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Whitten Sabbatini / The New York Times

May 31, 2019

From Odd Future to a Legacy Iconic: A Brief History of Tyler, the Creator

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From the grim basslines and grovely delivery of “Yonkers” and Goblin’s abrasive experimental armada to the diversified, sometimes-salty sometimes-sweet Flower Boy, Tyler, the Creator’s discography is one that has been subject to change and evolution since his 2007 beginning. The rapper’s image, style, delivery and messages have all significantly changed since their very first creative inceptions. Now, however, is a time at which there should be no doubt as to whether or not Tyler is a near-household name. This can be said of many modern rap industry icons — Travis Scott, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, etc . . .  — as a result of the genre’s recent cultural resurgence and prominence, but the level of fame accrued by Tyler surpasses industry boundaries. Music, fashion and television have all been subject to his creative visions.

It started with music, and it didn’t stop. Loiter Squad (2012-2015) was the name of a three season television show in which Tyler and his friends — in part largely consisting of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All members — played out ludicrous and oftentimes in-public skits including “Po-Po Vs. The Cubans” and “The Art of Lurking.” The first scenario stars Tyler and Lionel as police officers tasked with apprehending drug-smuggling, personified Cuban cigars on the beach while the latter showcases various members of the squad following random strangers under Tyler’s opening mantra: “So the Art of Lurking is to be a creep, and you can make things as awkward as hell; check this out.”

Odd Future is the name of the rap collective and label which started it all, formed between Tyler and other aspiring underground artists Jasper Dolphin, Casey Veggies, Hodgy and The Super 3. Airing initially on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim segment, the show’s production was handled by the team that polished Jackass.

But before the label Odd Future came to be, there was Bastard, Tyler’s first round shot at making a real splash in the rap industry. The great icons of the ’90s and early 2000s, had come and gone, and rap was looking for a new shape complete with fresh founders. The experimental yet oldie-admonishing boom-bap beats of Tyler’s mixtape showcased a state of his music that was similar to his founding Odd Future friends, and though it quickly picked up steam, it would be very much only the start of his creative successes. It did, however, mark the beginning of OF as a record label and the release of Bastard. Some of the powerhouses of the group such as Frank Ocean and Earl Sweatshirt climbed aboard at this time as well. And then came Goblin, the up-and-coming rapper’s first official album.

Goblin became certified Gold and possibly cemented his footing in fame. A roster including memorable fan-favorites like “She,” “Tron Cat” and “Yonkers” laid out a foundation for commercial audiences to dig into. More importantly, Tyler began to characterize himself, his style and lyrics — delineating between himself and rising new wave rappers. Dominantly dealing in what might be seen as bad juju, Goblin feeds on themes of goblins, ghosts and ghouls, the big bad monsters and the controversial big “bad” ideas of the time like anti-theism, striking vulgarity and gore.

These first two albums are what led to Tyler being actively banned from performing in the UK and Australia. Nevertheless, Goblin and its fast-setting prominence in the United States earned Tyler MTV’s 2011 Best New Artist award.

Echoes of the preceding album are fairly traceable on Wolf, though many tracks rely on the power of old-school hip-hop beats and flows. The experimental is interlaid over the traditional rather than intertwined like in Goblin. Tyler tackles personal questions bluntly, with “Answer” calling back to his memories, thoughts and disdain for an absent father. A few minutes of remembrance (and reflection) go out to Tyler’s grandma and her last hours in “Lone”.  Occasionally, sexuality is a point of contention, as Tyler refers to himself and his enemies as “faggots” through a charged and jarring delivery. But conversely, and in Wolf  at first particularly, Tyler starts to discuss realities of change and existential concepts in general.

His future 2017 album, Flower Boy, alludes to an ambiguity of sexuality in songs like “Garden Shed” where the rap’s images primarily revolve around Tyler hiding in the metaphorical shed. That possible idea of an alternative, comfortable sexuality finally comes to fruition here. “Answer” furthermore notes a few big discoveries that some of his closest OFGWKTA friends were making: “Frank is out the closet, Hodgy’s an alcoholic, Syd might be bipolar, but fuck it, I couldn’t call it.” What was initially a momentous point of controversy has now become a pillar of support. The vitriol and hate of earlier albums transitioned into important LGBTQ understanding, if not representation, that rap culture had been sorely lacking. While blunt answers and ideas still take the spotlight in Wolf, Tyler’s personal growth and existential curiosity shows.

This all came just two years before Cherry Bomb and the takeoff of Tyler’s Golf Wang fashion label.  Since 2011, the entrepreneurial rapper had also been dabbling in clothing and shoe design. As his music gained fame and form, so did Golf Wang and Tyler’s efforts devoted to the brand. 2015 had seen a slate of various clothing line releases but the first GOLF fashion show took place in 2016. Pastel pinks, mint greens and other interesting shades of soft colors like brown and blue populate the majority of catalog content palettes. It’s a refreshing break that isn’t commonly nor properly executed within the streetwear industry. Snapbacks, print shirts and shoes lean to one extreme, while cardigans and silk French shirts offer another. Kendall Jenner, YG and Kanye West were in attendance, with the lattermost having appeared on Cherry Bomb just before along with the prospering Kali Uchis, ScHoolboy Q and Lil Wayne.

Flower Boy, once again, finds strong roots in storytelling. Every bit of skill accumulated by Wolf is poured into crafting the more consistently neutral or level-headed piece offered by Tyler’s most recent release. A magical, feel-good hit can be found through “See You Again.” “Who Dat Boi” keeps the off-kilter and charged Tyler on board, and the catchy tracks like “911 / Mr. Lonely” brings a vibe that matches the two together fairly well. The album marks an official inauguration of A$AP Rocky into Tyler’s work, following Tyler’s initial 2016 A$AP Mob feature. Jaden Smith makes his debut collaborative appearance with Tyler on the album, emerging alongside the incumbent and recurring Frank Ocean, Lil Wayne and Kali Uchis. With another certified Gold album out Tyler has soundly solidified both his distinct style and mainstream visibility in rap.

The fall Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival has garnered a considerable amount of traction since its 2012 inception. It originally ran on a one-day schedule, but similar to many of the other positive changes induced by Tyler’s industrial growth, Camp Flog Gnaw was ushered into a two-day schedule in 2017 due to its expansive and ambitious ticket. Celebrated annually in Dodger Stadium, big music names like Kanye West, Migos, Lana Del Ray and Kid Cudi have played the festival.

Odd Future, unfortunately, seems unlikely to make a powerful comeback, despite different members excelling in their individual music efforts. Referenced explicitly in Tyler’s recent single “OKRA,” the elite power-group hasn’t done official OF work since around the time Loiter Squad ended. A line dropped in the song notes that “Golf be the set, no more OF,” finally and blatantly bringing the status of the group to light. The Odd Future hip hop collective allowed many of its initiates to achieve a degree of publicity and fame that they otherwise previously didn’t have. Now, with it gone, the monumental success that came along with OF could refreshingly posture separate perspectives under visible and distinct creative decisions. And with over a decade of diverse field experience out of the way, Tyler may truly be recognized as the multi-faceted Creator himself.

 

Cory Koehler is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at ck594@cornell.edu.