Tyler, The Creator. If you’ve been on the internet this year and you’re under the age of 30 and haven’t heard those three words, well, you must have one hell of a page blocker. For the uninitiated and just plain forgetful, Tyler is a 20 year old rapper and producer from LA, and leader of the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All collective (OFWGKTA for short). The group have gained mountains of blog & press attention, and notoriety as of late, for a number of reasons; Tyler’s track Yonkers and its iconic video, their punk rock-esque live shows and, mostly, offending nearly everyone.
Subsequently, Tyler has become the figurehead of a rebellious youth. He is already iconic, not for his musical output, but for his style, his attitude, his “swag”. All you need is to do is browse Tumblr to see that he is as instantly iconic to today’s youth as Rotten, Strummer and Ramones were to disaffected and disillusioned kids in the late 70s. In a short few months in the spotlight, Odd Future lready have a mythology, an attitude, a look that is easily identifiable and easily affected. Hell, even I’ve found myself doodling their inverted cross logo on my college file and throwing “swag” into everday conversation. To do all this on the back of one or two songs (and it is mostly just one or two songs; the tracks “Yonkers” and “Sandwitches” providing an entrypoint for at least 80% of their current fanbase, including myself) is nothing short of outstanding.
However, for every new fan won over by Tyler’s rhetoric, there’s at least one other person who’s morally outraged. Homophobia, sexism, misoginy and the n-bomb are all evident in modern rap, that’s a given. But Tyler takes it to an extreme level. Admittedly, out of OFWGKTA’s members, only Tyler and the currently AWOL Earl Sweatshirt delve into the darker realms with their lyrics; the nuermous others in the group provide far easier listening. Despite the graphic and disturbing nature of the lyrics (“Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome” being a choice one), Tyler constantly refutes the claim that he and the group are “horrorcore”, going as far to rally against the notion at the end of “Sandwitches”. Tyler has stated that he writes from a persona, called Wolf Haley as well as the perspective of a “serial killer from thirty years ago who was a white male” (quite who this killer is remains unknown); in his words he’s “not just talking about raping a bitch, it’s a storyline”. He has something of a point. In the same interview, Tyler defended his music, saying that the people complaining about him rapping about “socking some bitch in her uterus” ignore the horrors of the wars in the middle-east and ever-growing tally of death, both of civillians and soldiers. Whilst I don’t think they’re ignoring it as such, he’s kind of right, in that his opposers are choosing an easier target.
He just wants to piss people off. He’s a 20 year old black skate punk from LA, brought up in the George W Bush era, on MTV, with an absent father, surrounded a rising banal celebrity culture and living the internet, who’s been called whitey by his fellow black classmates for simply wearing a Slipknot hoodie. He’s lashing out. Lashing out at the shit and mediocrity, perhaps a little misguidedly, but at 20 years of age, he’s not going to be a fully formed popstar giving the media what it wants and say the right things. He’s taking the piss, as would most disaffected kids in the same situation. In response to an open letter from Sara (of Canadian pop duo Tegan & Sara), decrying the misogyny of his work, Tyler tweeted “If Tegan And Sara Need Some Hard Dick, Hit Me Up!”. Yeah, it’s immature, childish, possibly offensive, considering T&S are lesbians, but I personally found it funny. Maybe it’s part of my odd sense of humour, but it raised a chuckle out of me, the same way that Frankie Boyle jokes do. You know you probably shouldn’t laugh, but it’s too late, you already have.
Yes, homophobia and misogyny are reprehensible things. Discrimination for something you can’t control or have no choice over is an awful thing, even if we’re all guilty of it to varying degrees. Both pop up often in Tyler’s music. There’s no real way to defend them, especially if you’re guilty of one or both. The words “gay” and “faggot” (the apparent virtues of the latter have been extolled by both Louis CK and Chris Rock) are used by kids all over the western world as both an insult and a term of endearment, as is the word “nigga” by kids who are whiter than white. In a world where you can see some extremely sick shit (sometimes literally) just by searching on Google or even going to the movies (see A Serbian Film, Antichrist et al), I guess calling someone homosexual or a bitch has lost a bit of its impact to the younger generation. I can neither condone nor defend Tyler on this since I, along with pretty much every young person I know has called someone gay in our relatively short lives. It’s the way things are. It’s not perfect, it’s not nice, but it happens.
To quote Tyler himself, “why when a black kid says it, it’s such a big fucking deal?” Not to start chucking accusations of racism at those who decry Odd Future, but there is some validity there. Black metal bands sing… well, not quite sing but shout about some dark shit, yet have a sizeable audience. Tarantino movies are shocking, exploitative and occasionally disturbing, yet he’s revered as a great director and his films are referred to (by some) as art. You just need to watch one interview with Tyler to see that he’s a clever lad. He understands how to push people’s buttons, how to work and wind people up, he knows what he’s doing and knows what he wants to do. This is simply all he’s doing in the media, pissing off as many people as possible. There are more than a few parallels with a certain Marshall Mathers a decade ago.
Maybe it’s just difference of opinion, or maybe it’s a generational gap. I know for sure that I couldn’t play anything by Tyler to my parents or the older generation of people I know. They’d be shocked and quite possibly appalled. But I could send a song or two to my peers without question (as I’m planning on doing, as I’m not watching OFWGKTA on my own at Leeds Festival in summer), knowing that the likelihood is they wouldn’t be offended or as offended as those of the previous generation. But despite his potential to offend, Tyler has repeatedly stated his desire for awards, recognition, the guy wants Grammies, he wants fame. I may be alone on this, but it’s refreshing to hear an artist say they want that level of success but stick to releasing what they want to release. In some ways, Tyler’s ideals are similar to those of the Manic Street Preachers in their early years; releasing fierce, polarising music but aiming as high as possible on the commerical scale. It’s refreshing to say the least, in comparison to weedy indie bands just “doing it for the music”.
Speaking of the music, I personally am undecided on Tyler’s musical output. I love Tyler the icon but, similarly to Nicki Minaj, Tyler is a better popstar than an actual artist. “Yonkers” is genius, an instant classic. “Sandwitches” is in a similar vein. Radicals is a furious, brilliant rhetoric (“KILL PEOPLE, BURN SHIT, FUCK SCHOOL/I’M FUCKIN’ RADICAL NIGGA, I’M FUCKIN’ RADICAL” goes the chorus. It ain’t getting on Radio One anytime soon) although it lacks something in its recorded version. “Bastard” is darkly brilliant, whilst the album of the same name is an alright collection of modern hip-hop at its most playful yet vitriolic. However its follow-up, “Goblin”, released this year, pales in comparison, with poor production, a lack of good beats and it’s just too long. It does contain some moments of brilliance, there’s no doubt about that. It’s just that those moments are a handful of diamonds in a whole load of rough.
In conclusion, it’s horses for courses, I guess. Cop out or what, eh? Either you enjoy Tyler and can block out the dark stuff Or even enjoy it (somehow) or you’re morally offended and are ready to fetch your pen of rage in order to write a furious missive to the Daily Mail. Regardless, Tyler, The Creator doesn’t give a fuck.