Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ethnographic Research Proposal

            For my ethnographic research project, I will be examining the cultish following surrounding the rap group Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All, which I will from here on refer to simply as Odd Future or OFWKTA. The group piqued my interest largely because of the controversy surrounding their quick ascension to stardom. Their lyrics are undoubtedly nihilistic, usually delivered by the group’s leader, Tyler the Creator. An often-cited example is a line from Tyler’s song “Tron Cat” – “Raped a pregnant bitch / told my friends I had a threesome.” I plan to start an analysis of what the implications of lyrics like these might be on their fan base, which consists primarily of middle-upper class and Caucasian males.
My research will be mainly web-based, as the group notably rose to fame (infamy?) through their expert use of social media, particularly Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube. I also plan on conducting interviews with any/all of the following:
a)     Fans that I find at the Odd Future show at Boston’s Royale theater on October 21
b)    A web-based fan, hopefully somebody that actively reTweets or reTumbles their posts, or frequently comments on YouTube videos
c)     A professor of either Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, Ethnomusicology, or American Civilization to get a scholarly opinion regarding Odd Future’s provocatively amoral lyrics and their implications on their fan base.
d)    A Brown student, who might be an example of the aforementioned archetypical Odd Future fan (educated, but unperturbed by the lyrical content)

I hope to address some of the following questions/issues in this project:
a)     Youth subcultures often arise out of a sense of “otherness” and alienation, but how might Odd Future represent a rift from this established pattern, in that its fans seem to “other”-ize themselves from the music, establishing a strange dichotomy between lyrical affinity and actual personal belief?
b)    How can we reconcile lyrical content with actual artist intent, which in this case might be in striking contrast? Is this a masterful artistic tool to draw public focus to various social issues, or something completely different?
c)     What are the implications of Odd Future’s lyrical content and following on the subject of gender disparity?
d)    Is there a subconscious sense of voyeurism in Odd Future’s fan base?

I also hope to keep in mind the following issues, which admittedly have the potential to problematize my research:
a)     My personal opinions of the group and its fans, which I have been forming over the last year and might lead me to pointedly research some subjects and ask leading thematic questions. However, I believe that knowing my bias will help me prevent it from encroaching on my research.
b)    My immediate community, which might not be indicative of Odd Future’s fan base as a whole.
c)     My difficult questions that I plan on addressing in my research paper, which may require judgmental analysis to answer.
d)    The difference between lyrical analysis and ethnographic research; I will need to remind myself through the research process that my goal is to examine the group’s fan following and its interpretation of the lyrics, not my own. 


  1. This is a great idea for a research topic. I'd recommend reading this article, which definitely contains some ethnographic elements (and is a really fun read) to get a expectation of the crowd at the show you'll be going to. I think the element of voyeurism will be a key to your project, as the idea of these nihilistic (yet misogynistic, disturbing etc...) are what rile up the fans. I also think it would be interesting to explore the the concept of "otherness" in the subculture--what does the divide between class and race of the performers mean for the culture and the music? Is there an air of resentment against the white upper-class fans for being white upper-class fans? Is this rebellion for white upper-class youths? I think it's smart that you're already wary of the influence lyrical analysis could play in this project and it's going to be really fun to hear different readings of the lyrics by OF die-hards.

    I'm really looking forward to reading this project!

  2. I recently had someone tell me that Odd Future is "the future of rap" and they were quite shocked I'd never heard them. After listening to a couple songs, I am interested to see your findings as the project goes on. The mostly white fan demographic is intriguing, especially when Odd Future is considered in terms of the history of hip hop and hip hop lyricism.

    I think it will be important to maintain a sense of hip hop past and hip hop present throughout the project: how does Odd Future serve as a continuation of the hip hop community? how does it serve as a severance?

    I'm excited to see what you find out.

  3. You've clearly put some thought into how to structure your inquiry for this project, and I think that work is going to pay off. This is a terrific topic, and a big one (it could easily grow into a BA or MA thesis paper). Your biggest challenge will probably be reigning in your analysis and focusing on just a couple of key themes. Here are some readings that could prove useful:

    Hills, Matt. 2002. Fan Cultures. New York: Routledge.

    Barker, Martin and Julian Petley, eds. 2001. Ill Effects: The Media/Violence Debate (Second Edition). New York: Routledge.

    Quinn, Eithne. 2005. Nuthin' But a "G" Thang: The Culture and Commerce of Gangsta Rap. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Miller, Kiri. 2008. "Grove Street Grimm: Grand Theft Auto and Digital Folklore." Journal of American Folklore 121(481):255-285. (I spend some time talking about how negative media coverage tends to pull fans of the game into a defensive community -- and there's a hip-hop connection, too. You can skim to find those parts.)

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  5. This sounds like a fruitful topic and you’re already asking some very important questions. I like that you will make use of face-to-face interviews at the live concert alongside investigations of the group’s fan base via various social networking and communications technologies. This double-pronged approach will serve you well. I also like that you are already being reflexive about your interpretations of the group’s music, particularly the lyrical content. Sometimes it is hard to fully get a sense of a the socio-economics of a scene – people are very often not willing to talk about these things – so you might find that aspect difficult to fully assess. Is their “cultish following” different than the kind of fan-base that develops around other rap groups? Is there something unique about their shows, their music, or their presentation (in media, marketing, etc.) that engenders this kind of intense commitment on the part of fans? I look forward to reading more about this.