Abstract

Cultural representations of Black people as well as people with mental disabilities have historically been derogatory and dehumanizing. Even though the erroneousness and injuriousness of this representational vilification has been increasingly addressed and acknowledged, the power the imagery possesses seems almost indestructible: the stereotypes and myths about blackness and madness live on persistently in our everyday language, in entertainment, media, and other cultural texts. In the face of its seeming indestructibility, alternative ways can be established for encountering the imagery in ways that employ the inertia of its power. This paper explores first-person representations of mental disability as potential egresses from hegemonic representations of psychiatric disability. Recently some disability studies scholars have explored the relationship between disability and rap music and my work contributes to the discussion by examining the work by the rapper Tyler, the Creator. His first three albums are framed as meetings between the artist and his fictional therapist, who is portrayed by the artist himself. This dialogue/monologue brings forth multiple subject positions that frequently overlap and even collide. Operating on the threshold between performance and representation, and between the autobiographical and the fictional, Tyler, the Creator's œuvre challenges stereotypical representations of both Black men and people with psychiatric disabilities.


Introduction

We're always crossing this frontier we carry. The smuggler who crosses is the border, its contents pouring out. Invasion out from the outside continues. (Moten, 2008, pp. 201-202.)

The myriad of ways in which disability has been addressed in and through music has been of interest for many disability studies scholars. McKay (2013), for example, examines mainly American and British popular music from the 1930s through the 2000s regarding the presence of disability as a theme in the lyrics, as a (simulated or genuine) performative gesture, or as a corporeal experience and embodiment of an artist informing his/her art. Dunn (2016) analyzes the ways in which music in Hitchcock films functions as a narrative element which reflects or underlines the characters' disabilities in addition to the ways they are constructed through the cinematography and the dialogue. Rowden (2009) focuses on a group of musicians which, in spite of its relatively small size, has vastly influenced the North American (and Western) popular music: Black musicians with vision impairments. Some scholars have concentrated specifically on the relationship between rap music and disability. Adelman (2005), for example, makes a case for the relevance of examining hip hop and disability in tandem, and theorizes the intersection of hip hop and disability activism through an analysis of a Ludacris song and its music video. Porco (2014), in turn, considers the significance of speech impairments as not only a tolerated, but even simulated and sought-after artistic and stylistic device in rap music. Bailey (2011), addressing representations of disability and blackness in hip hop music, argues that critiques based on dichotomies such as good-bad, or accurate-inaccurate, are insufficient for grasping the complexity of these representations. She maintains that it would be more beneficial to approach them in ways that more profoundly acknowledge the complexity of representational practices, for example by exploring the potential of resistance that resides in the reappropriation of ableist words (Bailey, 2011).

This article aligns with Bailey's suggestion by examining hip hop representations of disability and blackness without an intention to evaluate their accuracy or truthfulness, but to focus on their potential to disrupt binary readings: It explores first-person narratives of mental disability as potential egresses from hegemonic representations of psychiatric disability and psychotherapy. However, I do not attempt to make a case for or against the use of first-person narratives as a way to induce knowledge regarding experience of embodied disability. Instead, I explore how the first-person presentations, regardless of their degree of authenticity, may provide ways to understand the representational machinery involved in producing images of disability. This stance is also illustrated by Siebers (2008) as he suggests that "[i]dentities, narratives, and experiences based on disability … represent locations and forms of embodiment from which the dominant ideologies of society become visible and open to criticism" (p. 14).

I have previously written about the notion of egress in the context of horrorcore rap and Krip Hop (Koivisto, 2017). I suggested that the pivotal concept of access within disability rights movements and disability studies needs to be paired up with the concept egress. Egress is evidently an important concept in architecture and urban planning, since designing inegressible infrastructures would endanger the lives of people with disabilities in cases of emergency evacuations. In addition to the use of the concept within architecture, I argue that egress can be important in the context of cultural and representational structures. Denoting an exit, or the act of exiting, egress helps to counterbalance the tendency of the notion of access to emphasize inward movement and entrances. This can help to problematize and complicate the disabled subject's relation to various cultural sites and structures. In my analysis of Krip Hop and horrorcore rap, in which I introduced egress as a theoretical instrument, I formulate the concept after Foucault's (2004) "counter-conduct" and on Agamben's (1999) interpretation of "potentiality." Through these notions I aim to theorize strategies for encountering confining and demonizing cultural representations of disability in ways that could extend beyond the binary notions of resistance and submission, or rejection and acceptance (Koivisto, 2017).

If we take seriously the formulation of representations as sites of confinement (e.g. Eisenhauer, 2009), we need strategies of egress that function on the level of representations and images. Price (2011) uses the concept infrastructure to refer to the discursive, social, and cultural formations that surround us and structure our experience and conception of the world. What kind of infrastructures provide an access, but not an egress? Lobster traps. They provide an easy way in, but not an exit. Given that the objective of the lobster trap is to keep the animal contained, it is left for the trapped crustacean to find its way out.

In this paper, I explore ways of problematizing hegemonic representations of psychiatric disability by focusing on the work by the rapper and hip hop producer Tyler, the Creator. His first three albums are framed as meetings between the artist and his fictional therapist portrayed by the artist himself, Dr. TC. This dialogue/monologue, the conflation of the artist-subject with the therapist-subject, illuminates different subject positions, including that of a patient, a therapist, a rapper, a teenager, and a Black male, among others. Mitchell and Snyder (2015) introduce the notion of "antinormative novels of embodiment" in reference to novels they find capable of resisting stereotypical ways of representing disability, and, at least as importantly, normalcy. They explicate that "antinormative novels of embodiment employ radical potential of disability for unseating traditional understandings of normalcy as subject integrity, cognitive coherency, and typical functionality" (p. 182). In concert with Mitchell and Snyder's concept, I consider Tyler, the Creator's songs that I find fruitful for challenging ideologies of normalcy the "antinormative songs of embodiment." The notion of antinormative novel of embodiment is intertwined with that of "capacities of incapacity." Capacities of incapacity refer to the potential of disabilities to produce knowledge and insights that become possible only on account of disability, and only from the embodied experience of disability. Mitchell and Snyder explain that "[w]hile disability and impairment have been subject to imprisoning cultural concepts of inferiority, neomaterialisms reactivate the materiality of any form of differential embodiment as a potentially active, agential, and adaptive site of species innovation" (Mitchell & Snyder, 2015, p. 183). "Capacities of incapacity" are closely aligned with "the politics of atypicality," which refers to critical representational strategies that can function to disrupt the power of hegemonic imageries and representations (Mitchell & Snyder, 2015). In effect, disability, which by definition signifies the absence or lack of capacity, possesses potential precisely through this lack; as a lack and an absence it embodies agential potentiality.

Before elaborating on the ways the artist has approached imageries of disability, I will provide a reading of a chain of events regarding the publication of video advertisements directed by Tyler, the Creator for the soft drink brand Mountain Dew. The ads were almost immediately removed from circulation by PepsiCo after the company had received feedback accusing the campaign of misogyny and racism (Cubarrubia, 2013). The Mountain Dew ads and Tyler, the Creator's responses to the public discussion they sparked resonate with the way he addresses disability in his music. It is my position that operating on the blurry boundaries between performance and representation, and autobiographical and fictional narration, his work elucidates the collision of psychotherapeutic and educational discourses with a singular subject whose being defies the discursive: a subject that emerges in artistic expression, appears and vanishes by artistic expression, and is plural and discordant.

A Goat of Color

In 2013, Tyler, the Creator was hired to direct video ads for Mountain Dew. 1 He created three separate 30-60-second videos, which make up a chronological narrative, while each still functioning independently. When viewed in a chronological order, the storyline unfolds in the following way. The first ad takes place in a generic restaurant, where a seemingly Asian American woman and an African American man are dining together. The man points out to his companion that there is a goat sitting on another table. Glancing at the animal surreptitiously, the couple seems puzzled and slightly amused. There indeed is a live goat sitting alone on a table, while all the other customers and staff are humans. The goat speaks in a human voice, and seems agitated and aggressive. A waitress offers the goat a bottle of Mountain Dew, which he drinks. The animal clearly enjoys the beverage, and after emptying the bottle, attacks the waitress with its hooves, yelling "Gimme more, I want it!" The waitress falls down on the floor and the ad ends with the goat leaping off from the table, taunting "You never gonna catch me!"

The second video begins with an image of a police car parked on the side of a road. A police officer is sitting in the car, air drumming to an uptempo rock or metal music playing on the radio. A car passes by, and the police car follows it with the sirens on. Both cars pull over and the police officer, an African American man, steps out of the police car. The video cuts to a point-of-view shot of the driver, whose vision is blurred, and seems nervous about the situation. A cut to the outside, the policeman knocks on the darkened window, which is then rolled down, and we see that the driver is the goat from the restaurant. The officer asks for the license and registration, to which the goat replies: "I don't have anything, any drugs! I know my rights!" The officer looks in the trunk, and finds out that it is filled with bottles of Mountain Dew. In the meantime, the goat has exited the vehicle in an attempt to flee, and the video, again, ends with the goat yelling "You never gonna catch me!"

The third and final part video starts with a shot of a police lineup, which consists of five young African American men, and the goat (whose name is revealed to be Felicia, in spite of its distinctly male voice). A police detective and the waitress from the first video are standing behind the glass, looking at the suspects. The waitress is obviously injured, wearing a cervical collar, a hand cast, and crutches, and seems distressed about the situation. The detective (a white middle-aged man) says "Alright, ma'am, we got them all lined up. Nail this little sucker!" The woman hears the goat's voice despite the glass separating them. The goat speaks to her in a threatening way: "You should've gave me some more. I'm nasty." The woman, intimidated, says to the detective: "I don't think I can do this!" The detective says, in a reassuring manner "It's easy! Just point to him." The goat whispers to the woman "You better not snitch on a player!" The waitress cries "No!" to which the detective responds "He's wearing the do-rag!" (in fact, three of the men in the lineup are wearing do-rag, whereas the goat is not). The goat continues to threaten the waitress: "Snitches get stitches, fool." The detective: "Come on! It's the one with the four legs!" The woman cries "I can't do this," and heads out of the room frantically yelling "No! No! No!" The detective takes a sip of a Mountain Dew bottle and says "She's not going to do it." (Hayes, 2016.)

Mountain Dew quickly removed the ads from circulation after being widely criticized of "perpetuation of racial stereotypes and a downplaying of violence against women" (Cubarrubia, 2013). Especially the police lineup scene was described "grim and tone-deaf" (Battan, 2013). A notable comment was offered by the scholar and author Boyce Watkins (2013b), who described the ad as "arguably the most racist commercial in history." Regarding the men in the police-lineup video, Watkins writes that

in the world of Mountain Dew, every single suspect is black. Not just regular black people, but the kinds of ratchety negroes you might find in the middle of any hip-hop minstrel show: Gold teeth, "mean mugging," sun glasses wearing, white-t sportin [sic], hard core n*ggaz [sic] ready to "get into some ol gangsta sh*t [sic]." (Watkins, 2013b, para 2.)

Watkins' analysis demonstrates how interpreting the video becomes difficult when examined out of the context of the other two videos. For example, he deduces that the woman has been sexually assaulted by the "demonic negro goat" (Watkins, 2013b, para 5). This interpretation would be impossible if the video had been analyzed along with the other two. Furthermore, one could argue that instead of exploiting the stereotype of young Black men as criminals, the police lineup video poignantly critiques the law enforcement system for its racism. The video seems to suggest that the investigators would form a lineup of individuals from this very demographic even in the absurd case of the suspect being a goat. Tyler, the Creator responded to Watkin's accusation in an interview by Billboard.

I guess [Boyce Watkins] found it racist because [he saw] I was portraying stereotypes, which is ridiculous because, one, all of those dudes [in the line-up] are my friends. Two, they're all basically in their own clothes. (Escobedo Shepherd, 2013, para 9.)

The artist claims that the casting for the police lineup scene could not be considered perpetuating racial stereotypes, because the actors were cast nor dressed to produce a specific impression; instead they were his friends—Tyler, the Creator explicates in the interview that he generally prefers to cast his friends in his music videos—, and they are "basically" wearing their own clothes (Escobedo Shepherd, 2013). Furthermore, Tyler, the Creator expressed disappointment over the failure of Watkins and PepsiCo to acknowledge his explicit and intentional attempts at challenging the stereotypical media imagery of African American men. He asks that if

it's so racist and feeding into stereotypes, why in the first commercial … is there a black male with his Asian wife? In the second commercial, it's a black male with a professional job as a police officer listening to hardcore rock music—which supposedly the stereotype is that black people don't listen to that. The stereotypes are what I'm confused on, no one was even thinking about that. (Escobedo Shepherd, 2013, para 10)

The debate went on in Twitter. A few days after his initials comments regarding Tyler, the Creator Watkins published a conciliatory tweet, stating that he "studied your music, I have an altered perspective. Still could do without the ad, but I think you were well-intended" (Watkins, 2013a). Tyler, the Creator, however, continues to comment on the discussion and controversy sparked by the Mountain Dew ad in his song "Buffalo" (Tyler, the Creator, 2015, track 2), and its accompanied music video, which also includes the song "Find Your Wings" from the same album (track 5). The lyrics of "Buffalo" refer to the issue explicitly, for example in the line "That boy T nuts, surprised his thoughts isn't chafing/Fuck them crackers up at Mountain Dew, them niggas is racist" and "dear Boyce Watkins, why you mad? It's the slave in me/It's facts boy, I'm back like Rosa Parks' least favorite seat" (Tyler, the Creator, 2015, track 2). Buffalo also further refers to recent events that have impacted the public discourse about racism in the United States:

Well can't somebody bring the camera out so I can film me?
T a great director, nigga's vision must be blurry
Boy I get them epic shots like jaywalking in Missouri (Tyler, the Creator, 2015, track 2)

The passage apparently refers to the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer Darren Wilson. In addition, "Buffalo" includes a passage that comments on stereotypes of Black masculinity and the actual economic inequity between White Americans and ethnic minorities: "Eenie, meenie, miney, mo, nigger nigger on the wall/Rap bars, jail bars, die or shoot a basketball" (Tyler, the Creator, 2015, track 2). The more or less tongue-in-cheek remark on an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement (being "back like Rosa Parks' least favorite seat"), and deliberately addressing Watkins by the word 'boy,' which resonates with the history of White Americans calling adult Black men boys as a demeaning gesture, imply that Tyler, the Creator refuses to embrace the tradition of the past generations of Civil Rights activists.

The official music video of "Buffalo," directed by Tyler, the Creator under his alias Wolf Haley, adds even more layers and inversions to the debate on his alleged racism. The video was first published with another song, "Find Your Wings," which follows immediately after "Buffalo", but without a logical narrative transition. (Supreme Wolf Gang, 2015.) The video for "Buffalo" starts with a closeup image of a mouth synched to the song's vocals. The camera cuts to a wider shot of Tyler, the Creator, with his skin painted in white, followed by a full shot which reveals that the artist is hanging on a rope tied to a tree branch, as if having been hanged, while rapping to the song's lyrics. His only clothes are bright blue boxers. We see an angry mob of Black people approaching the artist, waving improvised weapons such as pitchforks and baseball bats. The tree branch breaks, allowing Tyler, the Creator to remove the noose from his neck and escape the crowd. He does not appear to be too much intimidated by the situation, but starts to stagger away from the mob. He stops to pick up a pair of blue jeans from the ground and puts them on. He also finds a white t-shirt, which has a logo in the front, consisting of a Celtic cross in rainbow colors, encircled by the text "Golf pride, world wide," with "Golf" referring to Golf Wang, an anagram Wolf Gang, which is abbreviated from Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA), a collective founded by Tyler, the Creator and his friends. The logo is clearly stylized after that of the white nationalist website Stormfront, which includes a Celtic cross in black and white with the motto "white pride, world wide."

Tyler, the Creator lights a cigarette, and keeps staggering away from the mob. Suddenly he reaches a speaker's podium. He gets behind it, continuing to rap. He wipes his face with a cloth, "cleansing" the white paint off. In fact, instead of the paint actually being removed, there is now an oval-shaped area of black paint covering his face. As if as a result of this blackening up, the once angry crowd is now sitting on chairs, soundly listening to the rapper.

The video is then abruptly cut along with the audio, in a manner reminiscent of changing a channel on an analog television receiver, or operating a video tape recorder, and ends up with a shot of Tyler, the Creator in a completely different setting. He appears to be in a television studio, receiving applause from the studio audience. The video resolution evokes an appearance of analog video technology, and the setting resembles that of a television music program from the 1970s. Tyler, the Creator does not wear body paint this time. Instead, he is wearing a simple, bright turquoise sweater and an afro wig, and a polite smile. The host says "I mean, this is a blessing and an honor we have the Mr. Tyler, the Creator here," to which the artist responds "No, man, thank you for having me. It is an honor to seed and share my beautiful vibes with all these beautiful Black people, and just, dance" (Supreme Wolf Gang, 2015.) The song itself is a downtempo, low-key neo soul song with synthesizers and vibraphones, which does not include rapping. It features lyrics that hardly have any content or depth beyond what is evident in the title. Sung by Tyler, the Creator and the singer Kali Uchins the lyrics include the phrase "Find your wings" repeated several times, and other phrases such as "Supposed to fly and take control cause you're the pilot," and "Don't let your wings go to waste/The sky is your home, be free" (Tyler, the Creator, 2015, track 5).

The pairing of the two disparate songs, and their equally disparate music videos, highlights the contradictory demands Tyler, the Creator is exposed to as a Black artist. In the "Buffalo" video, the artist, in white body paint, performs aggressively and insults the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, and as a whole can be rightfully regarded as disrespectful of the racist violence African Americans have historically been exposed to. The group of angry Black people, who become instantly pacified as the rapper wipes off his white face, could be read as a demeaning caricature of the Black community. In "Find Your Wings," on the other hand, Tyler, the Creator turns into a modest, soft-spoken entertainer who merely wants to play for his "beautiful Black people, and dance". The kitschy feel-good lyrics are decidedly apolitical—albeit, perhaps, the ending line sung by Uchins, the imperative "Be free" (Tyler, the Creator, 2015, track 5).

The stylistic reference that "Find Your Wings" video makes to media presentation of Black entertainers in the past serves a particular purpose. Rowden (2009) suggests in his discussion on the significance of young Stevie Wonder in American popular culture, and in the cultural landscape in general, suggests that his appeal for the White audience might have reflected extramusical concerns and anxieties.

For a culture having to adjust to a rising tide of black militancy, what could be cuter and more reassuring than a perpetually smiling little blind black child? At a moment when black men like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were legitimizing new and more intimidating modes of black masculinity as components of public culture, this renaming … as 'Little Stevie Wonder' (both 'little' and 'wonder') served to position him as a black male who had been thoroughly vetted before being brought before the public's gaze. (Rowden, 2009, p. 110.)

In the "Find Your Wings" video Tyler, the Creator channels a certain image of a Black entertainer from the pre-hip hop era, stripped of the aggression of the one he displays on "Buffalo." The two videos, set in succession in this particular order, function as a response to the complex expectations he encounters as an artist: Making art, creating images, sounds, and music in the way he desires, and practicing an exceptional artistic liberty as a director of advertisement videos for a major consumer brand, gets condemned by a high-profile African American social commentator and public intellectual. These conversations regarding and stemming from Tyler, the Creator's music and the Mountain Dew advertisement campaign, exemplify how a given text including imagery of different ethnicities can be interpreted in contradictory ways. Even though Tyler, the Creator has been involved in debates over racism, his abundant and frequently problematic references to disability and people with disabilities has been largely overlooked—which perhaps speaks loudly of the general lack of acknowledgement of disability as a critical social issue, and people with disabilities a cultural minority. In the following section I will move on to analyze the ways Tyler, the Creator has employed both visual and verbal cultural imagery of disability.

Madness Beyond Horrorcore

Tyler, the Creator's work has been criticized for racism, misogyny, and homophobia, and one could rightfully describe it as ableist. In the following section I, first, elaborate on the ableist language and imagery in his work, and second, I aim to demonstrate how, while appearing as ableist, his work could provide alternative readings that might prove useful in critiquing ableist cultures and ideologies.

In order to situate Tyler, the Creator's work in the context of rap music and to exemplify the ways he utilizes the tradition of the art form—that is, how it egresses the tradition—I will provide a brief description of horrorcore, a form of rap music in which his work is strongly embedded, but from which he explicitly distances himself. Horrorcore is a genre of rap music often regarded as a sub-genre or a branch of gangsta rap. While gangsta rap draws from the violent aspects of inner city life, and offers critical insights and social commentary—for example by critiquing the structural racism in American law enforcement and criminal justice system—horrorcore is more focused on violence and death in ways that are similar to that of horror cinema and literature, often embracing supernatural elements and other narrative devices that are typical in horror fiction. The pathological and the limits of normalcy are pivotal coordinates according to which horrorcore functions. The violence and the homicidal desires that horrorcore rappers frequently perform and represent are embedded in the deep cultural imagery regarding the proximity of insanity and violence. Horrorcore violence emerges mainly outside of the context of organized crime, street gangs, and drug trade that dictates the occurrence and reasons for violence in gangsta rap.

A prominent figure in horrorcore rap, Brotha Lynch Hung, has taken up the violent imagery of previous horrorcore artists and groups such as the Geto Boys, and meticulously worked to surpass his predecessors' lyrics in terms of brutality and offensiveness. "Return of the Baby Killa" from his second album Season of da Siccness draws together many forms of violence, such as rape, murder, and cannibalism (Brotha Lynch Hung, 1995, track 6). The song opens with a scene of simultaneously shooting a pregnant woman and her unborn baby.

You better pray
When you see me put that nine up in that pussy, ho
Cock it back slow
Rock it back and forth, wait for the nut, then let my trigger go
BOOM!
Pussy-guts all over the room

Put six in the clip, put it up that clit
And watch them baby's brains
Drip out that fetus
Bleed, it's that nigga that kill 'em
I'll fill 'em all full for that sick reason
(Brotha Lynch Hung, 1995, track 6)

Brotha Lynch Hung proceeds to explicate how he murders human beings in order to eat them, and particularly to feed them to his son. This is conveyed in the second verse "As I creep, picture every human that I see/Slabs of human meat 'cause my kids gotta eat" and "So catch me now before I do my next crime/My kids' gotta eat, somebody's baby's on the line"; as well as in the song's chorus "Guess what daddy's bringing home for supper?/Nigga, nuts and guts and slabs of human meat, motherfucker/Now eat! Cause daddy's working hard for you" (Brotha Lynch Hung, 1995, track 6).

Tyler, the Creator evidently employs certain horrorcore tropes in his work—some of which are not too different from Brotha Lynch Hung's style—but he has clearly stated that his music is not horrorcore. When in Tyler, the Creator's second album (2011), Dr. TC compliments his debut album, he answers "What you think I recorded it for?/To have a bunch of critics call my shit a bunch of horrorcore?" (track 1), and on another song he states that "We don't fucking make horrorcore, you fucking idiots/Listen deeper than the music before you put it in a box" (track 9). Furthermore, songs that incorporate horrorcore imagery often introduce elements that immediately undermine the song's ostensible horrorcoreness. The song "Radicals" exemplifies this maneuver. The song opens with a "random disclaimer" addressing the listener: "Don't do anything that I say in this song, okay? It's fucking fiction. If anything happens, don't fucking blame me, White America. Fuck Bill O'Reilly!" (Tyler, the Creator, 2011, track 3). The song itself starts off with an aggressive and loud beat, over which the artist raps about things that have been considered dangerous in rap music since the instances of moral panic evoked by gangsta rap in the early 90s. He urges "kids" to "kill people, burn shit, fuck school," while defaming the police: "Fuck cops, I'm a fucking rockstar/Rebel and defiance make my motherfucking cock hard" (Tyler, the Creator, 2011, track 3). However, each verse is followed by a section with a more mellow and quiet, drumless sections, with only a tranquil, horn-like synthesizer over which Tyler, the Creator speaks, rather than raps, in a more low-key tone. In these passages the rapper seems to advise the listener, and perhaps the same "kids" he urges in the chorus to "kill people, burn shit, fuck school":

Odd Future Wolf Gang. We came together 'cause we ain't had nobody else. But you, you just might be one of us. Are you? … They want us to, go to their schools and be fuckin miserable at their fucking college, studying that bullshit. Fuck that. Do what the fucking makes you happy. (Tyler, the Creator, 2011, track 3)

In the last one of these passages Tyler, the Creator even explicitly advises the listener to ignore the message he has been repeating in the louder and more aggressive verses and choruses:

I'm not, saying, just to go out and do some stupid shit, commit crimes. All I'm trying to tell you is, do what the fuck you want. Stand for what the fuck you believe in and don't let nobody tell you you can't do what the fuck you want. I'm a fucking unicorn—the fuck to anybody who say I'm not. (Tyler, the Creator, 2011, track 3)

At this point the synthesizer on the background continues but drums are introduced, and the rapper chants three times, still in a relatively calm, relaxed tone:

Fuck your tradition, fuck your positions
Fuck your religion, fuck your decisions
They're not mine, you gotta let 'em go
We can be ourselves, but you gotta let us know (Tyler, the Creator, 2011, track 3)

For the duration of the last repetition the beat is muted, and once the a cappella rendition of the verse ends, a new instrumental background is introduced. The new background marks the beginning of the last segment of the song, and maintains the mellow mood of the previous beat. The phrase "you got to let them go" is repeated on the background throughout the remainder of the song. The last two minutes of the song consists of a dialogue between Dr. TC and Tyler, the Creator, in which the therapist reproaches the rapper for the immature attitude he has displayed throughout the first part of the song.

Dr. TC: You gotta let these shits go, man. It's not making sense to you right now but, all these little dreams you got, they're not shit. All this rebellion. All this crazy shit you got, saying this shit. Getting too old for this shit, man, you gotta grow out of it. Growing up, your dreams are getting bigger. You gotta look at reality, understand that shit so you don't get caught. I'm just being real.

Tyler, the Creator: Nigga, fuck you!

Dr. TC: I'm just tryin' to help you, man. Trust me.

Tyler, the Creator: Look, I mature day after day, nigga.

Dr. TC: For real?

Tyler, the Creator: You don't know shit, you're a fucking therapist.

Dr. TC: Whatever, nigga. (Tyler, the Creator, 2011, track 3.)

"Radicals" offers several sites of egress. Already the disclaimer that opens the song affects the immediate interpretation of it. Tyler, the Creator announces that the song is fiction, and urges the listener, and, more specifically, "White America," not to commit the actions described in the song. The verses and the chorus as such seem to express, and promote, hostility and aggression towards authorities and institutions such as the school system and the police. These segments are, however, constantly interrupted by the placid, spoken-word passages, which undermine or contradict the message conveyed in the rap-sections. This structure in itself would be sufficient for disrupting the violent and "radical" aspirations within the song, but the effect is even further reinforced by prolonged outro section, which includes an almost two-minute long wandering dialogue between Dr. TC and Tyler, the Creator. The dialogue underlines the ambiguity of the song through a discontinuous talk by the therapist, who ridicules and belittles the rapper's juvenile attitude. The moping rapper does not seem eager to engage in a conversation, and dismisses the therapist's insights by succinctly stating "you don't know shit, you're a fucking therapist" (Tyler, the Creator, 2011, track 3).

The song, therefore, destabilizes itself through the fragmentary sonic and lyrical structure, and the rambling dialogue between Tyler, the Creator and Dr. TC. In a manner similar to the antinormative novels of embodiment, "Radicals," by its lyrical and structural discontinuity, defies "traditional understandings of normalcy as subject integrity, cognitive coherency, and typical functionality" (Mitchell & Snyder, 2015, p. 182). Even though the horrorcore artists of the 1990s often strive to portray psychopathological violence, they nevertheless fail to disrupt subject integrity and cognitive coherency on the level of their medium.

While Tyler, the Creator exploits formal and structural qualities of his music for conveying incoherent subjectivity, he also refers to mental illness explicitly in his lyrics: "fucked up in [the] mental" (Tyler, the Creator, 2009, track 1); "half my mental belongs in a cage" (Tyler, the Creator, 2009, track 6); "Am I crazy? Maybe/But fucked up is how I been lately" (Tyler, the Creator, 2009, track 12); "I'm fucked in the head, I lost my mind with my virginity" (Tyler, the Creator, 2011, track 1); and "They say I'm nutty" (Tyler, the Creator, 2015, track 11). Tyler, the Creator implies having experience of certain forms of mental disabilities. ADD (attention deficit disorder) is mentioned in several songs, but it remains unclear whether he has actual first-hand experience of the condition or not. In the song "Odd Toddlers" from Bastard, he says that "I suffer from ADHD/I should win a fucking award for being me" (Tyler, the Creator, 2009, track 3), while later on in the album, in "Parade" he denies having ADD (Tyler, the Creator, 2009, track 7). On the second album, again in a dialogue with Dr. TC, he says "Who doesn't have ADD? Well, I don't!" (Tyler, the Creator, 2011, track 1). Despite the plethora of direct references to psychiatric disabilities throughout the albums, probably the most intriguing perspectives on disability emerge from the dialogue between Tyler, the Creator and Dr. TC.

"I got these cracker doctors saying 'Yeah, Bob, this nigger's sick'"

Dr. TC appears first on the opening track of Tyler, the Creator's debut album Bastard (2009). The song lays down the elements of disability and therapy that keep resurfacing throughout the first three albums. However, instead of taking up the hip hop trope of referring to oneself as psychiatrically disabled as form of bragging ("I'm the illest," "I rhyme sick," "[I'm] sicker than your average," etc.), Tyler, the Creator incorporates the theme of mental illness in more complex and nuanced ways. For the rapper of the late 1980s and early 1990s, "crazy" represented a mode of being and performing that could be characterized as aggressive, fearless, extreme—a sort of a vigorous and belligerent craziness of a pre-psychiatric lunatic. In Tyler, the Creator's work craziness—although sometimes reflecting this version of the previous generations of rappers—is more postmodern and post-Prozac; languid and static, always falling into the melancholy of impotentiality, and reduced to mere consumption of medication and endless and aimless psychotherapy. Dr. TC, who, at least initially, appears to be a therapist of some kind, addresses the artist as a patient, positioning the song into a framework of therapy, and of education. Dr. TC is portrayed by Tyler, the Creator, with the pitch of his voice artificially lowered. This is an often-used method in horror cinema for signifying an evil presence within a character, as heard, for example, in the Exorcist (Blatty & Friedkin, 1973) and the Evil Dead (Tapert & Raimi, 1981). While in such narratives the low, gravelly voice is typically reserved for villains and monsters, Dr. TC is mainly a benevolent character, often trying to encourage and comfort Tyler, the Creator.

Well, Tyler hi, I'm Dr. TC, and um, I'm guessing that your teacher sent you here to talk 'cause you were misbehaving. Um, it's gonna be three sessions, today, tomorrow, Wednesday so just tell me something about yourself. Well look, if you don't talk, I mean these sessions are going to go slower (Tyler, the Creator, 2009, track 1).

Dr. TC states that Tyler, the Creator was sent to talk with him because he had been "misbehaving," which subtly echoes Foucault's (2006) assertion that psychiatry was founded on the pathologization of crime and criminalization of the pathological, and also to the historically ambivalent distinction between treatment and punishment (Foucault, 2003). Tyler, the Creator's response to Dr. TC is accompanied by a monotonous piano melody:

This is what the devil plays before he goes to sleep
Some food for thought, this food for death, go ahead and fucking eat
My father's dead, well I don't know, we'll never fucking meet
I cut my wrists and play piano cause I'm so depressed (Tyler, the Creator, 2009, track 1).

In the same song, he also refers to his group OFWGKTA as "Odd Future is children that's fucked up in their mental" and states that "demons running inside my head, telling me evil thoughts" (Tyler, the Creator, 2009, track 1). The first verse also introduces the theme of the absence of his father in his life, which is revisited several times throughout the album. Although this experience is probably genuinely autobiographical, it also functions as a emblematic element of therapy and the psychoanalytic tradition. In addition, it makes as a reference to the myth of the absent African American father perpetuated in various cultural representations. 2 The repetitive allusion of his traumatic relationship with his father starts to gain a comical quality, and in the context of psychotherapy, resonates with the cultural legacy of psychoanalysis and its emphasis on the importance of the nuclear family for the formation and development of the subject.

The character of Dr. TC illustrates what Mitchell and Snyder (2015) call "controlling professions" (p. 41). Controlling professions refer to such professions that participate in regulating disability and normalcy, and which exerts a great deal of power in judging who is disabled and who is not, and who is entitled to what accommodations. Those who practice the controlling professions are "certified in middle-class professional training disciplines such as physical therapy, social work, occupational therapy, speech therapy, special education, psychology, and psychiatry." (p. 41.) Despite of Dr. TC's benevolent appearance he is, in fact, a monster; monster as an enactor of the violence of normalization through practicing a controlling profession, and, on the other hand, a monster regarding the gradual decay the of coherence of his identity throughout the course of the albums, which eventually results in the collapse of the borders between the subjectivities of the characters.

Garland-Thomson (2005) notes that the phrases "monster" and "to demonstrate"' share the shared etymological origin. Both derive from Latin monstrum, which means "divine omen, portent, sign" (Monster, n.d.), therefore referring to acts of making something visible: showing, displaying, and signifying. In his work on biopolitics Agamben (1998) introduces the peculiar concept homo sacer, sacred man, which originated in the ancient Roman law. Homo sacer is a person who can be killed but not sacrificed, an outlaw body that can be killed at will without legal consequences, a body positioned "outside both human and divine law" (Part 2, Chapter 1, para 7). Agamben draws a connection between the Roman homo sacer and the Medieval werewolf. Wolf-man is used in the Anglo-Saxon and Germanic tradition to designate the bandit, a person banned from the city; one who does not belong to the city, but neither to the forest. The werewolf is a being that is both human and animal, but neither fully human nor fully animal. (Agamben, 1998.) Tyler, the Creator's character Wolf Haley taps into the image of wolf-man, the ancient outlaw from the outside of the human community. In addition, wolf-man, the monster, resonates with the racist representational traditions of presenting Black people as subhuman, and therefore unfit for belonging in the political and the social sphere. Tyler, the Creator (2011) employs the monstrous qualities attributed to both Black people and people with mental disabilities in "Yonkers" (track 2). The song has an accompanying music video which reinforces and extends the disability reference present in the lyrics.

The video starts with an image of Tyler, the Creator sitting still on a barstool. His chin rests on his left fist, while the right hand is placed on his hip. He is positioned sideways, and he is almost completely covered in shadows, forming a black silhouette against the plain white background. The camera makes small mechanical movements, and the focus shifts abruptly. Tyler the Creator remains still until the vocals start, at the moment which he turns towards the camera, now elucidated. (OFWGKTA, 2011.)

I'm a fucking walking paradox—no I'm not
Threesomes with a fucking triceratops, Reptar
Rapping as I'm mocking deaf rock stars

Here's the number to my therapist
Tell him all your problems, he's fuckin awesome with listening (Tyler the Creator, 2011, track 2.)

During the first verse, Tyler the Creator is lip-synching the vocals, but at one point he suddenly stops, disrupting the lip synchronization. In the middle of the verse, a cockroach appears on his hand. He observes the insect, constantly turning his hand in order to keep maintain his gaze at the animal as it crawls around. Immediately after the verse ends, he eats the cockroach, which is followed by nausea: He stands up, turns sideways, and vomits, now appearing again as a black silhouette. After the refrain he casually sits back on the stool just in time to deliver the second verse. The lip synchronization is inconsistent also in the second verse, as the rapper occasionally turns on his chair to spit out the remainders of the vomit from his mouth.

Jesus called, he said he's sick of the disses
I told him to quit bitching, this isn't a fucking hotline
For a fucking shrink, sheesh, I already got mine
And he's not fucking working, I think I'm wasting my damn time

This ain't no V Tech shit or Columbine
But after bowling, I went home for some damn Adventure Time
(What'd you do?) I slipped myself some pink Zannies
And danced around the house in all-over print panties
(Tyler the Creator, 2011, track 2.)

At this point, the rapper throws his shirt, which he has removed during the first part of the second verse, at the camera, which is followed by a cut to another shot; now closer to the rapper's face. Followed by the cut, his eyes have turned black, covering the most of the sclera. Toward the end of the verse his nose starts to bleed. He notices it, and seems baffled. A noose descends from the ceiling, which Tyler the Creator places around his neck without hesitation. He pauses to spit one last time before standing up on the stool and kicking it down. This leaves him hanging, which is followed by a brief moment of twitching. The video ends with a shot of his feet dangling above the knocked-down stool.

"Yonkers" is ripe with references to psychiatric disabilities and mental health care. The first explicit verbal reference appears on the end of the first verse: "Here's the number to my therapist/Tell him all your problems, he's fuckin awesome with listening" (Tyler the Creator, 2011, track 2). However, in the video, the visual cues referring to psychiatric disabilities and psychiatric care are present from the very beginning, and remain present throughout the video. Firstly, the camera movement which conveys a vague impression of disorder. The picture is unstable: The camera moves constantly, but in a way that cannot be mistaken for the instability characteristic of hand-held camera. The movement seems mechanic, unnatural. In addition, the focus is shifting all the time in terms of the depth of field.

As well as the motion of the camera, the movement of Tyler, the Creator himself alludes to certain images regarding cognition. In the beginning, he poses in a posture that is reminiscent of that of the "Thinker" by Rodin, although not identical. Sitting perfectly still and sideways to the camera, with his chin resting on his fist, the image reflects for a brief moment the qualities the sculpture embodies: solitude (independence), reason, determination, and dedication to the labor of thought. This image is then substituted by a different kind of appearance, as the rapper turns towards the camera, simultaneously becoming lit, and starts to rap. He looks at the camera at first, but soon changes his attention to his right hand, which he uses to make a kind of blah-blah gesture, forming a snapping mouth or a beak out of his fingers and thumb. This gesture continues the theme enunciated in the first line "I'm a fucking walking paradox—no I'm not," hinting that the rapper is ridiculing his own discourse as he raps.

The lyrics refer to mental disability in several instances. Tyler, the Creator refers to the school shootings in Columbine High School and Virginia Tech, both of which were followed by discussion regarding the relationship between psychiatric disabilities and violent behavior. Furthermore, he refers to "Zannies," or Xanax, a brand of alprazolam, a benzodiazepine anxiolytic. Therapy, and especially his therapist, is explicitly mentioned in the first and the second verse. In both instances Tyler, the Creator expresses dissatisfaction towards the therapist or "shrink" who, according to him is "not fucking working, I think I'm wasting my damn time" (Tyler the Creator, 2011, track 2). After several dialogues that take place in course of the albums Bastard and Goblin, in the very end of the latter, Dr. TC reveals that he is, in fact, none other than Tyler, the Creator:

Tyler, the Creator:  [N]obody gave a fuck

Dr. TC: Someone gave a fuck, Tyler
And uhh… the person that gave a fuck was me
See, you're not, going crazy
It's me, I'm your best friend, Tyler
I know everything, I know everything about you
You've been helping yourself this whole time
Your friends, they're just figments of your imagination
Dr. TC, see Tyler, I'm your conscience
I'm Tron Cat, I'm Ace, I'm Wolf Haley
I'm…

Tyler, the Creator:  Me
(Tyler, the Creator, 2011, track 15.)

This constitutes a pivotal moment, an aporia which destabilizes the subjectivities of the different characters that have appeared throughout the two albums. They intertwine in an unpreceded way, and on the other hand disintegrate, decompose. The voice of Dr. TC, which is in fact Tyler, the Creator's (which in turn is obviously the rap name of a musician and producer named Tyler Okonma), states that his friends are "just figments of [his] imagination" (Tyler, the Creator, 2011, track 15). This statement contradicts the fact that throughout the album Tyler, the Creator addresses his real friends and fellow artists from the OFWGKTA, many of which also appear on several songs on the albums. The fictional voice of Dr. TC claims that Tyler, the Creator's friends do not exist, and in the same instance disavows himself as a singular subject separate from Tyler, the Creator. In addition, the complexity of this statement is further complicated by the ambiguity regarding the relationship between an artist as a singular embodied subject and the role he/she performs that applies to rap music in general. After the revelation Dr. TC loses the dramatic dynamics he possessed throughout the first two albums. In the third and final album of the trilogy Dr. TC is present, but he does not have an equally significant role anymore (Tyler, the Creator, 2013).

The retirement of Dr. TC coincided the controversy around the Mountain Dew campaign in an interesting way. The third and last album to feature Dr. TC, Wolf, was published on April 2, 2013, and the final part of the series of the Mountain Dew ads, the one with the police lineup, came out on April 24 (the first and second ads were released on March 20 and April 8, respectively). On April 30, Boyce Watkins published a comment on the ad, calling it the "arguably most racist commercial in history" (Watkins, 2013b), and the video was removed from circulation by Mountain Dew on May 1 (Tata, 2013). Interestingly, it seems that as soon as Tyler, the Creator had abandoned Dr. TC, a real-life doctor, Dr. Boyce Watkins (Watkins apparently prefers to be addressed using the prefix), emerges and takes up the role of an elder masculine figure from the African American community who tells the artist what he can and cannot do and say.

Conclusion

Tyler, the Creator's work does not critique in any conventional sense; he clearly distances himself from the traditional critical or "socially conscious" hip hop. He expresses his admiration towards artists who are not actively participating in discourses of social issues, while denouncing artist that have been acclaimed for their commitment to discussing topical social and political questions. For example, in the opening track of the Goblin (2011) Tyler, the Creator says that he is

Getting co-signs from rappers that I don't even like

Fuck that, these niggas ain't fuckin with me
cause I don't listen to the Immortal-of-Tech-of-the-nique
and all this underground bullshit that's never gonna peak
On the Billboard Top 20 and Jam of the Week
I'd rather listen to Badu and Pusha-the-T
and some Waka Flocka Flame instead of that real hip hop that's bull-
of-the-shit (Tyler, the Creator, 2011, track 1)

Tyler, the Creator insinuates that he has been approached by Immortal Technique, a critically acclaimed Peruvian-born rapper and activist based in New York, who is known for his strong socialist and Marxist political views and critical lyrics. Many young artists might be flattered by such attention, but Tyler, the Creator dismisses Immortal Technique and other so called conscious rapper as "underground bullshit," and, sneeringly, "the real hip hop." (Tyler, the Creator, 2011, track 1.)

By expressing open contempt of underground "real hip hop" and more specifically an established and critically acclaimed artist known for his critique on capitalism, systemic racism, and contemporary colonialism, Tyler, the Creator distances himself from activist hip hop, at least from its most openly political forms. He deliberately posits himself as an artist who strives to create music that is popular and profitable. In this light, his work could be identified as openly refusing to provide any critical insights. However, I suggest that this kind of overt disavowal of a certain tradition of social critique within hip hop culture can be recognized not as a simple negation of criticality, but on the other hand, as an egressive movement, or an alternative approach to what it means to be a subversive rapper without embracing the critical tradition of liberal leftist hip hop artists. Mitchell and Snyder explain in their description of "politics of atypicality" that "atypicality collects expressions of difference so diffuse, idiosyncratic, and nonreplicable that no generic figure of disability may achieve representative status" (Mitchell & Snyder, 2015, p. 98). I argue that Tyler, the Creator's work can be considered "politics of atypicality," regardless of his intentions, or the amount of his first-hand experience of disability, or lack thereof.

Tyler, the Creator constantly breaks the fourth wall, egressing the role and violently interrupting the performance of a violent, misogynist rapper: "you guys caught me: I'm not a fucking serial killer or rapist, I lied" (Tyler, the Creator, 2011, track 1). In employing the images of a rapist and a murderer, and conflating them with that of a person with psychiatric disability, Tyler, the Creator does not accept and solidify the stereotypical Black man and madman, but on the contrary, condenses the images to the level were their imageness becomes so opaque and brittle that they start to crumble down.

Finally, I'd like to revisit the image of the lobster trap. As a metaphor, it is obviously insufficient for grasping the subject (with a disability) and the incarcerating infrastructure of the cultural and the social, and the complex ontology of the relationship—the liaison, the break, even complicity—between the two. Obviously, the mechanics of objectification carried out by means of cultural representations is too multifaceted and nuanced to be reduced to an encounter between a lobster and a lobster trap. However, we can try another metaphor that might reflect more poignantly the nature of this intertwinement. We can keep the lobster if we want (and I do want, because I happen to like lobsters), but substitute the trap for something else: plastic microfiber. Like many other marine animals, lobsters ingest microplastic, which accumulates in their bodies (Murray & Cowie, 2011). The microplastic dwelling in the oceans are components of an infrastructure; an artificial construction. In addition to the infrastructures that surround us, there are infrastructures that can enter us, permeate us, access us. And remain in us. This image means that what is at stake in egress, is not merely the (subject's) movement out (of representational infrastructures), but also the subject's act of disgorging the infrastructure that has invaded it; that the subject had already consumed.

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Endnotes

  1. Even though the original videos were removed by PepsiCo soon after their release, copies made by individual users can still be found (e.g. Hayes, 2016).
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  2. Research indicates that the image is indeed a mere myth: African American fathers are not more absent from their children's lives in comparison with those from the other ethnic groups (Jones & Mosher, 2013).
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