In the modern era, rap music has become a forum exclusively for winners and those who wish to cheer them on. The losers rarely if ever get the spotlight, and when they do they are mostly cast as the mythical haters that the winners obsess over. In eras past, skilled rappers gave us some insight into the perspective of the guy who finishes last. Slick Rick and Biz Markie were masters at this. In the internet age, it is very likely that proverbial losers abound now that celebrity has turned into a 24 hour a day spectator sport. That kind of detachment has got to foster some rather unhealthy mindsets in regards to male/female relations. Tyler the Creator, fearless leader of the often misunderstood Odd Future collective, lets us inside the mind of one who lives with unrequited lust in the video for “She.”
The beat could have easily been programmed on bargain basement Casio keyboard. The drippy, bouncing drums are the epitome of beat machine simplicity. The sparse keys, overlaid with a whiny synthesizer that hovers somewhere between serenity and genuine disquiet, leave the listener unsure of how they should approach the song. It could be facilitating a romantic boot knocking session, but something much darker lurks beneath the lusty teenage sentimentality on the surface. It’s actually the soundtrack to a stalker’s dark fantasy. Tyler pines away for the object of his affections. He sometimes refers to her as a “cunt,” but it’s clear that his misogyny is fueled by a case of sour grapes. He hates what he cannot have. Tyler’s droning monotone gives everything an eerie calm. His words speak of deep feelings, yet his vocal tone betrays no such emotions.
The video plays like a darker version of the Pharcyde’s classic “Passin' Me By.” As a swaggering corner boy beds Tyler’s favorite girl, "Goblin" peers at them from the outside of her bedroom window. The image is fittingly creepy, yet oddly touching in its own way. The narrator thinks what he’s feeling is love, but that love is being expressed in a freakish manner. Tyler dons a mask and enters the girl’s bedroom, sniffing her panties. The scene then switches to something much more benign and harmless, as Tyler imagines professing his love to his sweetheart by a lake. Reality then crashes in on his dreams, as she has rebuked his advances in a manner that makes perfect sense.
“She” is about ten times as effective as it has any right to be. It’s as simple as any of the garden variety party raps that populate urban radio, yet it touches on something much deeper. Amidst the scores of players that populate hip-hop, there are the guys that are too afraid to even try. They exist in far greater numbers than any of us are willing to acknowledge. Tyler is willing to go to that place, even if it makes him look like a consummate weirdo. His music may not be for all tastes, but it is deceptively complex and admittedly brave. Inside of everyone is a little Charlie Brown, or in Tyler’s case, a stalker.