Live in the UK and a fan of Tyler The Creator? You will not be seeing him for at least five years. Tyler cancelled four shows in the UK and Ireland on August the 26th including performances at this past weekend’s Leeds and Reading festivals. In a statement released by the Home Office it clarified that Home Secretary Theresa May has deemed that Tyler’s lyrics did not abide by our country’ shared values. The preposterous case of rap lyrics being used in court in the U.S. has reached our shores and Tyler, recently banned from Australia too, has faced the brunt of the judicial weight. His manager Clancey explained what the Home Office said when they asked why his visa had been denied on his Tumblr here.
Tyler was last here only 8 weeks ago and has been over twenty times in the past five years without incident, but the Home Office must have had Bastard in their Spotify queue all that time and only now have heard what was really said, so let’s look at the offending lyrics. They referenced material from seven years ago so they’d mean stuff like this:
“Bitch, you tried to play me like a dummy/Now you stuck up in my motherfuckin’ basement all bloody/And I’m fuckin’ your dead body, your coochie all cummy.”
So yeah the lyrics are very unsavoury, although it’s fairly obvious that that’s the point. It’s not like I’m a big fan of this sort of thing but I’m also of the opinion that boundary pushing art is a matter of preference rather than ethics, and that if you find this stuff uncomfortable in a way that you don’t enjoy, the last way you should react is being vehemently offended, as that plays into the hands of what is obviously an attempt at provocation. Its of course understandable by someone would not enjoy that stuff though.
But really that’s a debate for another day, this really isn’t a case of ethics in fiction but rather an uneven application of law. Let’s for example look at some lyrics from beloved Australian rock ‘n’ roller Nick Cave.
“I’ll stay here till Billy comes in, till time comes to pass/And furthermore I’ll fuck billy in his motherfucking ass/I’m a bad motherfucker, don’t you know/And I’ll crawl over fifty good pussies just to get one fat boy’s asshole/Yeah you better get down on your knees and suck my dick, because if you don’t you’re gonna be dead/Billy dropped down and slobbered on his head and Stag filled him full of lead.”
So in the song ‘Stagger Lee’ Cave, in a first person account also used by Tyler, has conducted a bloody mass exodus in a bar and forced an act of sodomy, followed by murder. And this monster Mr Cave doesn’t just frequent the UK, he lives here, in Brighton. Unlike Tyler The Creator of course, he is a 57 year old rock musician, and he is white. For some reason the government hasn’t booted him out the country for words he said in a piece of music just yet.
But maybe it is a hip-hop thing; to the elite it’s a scary new genre and despite being almost 40 years old it’s inexorably linked to the young – and god knows this government doesn’t like them. But Tyler’s Odd Future recently opened for Eminem, who’s most violent material is even more maligned, and he was headlining at Wembley stadium. It’s clear he’s a rap artist of greater repute than Tyler, and yet his equally questionable lyrics haven’t yet landed him such a ban.
Such material has also been delivered by artists from a genre of comparative low regard – I mean just look at this new video from Slipknot.
That surely can’t be what Theresa describes as our ‘shared values’ but these metal juggernauts have also not received the same ban as Tyler, though they do all happen to be white.
There’s not just the matter of dubious cherry picking of one artist’s provocative lyrics over another here: there’s also the bizarre timing of the ruling. The lyrics the Home Office cited are from 2009, when Tyler was just 19. Regardless of the fact most people wouldn’t want to be held accountable for things they did when they were 19 (George Osborne, Boris Johnson and David Cameron for example would have been busy smashing up restaurants as part of the Bullingdon Club at that age.) Since then Tyler has obviously changed; his outlook now seems relentlessly positive and is persistently urging fans to live in the real world rather than on social media and to question authority, and has always been of good humour, if a bit of a dick sometimes. As a result his new stuff contains songs no longer called ‘Bitch Suck Dick’ but ‘Find Your Wings’ and has a notably more cheery tone; Tyler has even denounced many of his old lyrics – so the worst of his earlier stuff isn’t likely to be found in any set list now while he’s banned, as opposed to seven years ago when he wasn’t. Nothing about this makes sense, most of all the timing, and hence its even more concerning that an active decision has been made to set a precedent here.
Also worrying are the reasons cited by the home office letter for the ban. By claiming Tyler “fosters hatred with views that seek to provoke others to terrorist acts” they have used the past two decade’s favourite term for just about any form of violence (the last Labour government deeming Afghans terrorists when many were just innocent people defending their home country which we were invading for example), and it’s proven to be such an easy hot button rationale for deployment in the likes of The Sun or Daily Mail that they can use it to justify just about anything. The fact it is here used to apply strict law upon a person who, even if his talk of violence could in any way be taken seriously and not as the words of a character in a work of fiction, is in no way inciting terrorism. The oft forewarned breaches of civilian privacy on the basis of that word suddenly seem much of an imminent reality.
It’s not surprising that an elitist, out of touch government whose policies target the poor and disabled and whose answer to a humanitarian crisis of its own making in Calais is to send advisors to help build fences around the disenfranchised would do this. It’s also not like this is a major policy announcement or that any member of cabinet even knows who Tyler The Creator is, but it is a sharp warning to the music world, and a worrying new precedent. It’s sad for fans who were keen to see Tyler and it’s disappointing to see that a certain mentality so openly remains. When Nick Cave writes lyrics which depict graphic mass murder and rape there is not a seconds thought that he is anything less than a storyteller, yet when a young black rapper says words to the same effect with a similar tone then they are taken with the utmost sincerity. This is the didacticism expressed by certain sections of the population and demonstrably by the Home Office. I am not saying it is in any way a conscious act of discrimination but still – when the only difference is age, genre and race and not at all the only thing that matters (intent): then discrimination it absolutely is. And when a government starts acting in a demographically discriminatory way then we all have cause for concern.
Liam Inscoe – Jones
Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham’s IMPACT Magazine.