“This isn’t Tyler. It’s his brother Darius,” said a baritone voice on the phone — a voice clearly belonging to Tyler, the Creator. The rapper was in Dallas for a show later that night. He’d just eaten lunch and was in the mood to fuck with me a little. “I’m fine. How are you?” I chopped it up with alter ego “Darius, the Creator” for a while, until the real Tyler decided to stand up. “The tour’s great,” he laughed. “Last night was the first time I ever got tired. I guess I’m getting old as hell.”
Tyler, the Creator is far from “old as hell.” At 24 years old, the Los Angeles native and Odd Future frontman (born Tyler Gregory Okonma) can’t legally rent a car, and his antics — on- and off-stage — often put him in the goofball-kid-brother category. His live performances are a testosterone-fueled, A.D.D. frenzy. He’s been known to jump from the rafters, spin around in office chairs, and occasionally don a wig. At Coachella this year, he famously stopped his set and said “fuck you” to Kendall Jenner for not paying attention. He isn’t worried about that happening at his forthcoming show at Irving Plaza. “New York is probably my best market, to be honest,” he said. “I always have good shows there. New York is really tight. Ever since day one.”
Indeed, New York City was an early supporter of Tyler and Odd Future (a/k/a OFWGKTA, an initialism for Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All). Back in 2010, the group of some fourteen members (who among them also count several sub-groups) made its debut in the city, at the Studio at Webster Hall. Bolstered by Tumblr love and savvy internet marketing, Odd Future had fanboys cheering and hip-hop cognoscenti confused with their moshing, skater style, and punk sensibilities. Since then, Tyler has transitioned into the group’s biggest rap star. In 2011 he released his sophomore album, Goblin, bolstered by the sinister and brilliant single “Yonkers.” The track’s music video is a descent into Tyler’s madness. “I’m a fucking walking paradox,” he raps in the opening line, and then proceeds to eat a cockroach — with the word “Kill” on his hand — and hang himself. The video has over 76 million views.
His lyrics, meanwhile, have garnered much negative attention and left many of us seriously questioning Tyler’s mental health. On “Sandwitches” he targets kids from happy homes: “Come on kids, fuck that class and hit that bong/Let’s buy guns and kill those kids with dads and moms.” His views on women are even more disturbing. “I want to tie her body up and throw her in my basement?/Keep her there, so nobody can wonder where her face went,” he raps on “Sarah.” “Tron Cat” is even more demented, with sentiments like “Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome.” Classy.
But Tyler says the days of darkness are behind him. “Life is great. I’m just positive and smiles all around,” he explained. Say what? When did Tyler, the Creator get all Deepak Chopra on us? He points to maturing as a man (“You can’t let little shit get to you”), not being broke anymore, and learning to appreciate his blessings as driving this soul-shift. “Everything’s so good right now. I love everything. I’m not as negative anymore. I guess that’s just how it is growing up.” He doesn’t have any specific spiritual practices, but does create a vision board of sorts through his drawing, putting to paper his goals and ideas.
But not everyone is fucking with lovey-dovey Tyler. The rapper says that his third studio album, Cherry Bomb, reflects his personal growth, and that that’s exactly why many day-one fans don’t like it. “I feel like a lot of people wasn’t really fucking with it, saying it wasn’t personal. But this album is really personal. It’s just that I’m not doing it in a dark, depressing, ‘I want to kill myself’ way anymore.” He adds that his public persona as a deranged maniac was not wholly accurate. “Early on, I wasn’t a dark, depressing guy. There were some things I was sad about, but I was always, you know, smiling and pretty happy. I just wish more people could maybe just smile. I know it’s not easy. Being depressed is a mental thing, so me telling people to ‘just smile’ could be like a dick move.”
Tyler has a lot to smile about these days. He’s a streetwear needle-mover, he launched a successful app called Golf Media — which his manager touted as having more downloads than Tidal in its first day — and he has a show called Loiter Squad on Adult Swim (produced by his own production company). In the future, Tyler says that he plans on opening up his own movie theater.
One thing that’s no more is Odd Future. Last month, Tyler sent a series of cryptic tweets that hinted at the end of the group (“although its no more, those 7 letters are forever”). He confirms that Odd Future are no longer recording, but assures that the members remain tight, and even leaves the door open to future collaborations. “Everyone is focusing on their solo careers, but we’re still friends,” he said. So don’t cry for Tyler, the Creator, kiddos. He’s in a good place.
“Being sad is not tight. I just wish people would understand that being-sad shit is not cool. It’s negative and it sucks.”
Tyler, the Creator headlines Irving Plaza June 12. The show has sold out, but tickets are available on the secondary market.