Better Than: Oprah
Tyler, the Creator lost his virginity at age 17 in his grandmother’s bed. Yep. You know that now. But chances are, if you’re like the type of Tyler obsessive that bought tickets to the Highline Ballroom‘s sold out interview between the controversial rapper/designer/video director/provocateur and Elliott “YN” Wilson last night, it’s the type of detail you’d relish.
Despite Tyler’s assertion from the outset that the packed house was comprised of the “fucking retarded” for having “paid $20 to hear me talk for an hour” the night turned out to be quite an eye opener, an interesting and unique look into one of hip-hop’s most inventive minds. Over an hour plus (started at 11:45, went past 1 in the morning) the two talked about [DEEP BREATH] Tyler’s new album WOLF, the death of his grandmother, Tyler’s beef with Earl Sweatshirt’s mother, Facebook, the Art of the Selfie, writer’s block, Tyler’s new four-story home, women, Frank Ocean’s coming out, meeting your idols, Tyler’s small/very close family, and Complex, a magazine/website Tyler loathes so much he “hopes all their employees get a new kind of STD” for the “bullshit lists” they come up with. “Like, ummm, ‘Top Ten Dicks Nick Cannon Has Sucked’ or some dumb shit.”
But before the night veered into things Tyler hates, it started out with things he loves — vinyl records, boxes of Waffle Crisp cereal, bacon — all of which were thrown onstage as gift offerings as Tyler walked out. (The night’s big vinyl score: No Doubt’s Hey Baby.) Carrying a carafe of milk when he first walked onstage, Tyler made idle chatter for a few minutes with members of the crowd and stripped his hooded sweatshirt off to reveal a pink and blue tie-dye.
Things settled and the two started talking WOLF, a topic that remained the conversational central ground they came back to throughout the night. Tyler told animated anecdotes about vocal producing his real life musical hero Pharrell for “IFHY” and how he didn’t at all try to play it cool upon first meeting his idol. “I fanned the fuck out.” He talked about iChatting with Erykah Badu to convince her to sing on “Tree Home,” a huge thrill he still can’t believe he got to experience. (“Real talk: Baduism is one of my favorite albums of all time.”)
Where Tyler’s first two albums Bastard and Goblin were both an expression of some wild horror fantasy about rape and murder and other assorted dark subjects that were a topical albatross in the early going (“I’ve read every book about every serial killer, so that’s just what I wrote about”) WOLF, he said, is primarily him aping the piano chords and ear for bridges of artists he’s long admired– Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Ray Charles — and expressing himself in newer, deeper ways. It was harder than he expected, and early on in the process he says he didn’t know what to rap about.
“Honestly, I’m bored of rapping,” he said. He’d rather direct videos, design shirts or draw. But the major label deadline loomed, so he got to work, writing about his current reality, namely coming into money, and having nice things, not the least of which is his four-story home. Wilson pointed out Tyler mentions it often on WOLF. “When Goblin came out I was still living with my grandmother — I was sleeping on her floor. I legit woke up on the floor of my grandmother’s house on [Goblin release date] May 10, 2011 and said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll go to Best Buy and buy my fucking album today.” Tyler says he lived with his grandmother from age 16 to 20, a period of time when his mother left L.A. He grew up broke. “So, hell yeah I’m going to rap about my new house and all these things I have now due to hard work,” he said unapologetically to much applause. WOLF sold 90,000 copies in its first week of release, a feat Tyler’s extremely proud of given he’s 1) got no video on MTV, 2) no song on the radio and 3) “everyone else is making the same fucking boring Trap beat.”
Throughout the night Tyler showed much appreciation to those who took a chance on him when he was coming up, and who continue to now despite the criticisms (some warranted) against him: that he’s an immature asshole who is a little too loose with pejoratives and gay slurs. This list includes Frank Ocean, Jimmy Fallon, executives at Mountain Dew who Tyler just directed some truly bizarre and mostly terrible web commercials for and the fans, despite their being “really fucking weird.”
On Ocean, Tyler told the story behind his now much famous quote that he always had a hunch the singer was gay because he was a grown man who ate unfrosted Pop Tarts. He also added more apparent evideance: “He ate granola. And he had an X-Box … BUT NO GAMES.” Ocean was the first artist Tyler met to achieve some modicum of success, and the fact that he “had nice shit” inspired Tyler to try to make a living from his hobbies. This “nice shit” includes, Tyler said, what is to this day “the nicest coffee table I’ve ever seen in my life. And I’ve been to Diddy’s house.”
The night took a somber turn when Wilson asked Tyler about WOLF‘s outro, the intimate details it exposes about the death of his grandmother, and his (non) reaction to it. To this day Tyler hasn’t cried over the loss, something that troubles him. In the hospital, he could barely stand the weight of her impending demise, though not for the obvious reasons. It was awkward, he says, to be around a bunch of sad people. “I like pink and blue, and I can’t be around sad people. There was too much black and gray at the hospital.” He got more choked with emotion thanking Pepsi Co. for taking a chance on him than he did talking about kissing his dying grandmother goodbye.
At the end of the night questions were opened to the audience, who shouted assorted dumbness like “WHY ARE WEARING A BLUE HAT INSTEAD OF YOUR GREEN HAT” and requests for hugs. The interview ended, Tyler gathered his presents, took a picture of the crowd with his phone and high fived the crush of people who took advantage of no barricade and no security.
Critical Bias: I met Elliott Wilson at SXSW the year he just launched Rap Radar. He gave me a Rap Radar sticker, and was very nice, not near the braggadocios chest thumping dickhead he comes across as on Twitter. Though some hate his interminable laugh, dude’s a really great, knowledgeable interviewer.
Random Notebook Dump: Odd Future started as a zine, Tyler its Editor-in-Chief. This zine was to be comprised of everything Tyler loved — skateboarding, photography, design, music — and would have featured Q&As with meth and sex addicts.
Random Notebook Dump 2: Tyler is the self proclaimed “King of Selfies.” His phone has 3000 selfies, which he plans to one day release as a book.
Overheard: Oh, man, SO MUCH. But the best was a conversation with a kid from West Chester who wore a jacket with a D.R.I. patch who starts AA meetings today and his fat Ginger friend who has been told he could be a chef if he wanted to be (he’s an extraordinary home cook). Topics over 15 minutes ranged from the recent bombings in Boston (D.R.I. Guy: “Like, who the fuck bombs Boston? It’s Boston! Who the fuck cares?”) to the wonders of mayonnaise.