The last time I had heard the term “horrorcore” was when I was a junior in high school. Eminem was starting to dissatisfy some of the more cutting edge members of the school’s hip-hop constituency with his ascendancy to brooding teen idol with the Marshall Mathers LP, and so they were looking for something that better complemented their suburban police records. They found that, apparently, in Necro. Necro is a Brooklyn-based rapper whose mordancy matches Em’s fairly well, but whose violent lyrics shoots beyond his R-rated (i.e., major label-muzzled) style and well into X territory. His star burned brightly for a few months before everyone moved on, this interest that hardly qualified as a fad disappeared as abruptly as it appeared.
Ten years later horrorcore seems all but thriving. Eminem finally made a comeback but is no less mainstream, Insane Clown Posse is best not mentioned, and Necro has been dabbling (understandably) in death metal. Perhaps this is the order of things. America after all seems to prefer its hip-hop glamorous and/or positive message-infused, only occasionally letting in some outliers from the fringe. Often they’re novelty one-hit wonders like Afroman or dumb white people like Asher Roth, yet some true eccentrics have been slipping through the cracks as of late, namely Lil B and more recently Tyler, the Creator, whose love of ski masks and violence seems to be picking up where horrorcore left off — or at least appropriating some of its tenets for his own designs.
Tyler waits until the third track, “Radical,” to offer a disclaimer to the listener: “Hey, don’t do anything I say in this song, it’s fucking fiction. If anything happens don’t blame me, white America.” Among the things he doesn’t want the listener to do is “Kill people/ Burn shit/ Fuck school” which makes up the song’s chanting hardcore-like chorus. The song in general is part fictional narrative, part confessional autobiography and part manifesto. Eminem’s influence is already apparent in his defiant tone against personal injustice, barking indignation against an absent father, his own poverty, middle class conformity, and basic politeness. He tries to preempt future injustices by wrapping his nihilistic worldview in a positive message of doing what makes one happy. “Kill people/ Burn shit/ Fuck school” is countered by “I’m a fuckin’ unicorn, and fuck anybody who say I’m not.”
Tyler’s lyrical vision, in general, is one of dismemberment, bitter confessional, hallucination, attempts at paradox, confused perceptions of women, and lack of restraint all around. Tyler’s first instinct is hatred towards a whole swath of people: from the middle class (“Let’s buy guns and kill those kids with dads and mom/ With nice homes, 401k’s, and nice ass lawns“) to pop stars (“What you think of Hayley Williams?/ Fuck her, Wolf Haley robbin’ ‘em /I ‘ll crash that fuckin’ airplane that that faggot nigga B.o.B is in/And stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn esophagus“) to Bill O’Reilly (“Fuck Bill O’Reilly”). Occasionally he lets his guard down to convey longing, reflection and disappointment (in various measures on “She” and “Her”) only to revert to his original persona of rancor either because he was wronged or because he’s (perceivably) unstable.
As the titles “She” and “Her” indicate, his central problems seem to be girl problems, saving some of his most salacious threats for the ladies: “All beige suit made out of white women“; “Goddamn I love bitches/ Especially when they only suck dick and wash dishes …” (“Transylvania”); “I’m not a rapper nor a rapist nor a racist/ I fuck bitches with no permission and tend to hate shit” (“Tron Cat”). When he’s not demeaning, maiming or otherwise abusing he’s creepily lusting, namely after Taylor Swift (“My father never told me he loved me/ I’d have a better chance of getting Taylor Swift to fuck me” and “Tyler swiftly slips his dick inside of Taylor Swift’s slit/ Round trip in that pussy here comes a ticket“). One could give credit to Tyler for the oversharing, but Tyler’s obsession with women makes for better diary material than lyrical fodder. Whatever actual difficulties he has with the opposite sex, his dealings on the album merely add similar artifacts to pop music’s extensive history of distrust, patronization and flat out dislike of women. Openly professing a preference to rape isn’t so much new as it is less subtle than, say, “My Sharona.”
Where Tyler’s lyrics are a raging forest fire of verbosity, the same cannot be said for his skills as a producer. He is at least efficient in delivering sensibly structured beats that keep him from flying off the handle. But as songs in themselves they seem empty or incomplete. Whether it’s because he’s primarily concerned with lyrics or simply a minimalist I can’t say, but a good case for the latter is made with “Yonkers,” made up of a mostly monotone lyrical delivery that surrounds a central beat of repetitive droning. Though it doesn’t reach Joy Division levels of success, it’s nonetheless an impressive experiment in meshing the catchy and the sinister.
Though this is one in a long line of Tyler’s self-produced records, it is the first out on a label of any kind, and it is my suspicion that either Tyler himself or someone else involved wants very much to use this album to drag hip-hop back to its former state in which it couldn’t go a minute without sparking controversy. And given that Republicans have been directing their ire toward Common of all people, it just might work, but that’s only because the Republicans themselves are wishing for a return to the more heated 1980s-1990s period of the culture wars. In truth Tyler is more suitable than unsuitable for the modern world, the world of the hipster and the mainstreaming of anything and everything goes post-modernism. Tyler is merely offensive and inconsiderate rather than heretical. White Americans, for instance, need no reminder of their irrelevance, so Tyler’s barbs against them are seen in a better light as in keeping with the apocalyptic irony of the times. In any other way he just falls flat.
He’ll make waves among today’s high school kids for sure, and Taylor Swift will either be revolted or enamored. Yet if those older are like me, they will no doubt listen to Tyler and be reminded of those who’ve treaded the same territory as Tyler, but with much better results. Not merely Necro, but Eminem, Esham, NWA and especially Kool Keith’s creepy Dr. Octagon persona. Perhaps if Michele Bachmann is elected President his notoriety will skyrocket, but for me it hardly seems worth the other problems that come with that.
Tyler, the Creator – Bastard
Esham – KKKill the Fetus
Eminem – The Slim Shady LP