UPDATE: The Home Office has provided a statement about Tyler's ban from the UK. "Coming to the U.K. is a privilege, and we expect those who come here to respect our shared values. 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 or if their exclusion is justified on public policy grounds.”
UPDATE 2: The Telegraph are claiming that Tyler is the first musician ever to be banned from the UK because of lyrics.
It’s difficult to find a circumstance where one can group Shirley Phelps-Roper, Robert Mugabe, and Tyler, the Creator together. All three are famous for a different reason: Phelps-Roper is the former spokesperson for the Westboro Baptist Church; Mugabe is the self-confessed “Hitler of our time”; Tyler is a musician. Yet all three find themselves on a list together now, of people banned from entering the UK.
It’s easy to comprehend why Mugabe isn’t allowed in the United Kingdom. Before he rose to power as the president of Zimbabwe, Mugabe lead the charge in an ethnic cleansing which left 20,000 Zimbabwean’s dead. He’s called lesbians and gays “worse than dogs and pigs”. And in 2008, fearing he would lose the election, he launched a military style campaign against the opposition with the code name CIBD: Coercion. Intimidation. Beating. Displacement.
It’s not difficult to understand Shirley Phelps-Roper’s predicament either. As the spokesperson for the Westboro Baptist Church, Phelps and her father Fred – who led the church and was also banned from the United Kingdom until he passed away - spearheaded homophobic public protests under the slogan “God Hates Fags”, often at funerals.
Which brings us to Tyler, the Creator, an infinitely more challening situation. He’s a musician, not a dictator or an ignorant activist. In the last six years, the twenty-four year old has launched a record label, a network television series, a clothing line, a festival, and in the process become an inspiration to young people across the world. Yet last night Tyler’s manager published a blog post stating he has been banned from the United Kingdom for three to five years because his work “fosters hatred with views that seek to provoke others to terrorist acts” and “encourages violence and intolerance of homosexuality”.
According to his manager, the ban was signed by the Secretary of State of the Home Department (we think he means Home Secretary, Theresa May) of the United Kingdom who sent a letter which “specifically cites lyrics he wrote 6-7 years ago for his albums Bastard and Goblin”.
It’s been well documented that Tyler the Creator’s persona on record is as it is: a persona. Yet in his blog post, Tyler’s manager states “the letter [from the Home Office] acknowledged he was writing from an alter ego perspective”. So it feels like the UK government are aware Tyler’s is playing a character on record, but have chosen to ban him anyway.
The blog post goes on to state: “Does this then apply to book writers [who use a persona]? The fact that he has evolved into someone who has acknowledged and grown out of [using slurs] is simply lost in the narrative. Is he not worthy of the pat on the back for becoming aware and making changes? What message does that send? Is race a conscious or subconscious factor at all?”
“There’s a lot to absorb and understand, but while [Tyler] gets painted as some sort of anti christ I want to make sure people know the facts, which are that he hasn’t delved into those lyrics in years – he writes songs about cars and spreading your wings. He doesn’t drink or smoke, he owns his own businesses, he takes care of his family and friends, he’s honest, grateful, aware, fearless, intelligent, and inspiring. His shows serve as a release, not acts of aggression”.
There are countless more offensive rappers than Tyler allowed to play the UK, as well as many with far more serious convictions, including charges of murder, rape and domestic violence. Tyler himself, has been playing here without problem, across at least 25 shows in the past three years. Tyler has never been charged with a serious or violent crime. At times his last record Cherry Bomb is an empowering listen; it’s about finding your wings and being unafraid to realise your full potential. Through a fierce independence that’s seen Tyler achieve his wildest dreams from nothing, he’s now an inspiration to weird teenagers who can often feel like their viewpoints don’t matter. A Los Angeles based festival he created called Camp Flog Gnaw pulls in an attendance of around 12,000 and has passed each year without incident. It is baffling then, why he has been singled out by the government. It does suggest that this is much more of a cultural issue rather than a straightforward hate speech issue.
Whatever the reason is for Tyler’s ban, the general consensus has been “WTF?”. Someone has started a petition to lift the ban here. But until that’s successful, which it probably won’t be, recline into the knowledge that once again the British government is fighting a war with hip-hop.
You can find Ryan Bassil on Twitter: @RyanBassil