shattering the male-gazed, MTV-approved idea of dithering, blonde-on-blonde “lesbianism.” As a queer black woman working within hip-hop—where arbitrary speculation dogs anyone who isn’t (and sometimes is) exaggeratedly feminine, from Queen Latifah to Ciara—this is noteworthy and historic. It’s unfortunate that Syd, content to just roll than be a role model, will likely shirk any responsibility.
On Friday, Pitchfork dropped a statement of gay-friendly enlightenment from rising New York rapper A$AP Rocky. Peripherally in response, my friend Rafi tweeted: “Things that are boring: rap fans and their sexuality issues.” That statement’s not just limited to an indictment of pigheaded fans (let them have their sexuality issues) but I see it as calling-to-task the one-dimensional rancour of holier-than-thou anybodies with computers. (Hi.) In an era that can sometimes “feel” post-struggle, on everything from race to sexuality to class politics, it’s becoming more apparent that our apparatus for engaging with these ideas needs a productive switch-up. I admire Syd’s bravery, even if she doesn’t yet know just how radical she is.