Tyler, the Creator is a rapper. He is also a producer and songwriter. He is the mastermind the most notable rap group of this generation. He is the creator of one of the biggest streetwear brands in the world. He is a director and screenwriter. He is able to attract hundreds of thousands of dedicated fans to attend his self-originated music festival. He is an auteur in the truest sense of the word. He is the artist that inspires me most in life.
Like most people, my first introduction to Tyler was when Kanye West declared on Twitter that “Yonkers” was the best music video of 2011.
The stark, minimalistic black-and-white visuals, gruesome imagery and violently foul lyrics crashed onto me with the full force of a dumpster truck. As a naive 14-year-old boy, the song felt like my second coming of puberty. How could one man have so much anger and hate laced in him? His coarse sandpaper-like voice was unlike anything I ever heard. Threatening to stab Bruno Mars in his oesophagus was as fantastical as it gets, yet I somehow believed every word that left Tyler’s mouth. Not that I thought that he was openly planning homicide on the biggest song of his career thus far, but there was this unshakable confidence in the way he vehemently enunciated the lyrics.
I was hooked.
I began rummaging through his discography which, back then, only consisted of the album “Yonkers” was on — Goblin, and his debut mixtape — Bastard. Both bodies of work were aesthetically similar in which lo-fi industrial production ran rampant with violent and misogynistic lyrical content littered throughout. Though I couldn’t get into the themes of his work (possibly due to my fairly sheltered background), I could identify with his rage.
Beyond his solo material, I became exposed to his (now defunct) alternative hip-hop group that went by the name of Odd Future, also affectionately known as OFWGKTA. Spearheaded by Tyler himself, the musical output of the group was equally as abrasive, often teetering on the line of parody. The temperamental aggression was still present in their mixtapes, but it was repeatedly yanked from the limelight to make way for the group’s unfiltered youthful exuberance.
Stripping away Odd Future’s brand and music, the 17-people collective was ultimately a friend group that happened to make dope music together. Every member had an infectious charisma about them and watching them thoroughly enjoy each other’s company made me drip with envy. It was the friend group that I had always dreamed of having, one that I could creatively revel with and also mess around with to equal measure.
I became obsessed with them, combing through every project that the group and its various subgroups put out (there were more duds than hits). I fervently waited for every OF clothing capsule to drop (never bought any of them because international shipping was a bitch). I yearned to be like them, to be as creative and as off the wall and as carefree.
To me Tyler, and to an extent OF, are the physical embodiments of “doing it on your own terms”. There were no guidelines for Tyler to follow as he adamantly carved his way out into the public consciousness. Social networking and blog sites barely passed their infancy stage, and shock rap had lost its previous addictive potency (hi, Relapse). Still, he doubled down on every stylistic choice he made, uncompromising while fulfilling his artistic vision.
This eccentricity extended past the music and was front and centre in his TV shows. Loiter Squad, which aired on Adult Swim from 2012 to 2014 was a 15-minute sketch show that prominently featured members of OF, which he described as a cross between The Chappelle Show and Jackass. It was irreverent and crude, a program that was seemingly conceived for no one but themselves. The Jellies is also another show of his on Adult Show. The animated comedy is as gross and random as many other AS programs, but a black kid being raised by a dysfunctional family of jellyfish can REALLY push the boundaries of belief. Still, the shows are still very much Tyler. Both oozed his personality from every orifice imaginable and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Still, it was Nuts+Bolts that gave me a coherent look into the mind of Tyler Okonma. Aired on Viceland, the documentary series saw him detailing the things that he took an interest in, from stop motion to maple syrup, and learning about them from industry professionals. Watching him detail his passion in things was intriguing, the way he articulated his reasons were almost child-like in their fascination but at the same time well thought out and heartfelt. You could tell that he was a man that saw wonder in the world and that it was an oyster ripe for his picking.
However, no amount of Tyler side-gigs will pull me away from what made me fall in love with him in the first place — the music.
I saw Goblin as a body of work that was made by a man that was misunderstood and then vilified. His wrath and distress became my respite in a time of my life where inexplicable emotional whiplash was my biggest enemy. Wolf saw him maturing and tackling personal issues with thoughtfulness and subtlety. It felt like my big brother was moving on in life without me as I remained the same petty boy that found comfort in stagnancy. Then when I had decided to take the first step out of my shell, Tyler had gone far beyond my reach. Cherry Bomb was a tour-de-force of experimental exuberance. The nonsensical production choices and abrupt aesthetic detours were jarring, but they were also inexplicably welcoming as I enjoyed this fresh side of Tyler that dove head first into his vision, breaking the mould of whatever he made that came before it. It was the first time I had seen ‘individuality’ being condensed into a musical medium.
Not long after came Flower Boy, a record that refined the raw energetic output of Cherry Bomb and streamlined the dissonant melodramatic feelings of Wolf and Goblin into a body of work that saw him working at the height of his powers. It was a beautiful record that equal parts meditative and sincere. Putting aside the allusions to his sexuality, the album itself proved to me how years of hard work and determination can chisel away at an unrefined canvas to create art that one can truly call their own. If anything, it taught me to be steadfast in my identity.
On his most recent release IGOR, I stopped identifying with his music thematically. I’m not the most experienced when it comes to relationships, so a record that details the tale of an uncommitted lover is a topic that I’ve never truly experienced. Yet, sonically it was more than enough for the album to resonate deep within me. Once again converging all the qualities of his previous work, Tyler also refines the pop sensibilities of Flower Boy to create his most accessibly withdrawn album to date. Lyrically he pours his heart and soul out, exposing himself at his most vulnerable; but the production intricately layered and intertwined to the point where many might consider it to be messy. The duality that is presented on IGOR was nothing short of awe-inspiring. It was the kind of album that could only be made by a man that had wadded through the trials of life to finally emerge with a product that couldn’t be made by anyone else but him.
Tyler has always been vocal about who he is and what it is he wants to make. He’s had ambitions of producing music, directing, starting a clothing line and many more. In 2019, he stands tall as one of rap’s most distinguished rappers while also boasting a laundry list of achievements such as his OF brand, TV shows, beautifully shot music videos, Camp Flog Gnaw and the list goes on. He doesn’t just talk the talk but also walks the walk. Watching his growth over the years, it almost suffocating to think of how he went from edgy teenage rap villain to uncompromising artistic visionary. He became my ideal goal of how one grows and matures.
I’m not alone when I say that Tyler, the Creator could very well be the most influential rapper of this decade, though that’s the topic for another time. He’s impacted me in more ways that I can imagine, yet there’s one thing that I’m truly grateful for and that is how he inspired me to change my outlook in life.
I used to believe that living meant having enough to coast by comfortably and smoothly, that contentment was the end goal of our brief time here. Yet Tyler showed me that life can be dysfunctional, agonizing, heartbreaking, buoyant, pleasant and incomprehensible all at once; painting a landscape that’s magnificent in its chaos. He taught me to take risks, to experiment, to confront and to enjoy. Most importantly, he taught me to create things on my own terms.