Tyler, The Creator – the popular cult rapper and leading figure within Odd Future – has been banned from entering the United Kingdom for the next 3 to 5 years.
According to a Tumblr post from his manager, Christian Clancy, a letter from the United Kingdom’s home secretary ordered that he not enter based on lyrics Tyler had written years ago.
“I felt like a criminal,” Tyler said in an interview with The Guardian after being stopped and held in a detention room by border force officers.
Tyler had booked shows in Reading, Leeds and Belfast – among other cities – that he had to cancel due to the ban, according to his Twitter account. Clancy even stated in his open Tumblr letter that Tyler rented out a movie theater in London for his fans the month before without any incident involving border patrol or the government.
“Coming to the U.K. is a privilege,” a Home Office spokesperson said in response to the controversy according to The Guardian. “The home secretary has the power to exclude an individual if she considers that his or her presence in the U.K. is not conducive to the public good or if their exclusion is justified on public policy grounds.”
The Home Office banned the rapper because of lyrics he wrote seven years ago that “(encourage) violence and intolerance of homosexuality” and “(foster) hatred with views that seek to provoke others to terrorist acts,” according to Clancy.
Lyrics referenced by the Home Office can be found in Tyler, The Creator’s songs "VCR," "Blow," "Sarah," "Tron Cat" and "French,” according to The Guardian.
The letter goes onto further state, “Your albums Bastard, in 2009, and Goblin, in 2011, are based on the premise of your adopting a mentally unstable alter ego who describes violent physical abuse, rape and murder in graphic terms which appears to glamorize this behavior,” according to The Guardian.
This ban from the U.K. has caused controversy regarding freedom of speech in the U.K., as England has always stood at the forefront of free speech and expression in the world.
Clancy claims that Tyler, The Creator’s lyrics and themes have matured as he’s progressed past the 18-year-old rapper he once was. In his letter, Clancy wrote, “This is a broader issue of free speech, with new lines being drawn that include reaching back in time without acknowledging growth. In fact, punishing growth. What I do know is Tyler is part of an argument that is counter to who he has become. How do you punish someone for growing up?”
Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights has since become part of the fabric of British law through the Human Rights Act of 1998 in the U.K., according to Find Law U.K. Article 10 states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions,” according to the U.K.’s government legislation website. It went on to say that these freedoms may be restricted or penalized if necessary for “the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others.”
The idea of Tyler, The Creator being punished for a body of work that came out a little under a decade ago raises questions as to the specifics of U.K.’s freedom of speech law and where the lines are drawn.
In his interview with The Guardian, Tyler also claims that he wrote a lot of his old songs through an alter ego. Relating his alter ego to characters that authors create, he said, “Why don’t they ban authors? Writers who write these mystery books about people getting raped and sabotaged and murdered and brainwashed – why don’t they ban them.”
What kind of speech should be tolerated and what constitutes hate speech is ambiguous territory. When determining whether the law should protect certain speech, or if it lies outside of its bounds, the boundaries are not so clear.
Tyler, The Creator’s temporary ban from the U.K. calls into question the freedom artists in the Western world are allowed to have in terms of creating and how we define hate speech.