When Tyler, The Creator first started gaining national notoriety around 2008, it would’ve been easy to dismiss him as cheap shock—a snotty kid willing to push every button (mass murder, rape, cannibalism) just to get a little attention. Within a few years, he’d evolved into one of hip-hop’s genuine polymaths, a self-contained brand who not only rapped, wrote, produced, and art-directed, but designed clothes and created television shows; whose vision—violent, surreal, sarcastic, and disarmingly introspective—captured the id of an audience who didn’t know how to relate to their feelings but weren’t going to keep them in any longer.
Raised in Los Angeles County, Tyler (born Tyler Okonma in 1991) started experimenting with music in his early teens, co-founding the Odd Future collective in 2007, a group whose members included fellow iconoclasts Earl Sweatshirt, Frank Ocean, and Syd Tha Kyd. Influenced by the grab-bag eclecticism of Pharrell Williams and his own tirelessly messed-up inner monologues, his official debut, Goblin, came out in 2011. (“Wow, life’s a cute b***h full of estrogen,” he rapped on the title track. “And when she gives you lemons, n***a, throw ’em at pedestrians.”) Gritty, nightmarish, and barbed, the album established him as a kind of antihero: an artist whose bad reputation only made his fans love him more. Wolf (2013) and Cherry Bomb (2015) explored similar psychological territory with increasing nuance; his productions got more sophisticated too, exploring soul-jazz (“FIND YOUR WINGS”), Latin music (“Tamale”), and ’90s R&B (“Awkward”) in ways that were both discordant and colorful, a full rainbow of bad feeling.
In 2017, he released Flower Boy, an album whose vulnerability and eclecticism represented a major step up—a maturation from young punk to complex young man. It ended up being nominated for a Grammy. Meanwhile, he’d found the time to create not one but three television shows (Loiter Squad, Nuts + Bolts, The Jellies), launch a vibrant streetwear line (Golf Wang), and spearhead an annual festival called the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival. Like Kanye and Pharrell before him, and artists like the BROCKHAMPTON collective after, Tyler represents a new chapter in hip-hop, toying with identity and sexuality, and drawing on influences—skate culture, therapy speak, the kaleidoscopic weirdness of life on the internet—that help to expand rap’s vocabulary while still keeping continuity with the past. In 2019, he released IGOR, his most mood-driven, soul-baring work to date.
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