If you want to delve into the depths of 2015 nihilism, watch Father’s video for his single Everybody In The Club Gettin Shot. Fifteen or so people, most of them women, all in pink, wandering around a parking lot with florescent guns. They kiss, they grind, they play spin-the-switchblade. At the end, they lie down in an unconscious pile while Father and an accomplice fire two whole clips into their supine bodies. Blood splatters; Father grins.
Everybody In The Club Gettin Shot makes me nostalgic for the the hip-hop nihilism of winter 2011, when it felt for a minute like Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All were about to take over the world. That February produced Tyler, The Creator’s Yonkers, which remains in my mind one of the most viscerally effective music videos of all time. Tyler sits alone in a white room going in and out of focus. He swallows insects, vomits them up, strips off his shirt and finally hangs himself.
What was (and still is) thrilling about the Yonkers video wasn’t it’s voyeuristic violence; it was the palpable angst that motivated it toward its horrible end. Tyler’s death more than anything felt like an actual suicide, not a gross-out display but an act of desperation after all other options had been exhausted. That same angst played out, in a more Kill-Them-All sense, in his appearance with Hodgy Beats on Jimmy Fallon later that week, and in Earl Sweatshirt’s Cronenberg-esque disintegration-via-narcotics-smoothy video for EARL. Like Eminem ten years before them, OFWGKTA were speaking for a generation of confused kids who had no other means of expressing how fucked up they felt. Something was wrong with the world and there wasn’t much else to do but stare into a living horror movie prop’s face about shout “swag”.
Things have changed a lot in four years. Tyler wears Gay Pride shirts and has started getting political. Earl Sweatshirt has gone from psychopathic 16-year-old to the worried introvert who made I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. Meanwhile their friend Vince Staples’s debut album sounds like it was written on the brink of war, their countryman Kendrick Lamar’s album cover hints at revolution and the skate-rap culture they helped to revitalize is metastasizing into the hip-hop version of hardcore punk in the voice of OG Maco. The urgency that drove Tyler to imitate his own death has risen to the top of hip-hop culture, and his suicidal nihilism been translated to something resembling a call to action.
It’s weird to think that a hip hop crew that made a name for themselves by glorifying rape could lay the groundwork for a new hip-hop progressivism. But it’s hard to deny their influence. In a Hot 97 interview this summer, Rosenberg asks Tyler if people ever give him credit for “making them feel kinda comfortable in who they are?” Tyler responds: “Oh, all the time, that shit’s weird […] I can’t even lie, that shit’s tight. I guess someone’s gotta do it”.
Tyler shrugs it off, but it’s inarguable that Odd Future’s particular brand of nihilism helped to dismantled hyper-masculine power’s absolute dominance over hip-hop culture. Compare 2005’s hip-hop to 2015’s. Power and its seizure (over women, over the club, over America culture) is still the dominant lyrical focus, but more often than not it’s cast in oddball irony (A$AP Ferg, Rae Sremmud) or alienated sadboy emptiness (Future, Drake). A lot went into making that change happen, but no artist voiced the frustrated tension that drove it quite as effectively as Tyler.
There’s more than one type of nihilism though, and as positive a force as Odd Future’s trolling may be, they’ve also opened the door for a bleaker side of hip-hop. Which brings us back to Father. Everybody In The Club Gettin Shot is a typical self-reflexive hip-hop song (ironic sex puns, gun metaphors, slurred words) but instead of emptying those tropes of their weight and luxuriating in the (anger, sadness, humor) behind them, Father reduces them to surfaces. The club is an empty parking lot; guns are brightly colored toys; women are locations for hideous violence. Everything gross about a Weeknd song is there, but with none of the alienated sadness. Father for his part doesn’t care one way or another: he’s vaguely, but not remarkably, amused.
If Yonkers is a senseless act of violence motivated by institutionalized anger, Everybody In the Club Gettin Shot is it’s bored next-weekend repetition. At a point in cultural history when hip-hop seems ready to step up to the promises it made in 1988, Father is what’s left over from a decade of steady deconstruction. He knows the tropes, he knows they’re meaningless, he does them anyway; because what else is left? The result is a visceral absence. Never has hip hop felt so empty, so unnecessary, so bored. It’s a nasty pill to swallow at a time when there’s never been more to do.