More Artists Should Perform Like Tyler The Creator

Tyler Okonma has come a long way. The former Fairfax district skate rat is now a mogul on top of being a Grammy Award-winning rapper, singer, and producer as Tyler the Creator. But he never forgot his humble beginnings, which formed the focus of a large part of his concert at the Staples Center — sorry, arena — in Los Angeles Thursday night for his Call Me If You Get Lost Tour. During an intermission in the songs, right before he diverged into a nostalgic mini-set of his raucous early Odd Future material, Tyler reminisced with the crowd about those aimless but hopeful years, drawing a direct line between his rebellious nature and the success that he’s accrued in the past few years.

That go-against-the-grain mentality is what makes him such a great musician — and such a great performer. While so many rappers are content to simply show up and rap, Tyler brings a sort of unhinged glee to his performances, which makes him wildly fun to watch. He’s like the Jim Carrey of musicians, always moving, his coltish proportions adding another fun level to his wacky waving inflatable tube man arm flailing. His face contorts, his body accordions and expands, and his legs splay out. At one point, he did a full-on double leg dip — that’s a death drop, for you Drag Race fans out there, showing off a level of flexibility normally reserved for ballrooms and gymnastics competitions.

Then there are the props. Did I say “the Jim Carrey of musicians?” Sorry, I meant Carrot Top. I’ve been going to rap shows longer than I can even remember. I’ve seen dancers and pyrotechnics and guest stars and all manner of odd things on stage from piles of tires to vending machines to tanks. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone unpack luggage from a vintage Rolls Royce Wraith while rapping. Tyler’s love for bags is legendary; he’s got a chain based on his nickname of “Bellhop,” telling you exactly how much he loves luggage. At most, you’d expect him to have a few bags stacked onstage. Instead, he did the stacking himself — while rapping. He even has a butler!

The staging was some of the best I’ve ever seen too. Rappers love reproducing houses onstage; 2 Chainz, Kanye West, and YG are all examples who’ve employed this fairly standard trope. Tyler takes it to the next level, just like everything else. Silhouettes wafted across the lit windows, standing in for band members and guest rappers. Not content to simply stand on one stage and float along to the whimsical ’60s spy jazz of his latest album, he traversed the arena floor to a grass-covered stage in the middle. How did he get there? On a speedboat, from which he performed his album’s standout track “Wusyaname.” Once on his grassy getaway, he launched into older material from Flower Boy and his aforementioned Odd Future classics.

Tyler knows how to pick his guests too. Kali Uchis, who took the set immediately preceding his, received a warm reception for her Selena-lite renditions of tracks from her 2018 album Isolation and TikTok-favorite “Sad Girlz Luv Money” by Amaarae. Vince Staples, never one to waste a perfectly good platform, delivered his set from the floor stage, which was redressed and lit from below, amplifying the haunting effects of songs like “Señorita.” And Teezo Touchdown, the oddball with a wig made of nails, set things off as always with his hype man Austyn Sux, challenging Tyler for most props used in a single performance (at one point he used a traffic cone as a megaphone, which was hilarious considering he was already miked up). If there’s anything I’d change about the show, it’s the venue; the sound is just so much better at The Forum, where entry and moving around is easier as well. Let the stars bring the chaos onstage; leave the lobby alone.

The crowds at a Tyler show are always fun; young, diverse, and reflective of his devil-may-care attitude towards convention and other people’s expectations. I think the entire row behind me sported septum piercings and crowd-watching felt vaguely like falling through a time warp to the mid-’90s. Curse the zoomers for bringing back wide-leg pants after all the hard work my generation did to make the cozy style functional and fashionable, but it’s pretty amusing to watch younger generations repurpose old styles in their own, funky way. In a way, they got that from Tyler, too; he’s constantly deconstructing his influences like Eminem and Pharrell, retooling them, and retrofitting them to his own unique way of doing things. That — and a healthy dose of persistence — is what got him here and judging from his show, is what’ll keep him here far into the (steadfastly odd) future.