Foul-mouthed rapper, director and Odd Future band leader Tyler, The Creator is one of the most exciting new faces in hip-hop. Prepare yourselves to get lost in his weird, weird world.
Obscene. Outrageous. Hilarious. Radical. Idealistic. Rebellious. Ridiculous. Dumb. Brilliant. Tyler, The Creator, and his band, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, defy definition. Their apoplectic expressiveness has seen them compared to everything from the rabble-rousing Wu Tang Clan to the ski-masked Slipknot, while their multiple personalities bring to mind the sadistic similes of Slim Shady and the punk ethos of The Sex Pistols. Lyrically, nothing is off-limits to Tyler and his LA bandmates; rape, death, white supremacy, genocide and serial killers are as nonchalantly treated as orange juice and sandwiches. As shocking as they are comical, this self-contained unit of teenage skaters who rap, write and self-produce, create their own artwork and make their own videos, are the most exciting movement Hip-Hop has seen in, well, forever. And at the forefront stands Tyler, a 20-year-old who could be about to make the biggest impression on popular culture since Kanye West created The College Dropout. Wonderland meets Tyler, The Creator, in Austin, Texas.
Thrasher Magazine Death Match Day Party, The Scoot Inn, 1308 East 4th Street, Austin
There’s at least one broken nose, four icepacks and a couple of pints of blood bobbing about the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA) performance for skate mag, Thrasher. Dressed in a rainbow tie-dye tee, American Apparel socks, blue Vans and a khaki Supreme cap, he surveys the scene elatedly and peels his lips back in a grin. Then he hurls himself feet first into the thronging, screaming mass below him.
The Garden, 1906 Belford dr, Austin
“Hi, I’m Jeffrey,” says Tyler, the Creator, née Tyler Okonma, by way of introduction. Two minutes later, he’s no longer Jeffrey, but he’s not quite ready to be Tyler, either. There’s nothing ordinary about Tyler. When he did sign to a record label, it was to UK indie XL. “They have awesome artists; Giggs, the XX, M.I.A., it’s all the weirdos. I don’t like the word ‘weird’ cos I used to be called that, but it’s all the weirdos in one place, getting out to the rest of the weirdos in the world, so it’s all cool.”
His debut single, “Yonkers” and the accompanying video, which sees him eating a cockroach, throwing up and then hanging from a noose (he directed it himself), has already clocked up over 5,000,000 views on YouTube. Now Tyler’s got recording sessions with Pharrell Williams in the bag and a new fan in the form of Justin Bieber (“He’s tight, he’s chill”). It won’t be long before Tyler and his comma are unavoidable. Yet, despite the celebrity fans and high profile appearances, there’s little fear that Tyler will suddenly stop rapping about wanting to stab Bruno Mars in the oesophagus or blowing up B.o.B’s plane. His, and Odd Future’s, provocative lyrics have prompted, inevitably, condemnation from the more conservative, leading some to mis-label and, he says, mis-interpret what it is that they do.
He has a legion of followers, thanks to his debut album Bastard and its ruminations on ass rape and OxyContin. The follow up, Goblin, he says is a “part two” of sorts to Bastard – the pair will only make sense together. Given the intensity of his lyrics, what’s his frame of mind when it comes to creating?
As a self-confessed non-drinker and smoker (“I’m straight-edge”), how does he create tracks like “Assmilk” and “Blow”? What comes first? The words or the music?
I don’t know, cos I don’t like writing to beats. Every song to me is like a movie, so if I make a beat it will be the soundtrack to a scene in a movie. So ideas will get thrown around in my head, and I’ll go home or just be skating down the street with no music on, just writing it in my head. Or sometimes I just write shit. I’ll find a word and write shit from that word and then make a beat.
So you don’t want to stab Bruno Mars?
I do want to stab Bruno Mars [laughs]. Well, I don’t want to stab him but I just hate the music that’s being made right now. Pop music is annoying. It all sounds the same with the dumb-ass hooks and the girl singing some motivational shit and the shitty breakbeat drums with the guitar doing the same fucking chord progression. It just fucking sucks.
Why is it hard to be yourself these days?
I don’t know. I guess it’s opinions, people don’t know how to accept things anymore. People don’t know you’re human. It’s just opinions and once you get past giving a fuck, you’re good. I’m enjoying life right now. I met my idol last week, Pharrell Williams.
At 12, after watching a Neptunes bonus DVD where Pharrell played “Thrasher” on the piano, Tyler taught himself keyboards. He also plays drums and would like to take up saxophone. “When I get older though. That shit’s a fucking bitch to learn, but I think when I’m older I’m going to be able to play that shit and have jam jazz sessions.”
Though he hates a lot of rap now, he remains a firm fan of Wacka Flocka Flame and Eminem. He’s been frequently compared to the latter, thanks to his sadistic pop culture references and Shady-esqe alter-ego Wolf Haley. “I’m still listening to Relapse,” he points out. “A lot of people hated that CD, but they didn’t look past the genius of it, they just looked at the accent that was annoying them. I never heard no shit as genius as the wordplay on that album. That shit made me listen to my shit like I fucking suck. I respect Eminem, he’s in a whole different mindset.”
With ambitions to “Win Grammys and VMAs”, can Tyler retain his oddball status as the king of the outsiders? “I stand up; I be what I want,” he insists. “Most people want to do what they want, but they’re kinda not allowed to, so I’m their escape to say shit they wish they could say. I’m not the only person in the world doing this, but I guess I’m one of the youngest right now to not care about other people. I just do what makes me happy.”
Photography: Matt Irwin
Words: Hattie Collins
A full version of this article first appeared in Wonderland Issue 26, April/May 2011