When I was 19, I was a college freshman living in New York who clocked in way more hours at dyke bars and parties than in the classroom, truth be told. So when I found myself in a screenwriting class my freshman year, the first ten pages of the screenplay I workshopped, looked, sadly, like the worst dyke bar ever. The characters were angsty, drunk, and in one scene, doing cocaine and making out. As I sat in the small room with about six other students, one girl squirmed in her seat before finally asking, “Are you sure, you know, that you’d wanna write something that supports this stereotype as gay people always doing drugs and stuff?”
Her question hit me hard. I didn’t want to support that. Still, my younger, arrogant self tried lamely to say, well, this was what it’s like out there, this was what my lesbian friends were doing. I sorely needed a large dose of perspective. It’s 10 years later and, thankfully, that burgeoning screenplay never came to any fruition. I worked instead on becoming the sort of queer woman and queer writer I’m proud to be. Yes, we were all young once. Yes, queer bars and parties are a disproportionally large percentage of queer social spaces. But the stereotypes — gay people just party all the time; girls only make out with other girls when they’re f–ked up — did not need any support. Those debasing ideas about queers were out there, all on their own.
Now, this brings us to Syd tha Kid. I would never have really known anything about Syd tha Kid if it hadn’t been for my friend, Mindy Abovitz, Editor in Chief of Tom Tom Magazine, the magazine about female drummers. A few weeks ago she asked me if I’d be down to interview Syd, and after some light Googling, I had to tell her I didn’t think I could.
Syd tha Kid is the lone female member of Odd Future, the hip-hop collective more known for their misogyny, homophobia, and general jack-ass-ery than for their music (which, unfortunately, many a music blogger have been fawning over since they hit the scene). The young Syd rocks hoodies and a fade, and reportedly has more groupies than the rest of Odd Future. But as promising as Syd tha Kid sounds — she’s billed as a producer, engineer and DJ for the group, and has undeniable talent as a beat maker —one of the first videos that pops up when you Google Syd is a short clip of an MTV interview. Syd is in the backseat of a car, talking about her father, who thinks that her involvement with a group so misogynistic and anti-women could be seen as a slap in the face to a lot of females. “I’m like, that’s what I do,” Syd says, “I slap bitches.” The dudes in the car laugh. Syd smirks. The clip ends.
Other members of Odd Future have gotten more public criticism, most notably Tyler the Creator, who Sara Quin rightfully called out in a short essay, questioning why the music industry would tolerate the offensive lyrics and antics of Odd Future’s ring man. Abovitz and I talked for a long time about Syd and Tom Tom, playing with the question: Is the talent of a female beat maker negated when she’s part of a misogynistic group? What if we gave her her own space to talk, and kept the focus mostly on the music, and only a little on the politics? What if we presented this all to the reader, and let the reader decide? At the time, Syd had little voice in the media, aside from the odd video clip or article, but no one-on-one interviews were readily available.
We went ahead with it. I came up with a list of questions about beat making, producing, hardware vs software, studio set up, and also about Odd Future, about the controversy, and about what she really meant when she said she “slaps bitches.” We e-mailed the questions off. The more I listened to her acclaimed sound, and the more I watched videos of her quietly in the background, keeping everything tight as her band mates rapped their repulsive lyrics (rape fantasies, “bitch suck d–k”, gratuitous use of the word “faggot,” you name it), I became hopeful that maybe Syd was different. Maybe this interview would reveal her to possess, if not a feminist slant, at least some kind of awareness. I wanted her to write back and say, yeah, I make music with these fools because I want to work with my peers, because they get what I’m trying to do with the beats, and that I’m really a talented, remarkable individual who’s gonna do this until it gets old and then strike out on my own to create some really badass music without the degradation of women.
Yesterday, Abovitz tipped me off to Syd’s first music video for her side project, The Internet. The title of the song? “Cocaine.” The premise of the video? Syd, in her aggro swagger enters a fair ground and begins flirting with a girl. (“Yes!” my naive self thought, “Openly queer girls!”) Then, the lyrics sunk in:
hey baby / where you goin’ / you look good to me / too good to be / walkin’ by yourself / maybe I can help / do you wanna do some cocaine?
now that you know what this feeling’s like / you know you can have it for the rest of your life / just follow me / just follow me / just try it once / don’t worry / just follow me
In the video, after Syd and the other girl play some games, ride some rides, hold hands, Syd leads the girl behind the carnival, and together they snort some lines and pop some pills. Dabbing their noses, they finally make out.
But wait — it gets worse. When the girl passes out in Syd’s truck, Syd sneers, walks to the passenger side door, throws the girl from the truck, then drives away. The last shot of the video is of the girl, passed out on the dirt ground.
I cannot tell you how much I wish I were kidding. Is this the nightmare result of a decade or more of hip hop videos that degrade women, glorify drugs and portray women as disposable? Is this really the first music video from a queer black female beat maker who’s found success in the music industry?
Syd tha Kid, for all of my hope otherwise, has proved herself just as careless and offensive as the rest of Odd Future. Women who are seduced by drugs, used, and then thrown to the ground? And the perpetrator of all this is another woman? It’s too much. This isn’t a post-post-lesbian world or something where you can just send out a video like this. This isn’t cool. And I know I’m preaching to the choir when I point out that the intended audience for this music video are men.
Women as an audience, and women as a group, hold more power than the media, or the world, or anyone wants to admit. I think the fear in not giving Syd tha Kid props as a beat maker in a magazine devoted to female drummers is that we’d be putting our own expectations of women above her talent. But that magazine is created by women, about women, for women. That is a space where we get to choose who to value, who to respect. Support of Syd tha Kid would only give her the message that says, “That’s OK. Your music video completely degrades the kind of positive media attention lesbians and women have fought for, but hey, we’ll just let that go.” You could argue that Syd that Kid’s involvement as a female in a band of all dudes is within itself a radical thing, but I want more than that. If women are going to hold the power to support each other creatively, then we equally hold the power to criticize anything that harms us and hold each other to higher standards.
“Though Syd is an incredibly talented beat maker and artist,” Abovitz says, “Tom Tom Magazine can’t get behind the statement her newest video makes and frankly can’t get behind much of Odd Future’s politics either.” As of now Syd hasn’t responded to the interview questions the magazine sent. Abovitz continues: “We always strive to keep an open mind politically when choosing the women and girls we feature in the magazine, and tend to focus on their skills and history. In this case, Syd’s politics are too difficult to ignore. We are, however, still interested in having a discussion with Syd.”
Syd is about the same age I was when I tried to write that screenplay that fueled negative ideas about queers and women. And getting called out on that is the only thing I actually remember from that class, the thing that made me re-examine what I was doing creatively and what my intentions were. But who is calling Syd out?
“Cocaine” was picked up by dozens of music blogs and news outlets yesterday, who commented on everything from how viral it may go, to the choice of doing coke off a wooden plank, to calling it “the sweetest and most romantic thing Odd Future has ever done.” But no one — and please correct me if I’m wrong — has called Syd tha Kid out on how debasing this video is to women and queers. Just because Syd’s a girl and queer doesn’t mean she should get away with this. And I know I’m not the only one who’s gonna step up and call her out.