In a 2012 interview on Newsnight, foul-mouthed LA rapper Tyler, The Creator told a churlish Stephen Smith that the point of his music was to ‘piss old white people off like you’. Now, the old white people at the Home Office seem to have proved him right, by banning the rapper – real name Tyler Okonma – from entering the UK for the next three to five years.
Okonma’s manager, Christian Clancy, wrote in a blog post that he received a letter stating that the rapper would not receive a visa because his work ‘encourages violence and intolerance of homosexuality’ and ‘fosters hatred with views that seek to provoke others to terrorist acts’. The kicker was that the decision, which has meant Okonma has had to cancel his upcoming UK tour, was based on music he released almost seven years ago, particularly on his breakthrough mixtape, Bastard.
In a typically vague statement, a Home Office spokesman said that ‘the Home Secretary has the power to exclude an individual if she considers that his or her presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good’. While we all relish the image of Theresa May watching ‘Yonkers’ aghast, it’s worth pointing out that this ban is not only an affront to artistic expression, but to common sense, too.
Apart from a juvenile fondness for the word ‘faggot’, which he uses in his songs to refer to anyone and everything, homophobia’s not really Tyler’s strong suit. He helped launch the career of Frank Ocean, modern R&B’s first openly gay male singer, who remains one of his close friends. And, while Tyler’s early raps were full of aggressive and graphic lyrics, the only person he’s ever directly incited violence against was Bruno Mars. Considering that was when the interminable ‘Grenade’ was ruling the airwaves, you can’t really blame him.
The ban provoked scorn across the internet. Despite the fact that tweeters and right-on bloggers are hardly champions of free speech, the story was just too perfect. ‘A Tory ministry censoring a rebellious young rapper? Typical’, they scoffed. Even the Guardian had a pop, calling it a ‘ham-fisted attempt to clamp down on popular culture’. But what these lukewarm defences of Tyler missed is that this was not a throwback to fusty, moralistic conservatism – it was an attempt at aping the new illiberal liberalism.
For this wasn’t the first time Tyler’s had trouble at border control. In July, a group of feminists in Australia called Collective Shout put pressure on the government to revoke his visa over songs of his that dramatise psychopathic rape fantasies. Considering Tyler is a devotee of Eminem, the content of his earlier, darker material should have come as no surprise. But artistic nuance is lost on the easily offended. Earlier this month, Tyler called off the tour in a well-earned huff.
The Home Office has got form when it comes to bowing to the will of illiberal feminists. Last year, pick-up-artist and hero to sadcase men everywhere, Julien Blanc, was banned from entering the UK after a feminist-led petition claimed he was a proponent of ‘rape culture’. Given that it was precisely Tyler’s ‘rapey’ material that first shocked the blogosphere when Bastard came out, many are speculating that this was at least a factor in the Home Office’s decision.
What we have here is an upping of the stakes in the new intolerance. Not content with picketing offensive politicos and performers off of campuses, or Change.org-ing TV shows out of existence, feminists and illiberal liberals are trying to erect moral forcefields around entire nations, to keep the un-PC blasphemers out. What’s worse, these moral crusaders have found unlikely allies in the establishment – with even the Home Office now happy to outsource border-control work to the illiberal mob if it means catching some right-on shine.
Banning Tyler, The Creator has clearly backfired for the Home Office. On the whole, black rappers still get a pass from belligerent campaigners, mainly because they’re all terrified of being called racist. But this botched piece of PR still tells us something. Loudmouths like Tyler no longer need to piss old white people off to get in trouble, moralistic censorship is now the preserve of the ‘liberal’ youth.
Tom Slater is assistant editor at spiked