Last August Tyler, the Creator was travelling from France to the UK, in the middle of a tour, when he was stopped on the border. He was placed in a detention room and, in his words, treated “like a criminal.” A border control officer walked into the room and placed a piece of paper in front of him. On it, were old lyrics from songs he hadn’t performed live in years. Thirty minutes later, the officer walks back, tells Tyler that he is banned from entering the UK because his presence was “not conducive to the public good”, and hands him a piece of paper alleging that he is guilty of supporting homophobia and acts of terrorism. Up until this point, Tyler had played twenty five UK shows in three years without any serious incident, and had put on special film showings in central London just eight weeks prior.
The lyrics in question were from the songs “VCR”, “Blow”, “Sarah”, “Tron Cat”, and “French”, mostly written when he was eighteen, and though the British home office agreed that Tyler had written the lyrics using the fictional voice of a “mentally unstable alter ego”, his art was seen to “foster hatred with views that seek to provoke others to terrorist acts” and “encourages violence and intolerance of homosexuality.” His shows were cancelled. It’s now been six months, and apart from the odd revelatory tweet, most people seem to have forgotten.
At the time, we and many other publications commented that banning Tyler set a dangerous precedent for artists entering the UK. But it didn't – Future, Young Thug, and many other stars with lyrics that could easily be manipulated to seem not "conducive to the public good" have since performed in the UK without problems. It was just Tyler.
Yesterday afternoon, British MPs met in parliament to debate a case very similar to Tyler’s, about whether US presidential candidate, rich, ridiculous person, and creepy dad (“If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her”) Donald Trump, should be allowed to visit Britain. The only difference is that Donald Trump – or "Donald Musty Ass" as Tyler calls him – has been the target of mass public outcry, via half a million signatures on a petition, condemning his general chat as hateful. Nobody in the British public asked for Tyler to be banned.
From the outset, the much publicised UK Trump Chat 2K16 was handled in a radically different manner to the Odd Future rapper’s case. It was not executed behind closed doors by the Home Office, for a start. This was a debate that went on for over three hours in Westminster, and fuck me, I watched it all, as the very status of Trump earned him an entire afternoon of over-prepared and under rehearsed speeches from over one hundred MPs, all live streamed on the internet.
Trump’s offences were not fictional lyrics written when he was at the angst-ridden age of eighteen under the premise of an alter ego (although imagine that album!). No, these were outpourings he preached in public spaces, or made during TV or radio broadcasts. These were hysterical and dangerously ignorant declarations, like claiming all Muslims should be banned from entering the United States in the wake of extremist violence. It was him casting Mexicans as “rapists” and “criminals”. It was endless misogynistic outpourings that have seen him label women as “fat pigs”, “dogs”, “slobs”, and “disgusting animals”.
And as the early impassioned denouncements in this Trump discussion slowly deflated during the parliamentary debate, like a slow punctured football being booted around a school playground, it slowly became less and less likely that any action would be taken against him. Some MPs offered to “take him for a curry”, other’s wrote his existence off as “buffoonery”, and Tory MP Adam Holloway remarked that they should all “apologise to the people of the United States” for even considering a ban. But the overriding sentiment was a level-headed and democratic one, that Trump should be allowed to visit the UK so he can be challenged on his views. The debate ended with no vote, and Home Secretary Theresa May will make the final inevitable decision.
“In my opinion,” explains Houman Mehr, an immigration law expert and Senior Associate at Westkin Associates, “there is very little chance of Trump ever being banned. It’s completely at the discretion of Teresa May. With Trump being the frontrunner for the Republican nomination she will not risk upsetting potentially her biggest allies.” But the more this exclusion case peeters out, so the case against Tyler the Creator begins to look more ludicrous and unjust.
Let’s get this straight, I’m not saying that if Tyler the Creator is banned, then Donald Trump must be banned too. I’m saying, how have the UK government legislatively settled on a logical outcome where Tyler the Creator can be guilty and Donald Trump can’t? Where is the consistency here? Are Tyler’s half-decade old lyrics truly more damaging than Trump’s rhetoric?
“Tyler’s case is to me quite disturbing,” says Mehr. “Unlike Trump, Tyler’s ban was in reaction to fictional works of art. They are no different to that of a Tarantino movie or a Stephen King novel. Trump on the other hand does actually believe in the hateful agenda that he is pushing, and has a much higher chance of actually inciting violence because of it.”
The big worry from commenters about the banning of Trump, was that it would be spun to his advantage – that he could use the case to suggest that dark forces were conspiring against him, and rouse his supporters into a Jose Mourinho-esque siege mentality. For Tyler the Creator, though, dark forces within the UK government genuinely are conspiring against him, because it’s now abundantly clear that he was singled out where others are overlooked.
It’s a level of hypocrisy that suggest our government bend our laws for purpose depending on whether the accused is a rich white guy with plutocrat status or one particular young black rapper they just don’t like the look of. “Trump has money and the perception of power,” adds Mehr. “Governments throughout history have shown that they are willing to make exceptions for those they can gain from. 2016 is no different.”
The question now is how to leverage the Trump case to progress the overturning of Tyler’s ban. In the last five years, Tyler has recorded three albums, toured extensively, and introduced a bold new strain of rap to his core following of British youth. It’s pretty damn heartbreaking to think that we might not see him perform again in Britain until 2020, and probably album number seven.
“These decisions are reviewed every 3 to 5 years. Tyler has very little recourse to challenge the decision unless he can show that there is an infringement on his human rights. He can indirectly challenge the decision by bringing a civil claim against the Home Office, known as a Judicial Review, however the burden of proof for this is quite high,” explains Mehr. Basically, his back is against the wall. “The best bet is that supporters of Tyler put pressure on the Home Office with petitions or by contacting their local MP’s about the issue. With Trump’s non-ban the hypocrisy is now clear for all to see.”
It would take 100,000 signatures for Tyler's case to be discussed properly in parliament, which is not unrealistic considering he's scored two top twenty UK albums. For now though, all we have are the conclusions we draw. So, let’s have a raise of hands – what’s more hateful? Graphic fictional lyrics written under an alter ego when you’re eighteen? Or an ongoing verbal assault conducted on a world stage consisting of hate, racism, sexism and prejudice? To the UK government, it isn’t about what was said, it’s about who said it.
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Houman Mehr works for Westkin Associates, who can be found here.