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Equating rap albums to movies isn’t always a perfect fit. Some artists’ albums aren’t cohesive and there was a low point where every mainstream album used the same call list of 8 producers and 10 guest artists to make glorified compilations. But a few classics do invite the comparison to the cinematic masterpieces. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx for example is Hip-Hop’s Scarface.
Kendrick Lamar dropped good kid, m.a.a.d City last October to rave reviews. I think one of the things that people liked most about the album was the connecting narrative woven throughout the songs and skits of an aimless youth on the streets of Compton. It evoked the flavor and feel of the classic 90’s hood flicks we all grew up watching. Whether it be the camaraderie of Juice, the reckless abandon of Menace II Society, the redemption of South Central or the heartbreak of Boyz N The Hood. What Kendrick Lamar delivered was the quintessential coming of age story of black youth in the hood. Even more fitting on the album cover you can see the subtitle “A Short Film By Kendrick Lamar”
Tyler The Creator’s recently released Wolf also tells a story through interconnecting skits between the tracks on the album. And also just like Kendrick’s album the lyrics paint a picture more vivid than anything offered on the skits. But unlike Kendrick this is far from the hood movies that we grew up with in the 90’s. This album is more Clockwork Orange than anything else.
A Clockwork Orange is a Stanley Kubrick flick that is considered a cult classic. The movie was rated NC-17 because of its shocking (for its time) depiction of violence and anarchy. In the film Alex (portrayed by British Actor Malcolm McDowell) goes on a rampage with his squad of Droogs. They are basically a gang inclined to drugs, violence, sex and rape. You are initially repulsed and frightened by the Droogs behavior but even as they take delight in their debauchery you can’t help but watch as they assault all the values that you hold dear. But there is a brief moment in the film where you see the failure of Alex’s parents (who in the novel upon which the film is based are described as timid and fearful) and the tide starts to turn once he is institutionalized and tortured to the point of bland conformity by the authorities.
Tyler and his Odd Future brethren become analogous to the droogs when discussing their place within today’s hip-hop culture. A lot of the young stars in the game today come in already indoctrinated to hip-hop’s business and style model. They are basically bootlegs of the rappers we all grew up loving. Odd Future and specifically Tyler are the brash youth that these other rappers pretend to be. But paradoxically the bravado isn’t hiding or concealing the isolation and pain of Tyler’s lyrics. His latest album Wolf expands on the themes of a fatherless child who feels ostracized and abandoned. His disregard for social norms manifest themselves as homophobic slurs and shocking bars about rap. His need to belong to something/anything manifest itself in the subpar struggle bars of some his less talented droogs on the bloated posse cuts that interrupt the flow of what was unfolding as very personal album up until that point.
For me though the most telling and shocking bars on Tyler’s Wolf aren’t truly about violence or mayhem. They are about the casualties of the war on black families. (aka the war on drugs, the war on poverty, etc etc). When Tyler refers to his father as a “faggot” I don’t blink at the slur. I’m more moved at the tragedy of the disintegration of the family unit in our communities that could lead to a young man having no respect for their father. And the fact that this situation is way more common than it should be. Tyler is truly a product of this disruption, and the pain behind the verbal assault on his father is the condition that fuels his “f*ck everybody” fire.