The UK's Over the Top Censorship of Tyler the Creator

A few days ago, Tyler the Creator cancelled four tour dates in the UK and Ireland, including the Reading and Leeds Festivals. While he initially didn’t give details about the reason for the cancelled shows, yesterday he revealed via Twitter that he’s been banned from the UK for 3 to 5 years due to lyric content from his 2009 mixtape Bastard and 2011 album Goblin.

While there is the overarching issue of freedom of speech, what’s even more batshit insane about Tyler being banned is that he was in the UK for a film screening less than a month ago. It’s not just censorship, it’s outdated censorship!

While the UK’s Home Office has publicly commented saying that Tyler the Creator is not "conducive to the public good"if their reasoning for this statement saying that he "encourages “violence and intolerance of homosexuality” and "fosters hatred with views that seek to provoke others to terrorist acts" via six year-old lyrics, this is such a step backwards for freedom of speech in the UK. While there are offensive lyrics on Tyler’s first releases, they were also the releases of an angry 18 year-old seeking to elicit a strong response from people. And he did. But while the character and rapping alter-ego of Tyler the Creator is cartoonish and overblown, taking everything he says at face value is absurd in and of itself.

But the bigger issue here is that the UK is banning him based on lyrics when Tyler the Creator — the person, not the character — has shown no bigotry, homophobia or terroristic tendencies. In fact, he’s actively supported his gay colleagues (s/o to Frank Ocean, please release your album). Is Tyler perfect? Of course not, and at times, his character when rapping actively seeks to goad the general population into outrage. But he’s no worse than any of his colleagues. And in his more recent releases, he’s been a lot more tolerant than other rappers in the game.

That’s not even comparing him to other genres of art and music, where content has never been a reason to ban an artist. Apparently, the only art where lyrics are in direct correlation to character is rap. It’s hard not to see this as a racist slight, or at the very least playing into the stereotype that rap is somehow more violent, misogynistic, and homophobic than any other music genre. Even "all-inclusive” genres like punk contain just as many — if not more — moments of bigotry.

Not every artist can be separated from their art. But in the case of Tyler the Creator, assuming that he and his artistic persona are one and the same is a one-dimensional way to look at the problem. In his actions Tyler is fairly progressive, if misguided — like the time he tried to appropriate Neonazi imagery for gay rights. But hey, the dude is at least trying to make amends. He’s really grown from his Goblin days.

Punishing someone for six year old lyrics, when they’ve recently shown extraordinary movement forward, seems insane. "This is a broader issue of free speech,” said Tyler’s manager Christian Clancy. “With new lines being drawn that include reaching back in time without acknowledging growth. In fact, punishing growth."

By setting a precedent of being able to ban artists based on their work, the UK is going down a dark path of censorship. If an artist has shown no real, tangible signs of being bigoted or terroristic their work shouldn’t speak for them. Dark art doesn’t make a dark person, although at times a dark person does create dark art. But, ironically, groups like N.W.A. — which has members who’ve admitted to beating women — can enter and leave the UK freely.

Punishing artists for art, while not even punishing artists for crimes, is a Stone Age-style mentality. And even worse, a mentality that the UK is only applying to rappers.

Photos via Golf Media

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