Tyler the Creator
Published July 29, 2011
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Odd Future, an 11-strong collective of anarchic, mix tape–dropping teenage and early-twentysomething skater-MCs from Los Angeles—also known as OFWGKTA, an acronym for Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All—have set the hip-hop micro-blogosphere afire this year with the indelicacy of a blast of kerosene from a flamethrower. But trending buzz notwithstanding, Odd Future has emerged as a singular force in contemporary hip-hop, and not only because they make fascinatingly antisocial, deeply (almost painfully) human music that’s totally out of step with the pop mainstream. Or because the group’s youngest member, 17-year-old Thebe Kgositsile, a.k.a. Earl Sweatshirt, was reportedly banished to a Samoan boarding school last year after he self-released his dark, misanthropic album Earl—a saga so bizarrely, mysteriously gripping that it was chronicled in both Complex and The New Yorker. Or because another member, Syd “The Kyd” Bennett, is openly gay, which is still a rarity amongst rappers. It’s because the raw, unformed, aggressively loose-cannonish energy that Odd Future embodies somehow manages to seem both dangerous and inspiring, possessed of that intangible quality that, depending how it’s channeled, both hastens the collapse of great societies and starts very necessary revolutions—and because they make music that stands out from the very first listen and just keeps getting better as you notice the details.
At the center of the Odd Future inferno is 20-year- old Tyler, The Creator, the crew’s primary attention-getter, troublemaker, and ringleader. Born Tyler Okonma, and raised in various neighborhoods in L.A., he released his first album, Bastard, in 2009 without the support of a record label, simply uploading it onto the Internet. As of this writing, the music video for “Yonkers,” the first single from his second album, Goblin, which was released this past spring (via an actual record label, XL), has had more than 13 million views on YouTube.
As a rapper, Tyler’s distinguishing mark is his ability to alternately come off as nerdy, nasty, poetic, threatening, disgusting, and funny in his songs— sometimes all at the same time. Endowed with a grav- elly voice that’s impossibly deep for his lanky frame, his flow is both relentlessly hostile and astonishingly imaginative. But unlike Eminem, to whom his multidirectional rage has been compared, Tyler doesn’t serve up the clear narratives or clever endings; instead, he spits out a chaotic pastiche of violent images and non sequiturs, a hurricane of lyrical attention deficit disorder, always venting some unseen, unbearable internal pressure. There is something vicious and delicious about the texture of Tyler’s rapping, a breathless stream of craggy, sharp words that careen from the personal to the sci-fi, held together only barely by some impossible internal logic. Though Tyler’s rhymes might not be socially redeeming or even make much sense at times—he has been harshly criticized for his use of homophobic and misogynistic slurs in his lyrics, as well as for the violent imagery contained therein, and his subsequent defense of youthful ignorance has fallen on largely unsympathetic ears—it all seems to be part of some 21st-century approach to agitprop punk rock posturing: energetically nihilistic and unapologetic about the fact that nothing really adds up.
Interview contributing music editor Dimitri Ehrlich and Southern crunk rapper Waka Flocka Flame, a favorite of the Odd Future camp, recently caught up with Tyler by phone in Los Angeles, where he was out to lunch with his mother.
DIMITRI EHRLICH: So where are you now?
TYLER, THE CREATOR: I’m with my mom. I got an interview at 2 p.m., but she’s still insisting we go out and eat. We just got our food, so now I’m in the car because I can’t eat and talk in Roscoe’s. It’s too loud. So, you know, she’s pissed now ’cause in her head she’s like, “Well, he can’t make any time for me.” But I’m like, “Ah, well, I have a fuckin’ career now . . . ” So now it’s just awkward.
EHRLICH: Yeah, I understand.
KELLY CLANCY, TYLER’S MANAGER: Tyler, you’re gonna make it to the house by 2:30 p.m., right?
TYLER: Probably not.
CLANCY: We have to be there by 3 p.m.
TYLER: [pauses] Tell them I got attacked by a dragon.
CLANCY: No, no. [laughs] You’re gonna be there at 3 p.m.
TYLER: Dude, trust me—the dragon thing works. [Interview editorial assistant Ashley Simpson jumps on the line to conference in Waka Flocka Flame.]
ASHLEY SIMPSON: This is Ashley with Interview magazine calling with Tyler, The Creator. Do you have Waka?
PORTIA KIRKLAND, WAKA FLOCKA FLAME’S MANAGER: Yes, we do. We have Waka.
TYLER: The dragon thing works . . .
SIMPSON: Hi, Waka?
WAKA FLOCKA FLAME: Hello?
SIMPSON: I have Tyler and Dimitri.
FLAME: What up, dog?
TYLER: Whassup, nigga?
FLAME: Killin’ it.
TYLER: This is awkward as fuck right now.
FLAME: Where y’all at?
TYLER: I’m in Los Angeles right now. I’m in the car.
FLAME: What’s up man? Y’all some wild boys. Who’s on the phone?
TYLER: Me, Tyler.
EHRLICH: This is Dimitri, from Interview.
TYLER: Yeah, man. There’s Dimitri, and then some other chick named Ashley who works for Interview, and then my manager is on the phone, I think—well, she probably hung up. I don’t know.
FLAME: Well, I’m gonna ask you a couple questions.
TYLER: Sick. I’m ready. I just wanna state, though, that “Keep It Real” is, like, my favorite fuckin’ song by you. That’s, like, in my top 10 songs ever. That’s my shit. You throwin’ it out there. Okay, so now you could start the whatever.
EHRLICH: Jump into it, Waka.
FLAME: All right. So firstly, what do y’all think is so odd about the future?
TYLER: What’s odd about the future? I think we’re all gonna die pretty soon, and the animals are gonna take over—like ostriches and shit. I think they’re gonna take over the world and we’re gonna be their slaves.
EHRLICH: I think I’m going to start eating more ostrich burgers then.
TYLER: I never had those.
EHRLICH: Lean protein.
FLAME: Me and my partners was havin’ a smoke and we thought that maybe monkeys could take over.
TYLER: Monkeys are smart as fuck.
FLAME: I’m asking, though, because your crew is called Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All.
FLAME: So where does that name come from?
TYLER: Well, we were at a skate park on just a regular skate day, and this dragon just came out of nowhere and tried to attack me, so we killed the dragon. That’s how we got the name.
FLAME: So would you describe Odd Future as a hip-hop heavy-metal group? Or a punk-rock rap group? How do you describe what you and your crew do?
TYLER: I don’t like either description. I don’t like being put in a box. I just make music, you know? When you’re put in a box, people have a set mind-state of what your music could sound like before they even look into it. Like, if no one ever heard of me, but I’m hip-hop-metal-rock, then they’re already gonna have an expectation of what the music will sound like. Then, when they go in and finally listen to it, it might be different from what they thought, and they could automatically hate it because they already had expectations.
FLAME: I dig it. You gotta create your own genre.
FLAME: So what inspires y’all then?
TYLER: When I’m on stage, it’s, like, Ian Curtis and Sid Vicious—like, real punk rock and shit. I’m like a big 10-year-old when I’m on stage. I just go up there and do whatever I think is cool at the moment. And then, when it comes to rappin’, I like watchin’ a lot of cartoons and movies and shit. Usually, when I’m rappin’, I’m creating a big story or a concept song that sounds like a movie to me.
FLAME: I saw y’all on Jimmy Fallon, and I wanna know something: why do y’all always have lawn gnomes on stage?
TYLER: Oh, because my album, Goblin, just hit, and in German history, a goblin is the evil cousin of the lawn gnome. So I thought it’d be cool to have lawn gnomes on stage ’cause they look cool but they’re the cousins of goblins and leprechauns and shit like that. I just thought it’d be cool to have happy-ass lawn gnomes while I’m on stage lookin’ all mean and shit.
FLAME: They spice up the show.
FLAME: I’m sure you know people say y’all’s lyrics are dark or are negative. What do y’all think fans should get when they walk away from listening to y’all’s music?
TYLER: Well, our fans relate to our music, but most of the time the people who say that our music is dark and weird and shit like that—it doesn’t relate to them so they judge it based on what shocks them the most instead of the whole project. So the fans walk away as fans who are relatin’ to the shit, knowin’ what the fuck I’m talkin’ about, and then the other people can just sit there and claim what we’re doing is dark and Satanist or other bullshit that I don’t even like readin’ about. Because I’ll be readin’ shit where peo- ple say, “He’s not lyrical, and rap is supposed to be lyri- cal and have passion,” and I’m sitting there like, “He’s rappin’ about his life and how he misses his brother [on the song “Nightmare” from Goblin]. How is that not passionate?” But I guess those people just don’t relate to anything we’re saying, so they’re quick to judge.
FLAME: Do y’all actually do any of the stuff y’all talk about in your lyrics?
TYLER: Well, I don’t rape chicks . . . I have punched a girl in the eye . . . Um . . . What else? I say a lot of shit and it just depends . . . Sometimes it’s just ’cause shit is funny.
EHRLICH: What about eating cockroaches? Have you done that?
TYLER: I actually didn’t say that in a rap—I did it in a video. He was a nice cockroach. His name was Nissan.
FLAME: In that video y’all directed called “Yonkers,” you eat that cockroach, then you vomit it back up, then you’re bleeding out your nose, then you’re hangin’ yourself . . .
FLAME: Is there something deeper behind it? What do those images mean?
TYLER: Well, a lot of people think that stuff is deeper than it really is. Some people just think too much. Like, my manager knows I wanna be a video director, so he was like, “Hey, just write a video, write the treatment for it, and we’ll shoot it.” So I was like, “All right, fuck it. I’ll eat a cockroach, I’ll throw up, and then I’ll hang myself . . . It’s, like, no subliminal messages or secret meanings or anything. I just personally think the shit would look really cool, so I did it. I just like doing shit that I think is cool, and people happen to like it, so I’m pretty, like, fortunate for that. So I’m gonna just continue to be myself and do what I like. Again, people are just so quick to judge shit ’cause they don’t understand it. But I understand what I’m doing, and that’s all that should matter.
FLAME: So where does the anger in your music come from?
TYLER: Uh . . .
FLAME: Is it from issues that you have? Is it from stuff that happened to you?
TYLER: Yeah, shit like that. I get pissed at little shit. Like, Facebook deleted my profile the other day without telling me, and I was fucking angry.
TYLER: I don’t know . . . I got it back though. I had to email them and talk to, like, head dudes. It still pisses me off that they deleted it. Shit like that makes me really, really angry. That shit ain’t cool. You don’t just delete a nigga’s Facebook like that.
FLAME: Yeah, that’s fucked up.
FLAME: How does your mom react to your lyrics?
TYLER: I think she sees her son just doing something. She doesn’t even listen to whatever any critic says or anything. She just sees her son out there having the time of his life, so she supports it.
FLAME: Are y’all tryin’ to change the direction of hip-hop?
TYLER: I’m not trying to change the direction of anything. I’m just doing what I wanna do, saying what I wanna say, and if the shit happens to change, then that’s cool. But I just like making the music I like making.
FLAME: So who do y’all listen to?
TYLER: Waka fuckin’ Flocka. “Karma”—we listen to that before every single show ’cause it just pumps us up. LeBron Flocka James Pt. 2 is also, like, one of my favorite fuckin’ mix tapes, so I’m a big fuckin’ fan. Other than that, I like N.E.R.D, Gucci Mane’s 1017 Brick Squad. I like this cat named Toro y Moi. Shit like that, as well as our own shit.
FLAME: So if the world would end tomorrow, what would be in the Odd Future survival kit?
TYLER: Fuck! If the world was ending, I think I would grab some Cinnamon Toast Crunch, a bunch of water, and I’d probably just . . . I’d probably go crazy. I’d find some shelter and a bunch of guns. An arsenal . . . And I would probably need an iPod.
FLAME: Well, those were my questions, man. It was good talkin’ to you. Lot’s of useful information. I’m gonna get y’all to direct one of my viral videos, man. It’ll be Odd Future-directed.
TYLER: Heck, yeah.
EHRLICH: You guys should collaborate together, exchange your digits or whatever. We won’t record that part.
FLAME: I’m gonna get my phone and text you.
TYLER: We’ll get in touch for sure.
FLAME: I’m gonna see y’all in a minute.
TYLER: I’ll look for you on tour. Good luck. [Waka Flocka Flame hangs up.]
EHRLICH: Okay, thanks guys.
TYLER: All right, yo. I’m off to finish food. . . . [unidentified voices in the background] Who’s that yellin’?
UNKNOWN VOICE: We just got outta jail! I’m fresh out. I’m at Taco Bell. . . . What up, Waka? Can I get an extra-extra-large?
TYLER: All right, I’m hangin’ up.
Waka Flocka Flame is an Atlanta-based rapper whose new album, 1017 Bricksquad presents … Gucci Mane + Waka Flocka Flame are “The Ferrari Boyz,” is out this month.