It’s been a strange rise to the top for Tyler, The Creator.
Having made his debut to the mainstream as a part of the hip-hop collective Odd Future, with Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean amongst his Odd Future collaborators, Tyler found himself at the centre of a musical movement that immediately hooked the MySpace generation. Their tracks were bold, outlandish, unapologetic – it’s no surprise that listeners got invested so quickly.
“I feel like people make it seem bigger than it really was,” he says, “But I was living in it, so I guess it’s different when you’re in it. It just felt like this small internet thing.”
Their style as a collective was as vibrant as it was nihilistic, with lyrics reflecting their teenage rebellion contradicted by their brash, cartoonish aesthetic. Their music felt honest, as if it appeared to perfectly encapsulate the attitude and cynicism of the late-00s skaters, stoners, burn-outs and outcasts that made up the majority of their early fanbase. It was inarguably provocative, something which worked in their favour to no end.
Given that Tyler was the unofficial face of Odd Future, it’s no surprise that he went on to achieve so much once he began to work alone.
As a solo artist, his early music was gritty and hard-hitting – still honest, but in a way that dug a little deeper. There was clear anger behind the tracks, with some fans describing his style as ‘horrorcore’. His work with Odd Future was peppered with Jackass-style shock tactics, all of which helped to grab attention – though the shock tactics employed on his 2010 solo mixtape Bastard appeared to be a little less tongue-in-cheek. At points, it makes the collection of tracks feel almost uncomfortable to listen to.
The violent, crass lyrics and backdrop of unnerving, off-pitch synth featured on Bastard set a precedent for his work to follow. When Tyler’s first album, Goblin, hit in 2011, critics appeared to agree. Slant Magazine’s Huw Jones wrote that ‘Goblin could well be one of the decade’s most significant releases…a masterpiece for those capable of stomaching it’.
Considering some of Tyler’s lyrical material, it was only a matter of time before he landed himself in a little hot water over the tracks, though few could have predicted just how this would happen when it came to it. When, in 2015, the work caught the attention of acting Home Secretary Theresa May, Tyler was blindsided by a five-year ban from entering the United Kingdom.
“Monday was one of the shittiest days I’ve ever had. I was in a detention room; I felt like a criminal,” Tyler wrote, following his apprehension at the UK borders.
“This guy comes in, he gives me a paper, and he says: ‘OK, they’re not letting you in the country.’ The paper said I couldn’t come at all, saying that I support homophobia and acts of terrorism.”
The lyrics in question were lines from songs in which Tyler, speaking from the point of view of a fictional alter ego, had made homophobic remarks and threats against women. The work was certainly shocking, but he felt that banning him from the UK over them was a clear strike against freedom of speech – especially given that the officers had acknowledged the lyrics’ context as being entirely fictional.
“What about the people who will make music in the next five years? Are they gonna get banned?”, Tyler continued.
“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?”
However, what followed over the next five years was a true stylistic metamorphosis for Tyler, who had long-since evolved from the lyrical tone he used within his early work. A picture had started to emerge of a young man who simply wanted to use his music to come clean about the parts of himself that he hadn’t previously felt comfortable sharing – or, perhaps, living with.
His 2017 album Flower Boy was perhaps his most raw and honest work to date, dropping much of the facade he had developed and showcased within his music over the years. On the track I Ain’t Got Time!, he tells listeners ‘The next line will have ‘em like ‘Whoah!’, I been kissin’ white boys since 2004’.
When he followed the award-winning album with 2019’s IGOR, a collection of songs charting the titular character’s feelings towards his complicated male lover, he was awarded the BRIT award for International Male Solo Artist – an accolade that he was finally able to collect in person.
“I wanna give a special thank you to someone I hold dear to my heart,” he told the crowd, as he accepted the prize. “Who made it so that I couldn’t come to this country five years ago and I know she’s at home pissed off – thank you, Theresa May.”
It was the poetic justice that a lot of fans had been waiting to see.
It was also a marker of just how much he had changed since his initial rise to fame, which happened when Tyler was still a teenager. The teenage rebellion that so many go through during adolescence was just as prominent to Tyler during his first few years in the spotlight, which meant that his every move – so many of them spontaneous and without much thought – was broadcast to the masses.
“People don’t realise that all the stupid shit they did, no one knows about it but the three people in their hometown,” he told The Guardian, ahead of his first set of sold-out shows at Brixton Academy after his return to the UK. “All the stupid shit I did, or said, was public.”
With that in mind, would he go back and do anything differently?
“Oh no. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
His work with Odd Future began when the group of friends, all of whom shared an interest in rap music, started creating off-the-cuff, freestyle tracks together to put out online.
“The stuff I was into was a little different to the other kids who looked like me. They liked basketball and sports and stuff like that, and I never liked it. (Rapping) would get me the thumbs up.”
Music isn’t the only industry that Tyler has broken into, however. He’s gone on to found and run the Camp Flog Gnaw festival, as well as launching the Golf Le Fleur fashion label, a brand which has gone from strength-to-strength since it was first released.
However, he’s taking a little time out from these new endeavours recently in order to return to the studio – most recently, he released his new single LUMBERJACK. The track already appears to be receiving plenty of love from fans, having already racked up over 7 million listens on Spotify.
They’ll be pleased to discover that his follow-up to IGOR, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, is on its way on June 25th.
Having recently turned 30, he’s already achieved so much more than most will in a lifetime, yet his success doesn’t appear to surprise him too much.
“I always knew I’d be successful, since I was eight,” he says, confidently. “Think of me and my personality and everything,” he says. “What else would I be good at?”Think of me and my personality and everything. What else would I be good at?”
It’s true that some just seem made for stardom. Tyler undeniably appears to be one such person.