For some time now I’ve been trying to “get” Tyler the Creator, trying desperately to figure out if he’s a brilliant performance artist, a hip-hop version Lady Gaga or something, or just an overgrown, petulant child who thinks the world is his to show his ass to as much as he wants, whenever he wants. Based on a profile of him published Sunday in the New York Times, one could easily make the argument that the latter is the case.
About Tyler, who the paper describes as Odd Future’s “central rapper and producer and also its main visual artist, merchandise designer and video director,” the Times writes:
In real life Tyler Okonma is 20 years old, 6 feet 2 inches tall, lanky and sinewy and irrepressibly goofy, with a vibrant antisocial streak. He’s partial to flamboyantly patterned shirts, gym socks pulled up to the knee and desiccated Vans; loves bacon and doughnuts; says he doesn’t drink or do drugs; and can barely get a sentence out without a curse.
Later in the afternoon, after the merchandise details are sorted out, he, his friend Jasper Dolphin, and the co-manager Kelly Clancy went shopping at some discount stores for a golf outfit that he wanted to wear the following day for a video shoot. Along the way, at a party-supply store, he appeared to steal a pack of Justin Bieber stickers; later he tossed a half-full Wendy’s Frosty from the passenger seat of Ms. Clancy’s Porsche S.U.V. at a group of respectably dressed people lined up near the Grove mall.
Juvenile stuff, all of it. “I never want to grow up,” Tyler said later that day, in the backyard of his manager’s house, holding a long-coveted Burger King SpongeBob SquarePants toy watch he bought on eBay for $6.
He’s nurtured now, shielded. He wanted a trampoline for his birthday and got one. Keeping Tyler happy, and focused, is everyone’s priority.
Really? He shoplifted some sh*t and then hurled a Frosty at some people on the street in the presence of a New York Times reporter? WTF? And then came the part about how Tyler was merely misunderstood as a child when he plotted mass murder in class…
The last time that Tyler had a therapist of any sort, he said, was in fifth grade. “I made lists of who I wanted to torture and kill in the class. I was a really smart kid, so they didn’t understand. We had a GATE program” — gifted and talented enrichment — “there was seven kids in there, and I was one of them, it was just such a contradiction.”
For a time he was on Ritalin but went off it because it interfered with his asthma medication. (He often puffs from an inhaler onstage.)
When I read this piece my first thought was something along the lines of, “This kid is a bonafide psychopath.” And then Matt T, who I believe — along with MTV and the New York Times, apparently — to be an authority on music internet enthusiasts listen to, tweeted the following: “Epiphany this morning. Tyler the Creator is the modern Patrick Bateman. #swag.” And that pretty much confirmed my belief that yes, Tyler the Creator is, in fact, a burgeoning psychopath. I’m absolutely convinced that if he didn’t have his art as an outlet, Tyler would have gone Columbine on us by now.
When you stop and think about it, it’s a wonder right-wing talking heads haven’t latched on to Tyler as an example of how today’s black youth — their brains influenced and shaped by rap music and the socialist Obama — are spinning out of control. It’s probably only a matter of time before they do, and a big piece in The Guardian about Odd Future’s “hateful lyrics” that ran over the weekend predicted as much.
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (aka OFWGKTA or Odd Future) are a hip-hop collective of LA “skate-rats” led by Tyler the Creator, a 20-year-old as precociously charismatic and smart as he is objectionable. Objectionable because his lyrics tend to be about raping women. Like a lot of people, I’m horrified and hypnotised at the same time.
First, Odd Future sound incredible: their tracks are adroitly produced, sample-free and at once claustrophobic and gut-shaking. The title track of Tyler’s album Bastard is a ferocious and self-mocking screed of an introduction on which, sounding like Darth Vader wallowing in prescription-strength cough syrup, he raps, “I created O.F cause I feel we’re more talented/ Than 40-year- old rappers talking about Gucci/ When they have kids they haven’t seen in years.”
But their appeal isn’t just musical: Odd Future also have a fully formed aesthetic that includes inverted cartoon crosses, absurd preppy golf wear and the pursuit of all things “swag”. Huge crowds pack their kinetic and giddily nihilistic shows, and chant: “Kill people burn shit fuck school” with larynx-ripping zeal. That devotion is also inspired by how prodigious and thoroughly DIY the group are: they’ve already made a dozen free albums available through their website. Tomorrow, though, will mark the group’s first official label release: XL are putting out Tyler’s solo album Goblin. He and Odd Future are about to get very big and, as they re-animate hip-hop, they’re also re-animating 20-year-old anxieties about the genre.
Yep, cue Bill O’Reilly going nuts over Tyler the Creator in 3…2…1…
(Pic via NYT)