Tyler, the Creator is the definition of provocative. His lyrics and image have been scrutinized in the media since Odd Future’s rise to popularity over a decade ago. People either worship the LA native for his freewheeling nature, or attack him for using offensive candor in music and interviews (just listen to “Tron Cat;” it’s everything you need to know about early Tyler in a nutshell). Either way, Tyler doesn’t care what you think of him. He’s just here to “make things“-as his name so aptly suggests. And boy has he made a lot.
Aside from spearheading the Odd Future collective, Tyler has also designed a fashion line (titled GOLF WANG); released six solo albums; generated a TV show for Comedy Central (titled Loiter Squad)-and found his own music festival (Camp Flog Gnaw). Seems like a lifetime of accomplishments. The crazy part; Tyler is only 28, and has a lot more left in the tank. Aside from music and fashion, the provocateur also wants to make movies-expressing desire to meet Wes Anderson in multiple interviews (Grand Budapest Hotel).
When it comes to rapping, Tyler is an anomaly of sorts. He doesn’t want to be called a “hip hop artist;” because he’s much more than that. His insistence on becoming a director in the future doesn’t surprise me, especially considering the leadership qualities he portrays in musical endeavors. Tyler is an entrepreneur, and without him, who knows if guys like Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean would have the same platform they do now. Tyler made it cool to be yourself within a genre that hadn’t accepted outsiders for years. In other words, it was alright to be weird.
Tyler carries this intriguing aurora around him not too often seen in hip hop. Much like Ocean, he lives a mysterious lifestyle (which is surprising considering how vocal and outgoing he is in the media). Everyone thought he was homophobic until his proclamation on 2017’s Flower Boy-“I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004” (from the track, “I Ain’t Got Time”). That album, like many from Tyler, pursued a specific narrative. Only this time, the 28-year-old seemed to be coming to terms with his sexuality. Which makes me wonder, how happy was Tyler before 2017?
In a Larry King interview from 2015 (great interview by the way: I’ve probably referenced it three times already), Tyler was asked what really bothers him (which isn’t a lot-he repeatedly said racism never got to him when he was a kid). After a long pause, he professed that dis-ingenious people is what really grinds his gears. “I hate people who aren’t comfortable with themselves..that’s what scares me.” Not something you’d expect someone who repeatedly uses f****t in their music to say. But that’s Tyler’s image. No one outside of his clique truly understands him.
I could sit here and say everything about Tyler’s career has been calculated; from the development of the infamous OF logo, to the usage of offensive language; all the way to the affirmation of his sexuality. But I’m not really sure it was. Tyler backpacks around with a confidence and comfortability like everything has happened for a reason. But as we saw on Flower Boy, he’s got his own demons. Seemingly, he used abhorrent language on earlier albums (Goblin and Wolf specifically) to mask his insecurities. Was it the right thing to do? No; but Tyler’s moved on from that persona. He’s not playing characters anymore. He’s actually himself; Tyler, the Creator.
With Flower Boy being his most critically-acclaimed record to date. the LA native now has full freedom to do exactly what he wants. His newest album Igor-released on May 17-is a heartbreak tale; represented through chaotic percussion and booming bass. Lyrically, it’s his most minimalistic to date. Sonically, his most self-assured. Not only is Tyler finally free to chase this guy he’s been infatuated with; he’s also allowed to navigate an instrumental palette that’s only been heard sporadically throughout his discography (anarchic synths, bombastic bass, rich piano riffs). Igor acts as a platform for Tyler to sing; something he’s always wanted to do since 2015’s Cherry Bomb. In that same King interview, the 28 year-old stated that rap sometimes bores him. He’s still passionate about the art form-just looking for something outside his comfort zone. He wears his influences (N.E.R.D. and Death Grips specifically) on his sleeve, making their styles his own in the process.
In fact, that’s the one thing that’s stayed consistent about Tyler. He likes to make himself and others uncomfortable. It’s probably his greatest talent musically. Igor is no different. The album is a combination of the alt-rap style Tyler introduced on Cherry Bomb, and the vulnerability shown on Flower Boy. It’s Tyler at his apex creatively. And while the lyrics on songs like “Earfquake” and “I Think” are a tad surface-level, the emotion behind Tyler’s distorted voice evokes a sense of nostalgia and adolescence. Not in an immature way either. More-so, it’s a man becoming comfortable in his own skin; finally. You have to listen to the album all the way through. Hearing the chaos of “New Magic Wand” wouldn’t make sense if you haven’t heard the other songs prior. He even provided fans with instructions on how to listen. Once again, it’s Tyler being calculated (maybe).
Flower Boy’s perfect production allowed Tyler to experiment tremendously on Igor. The lawlessness he exudes on the latter project is a result of perfecting his craft. He deserves to show his flaws, both instrumentally and vocally. The experience is beautiful, disorganized, and heartbreaking all in one. The concept of chasing a love you’ll know will never happen is relatable for all of us. Even with how weird everything is, Igor will undoubtedly resonate with people. Just like Bastard and Goblin motivated kids to “fight against the system.” That mentality is still a part of present-day Tyler, just in a sophisticated manner. I don’t excuse the things he said on tracks in the past, but it was all a part of growing up. And that’s what Tyler has done over the past three years. He’s okay with being imperfect, because that’s what we all are. Igor is him finally putting that mindset into motion.
Who knows what’s next after this for Tyler. Maybe he will finally make the movie he’s always wanted. Maybe he’ll go into creative exile like Ocean. Maybe he’ll say something crazy in the media. We’ll see. One thing’s for sure; Tyler may have found peace. Not just romantically, but intellectually as well. Everything he’s done creatively is for a reason, even if he may not think so.
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