Friday, February 11, 2011

Comments on "Yonkers"

Tyler the Creator has always been unhinged. The first time I saw the the “French” video, I sat in silence for five minutes worrying about what the modern world was doing to these kids, not realizing that Tyler is only two years younger than me. And despite the macro-vision that many take this new unsettling youtube/tumblr-rap movement to give us about what is happening to urban youth, Tyler is at least that vision distilled and packaged neatly in a syringe. He is often, as many critics have stated, evil, meant to scare the living bejesus out of listeners. We’re supposed to be afraid he’ll do something to either himself or those around him.

And that’s what makes “Yonkers” so significant. This is the first time we see him helpless. While so much of his earlier work used comedy as a weapon, here he doesn’t really use it at all, leaving him practically defenseless. When he lashes out, instead of being unsettled by his sick thoughts, we finally feel pity. Now the camera is turned back at us. So much of OFWGKTA’s aesthetic is based on body horror: stigmata, vomit, prescription meds, loose teeth etc. This song finally puts in full view what has been hinted at all along, a sort of “what have you done to me” sentiment that doesn’t necessarily point a finger at us, but certainly makes us think about how we treat others. But most of all, the track seems inevitable in its sense of doom as if Tyler’s inability to deal with himself and his body is something that unfortunately just happened.

At the very same time, he is so careful to emphasize the theatrical in his performance. Although he insists in interviews that he’s just doing what comes to his head, he focuses on how character will come through his music even more than the average emcee. The sort of “one-man show” quality of this video only serves to bring that fact to the fore and, in a way, it is a perfect way to summarize his character. It is him, but he’s putting it all up front for us to see, making it entertaining, making feelings into actions, and thoughts into words. And because hip-hop is a genre so reliant on personality, this song shows a crucial new side of Tyler’s character.

As always, we can see in this track what makes Tyler compelling. He’s not afraid to be experimental and yet that experimentation is not alienating enough to keep us from understanding it as emotionally complex. In other words, it may be new, it may be different, but its still rap music.

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