Tyler, the Creator said it best on “Yonkers,” his 2011 breakthrough single: He is a “fucking walking paradox.”
From the outside, it certainly looks like the L.A.-born emcee — who plays the Alliant Energy Center’s Exhibition Hall on Thursday — is nothing more than a hollow sideshow act. His earliest lyrics dealt in vile, cartoonish fantasies of violence, often delivered with a wink that seemed to slip past many critics. They’ve even led to him being banned from both the U.K. and Australia.
But like anyone, the 26-year-old Odd Future leader has grown up over the years. His anarchic rap collective deals less in shock tactics than in smart business decisions, and Tyler has garnered critical acclaim not just for his work as an emcee but as a director, producer and fashion designer as well.
That’s not to say his work on the mic has suffered, as his 2017 album Flower Boy earned him his second Grammy nomination and proved to be a surprisingly deft and nuanced exploration of self-identity.
But if you’re reading this, chances are you already know about Tyler, the Creator, the Rapper. So here’s a refresher course on Tyler, the Doer of Other Things.
Tyler, the Artiste
Since Odd Future’s (or for those of you with the extra character space, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) inception in 2007, Tyler, the Creator has been the group’s most prominent member thanks to his dark, idiosyncratic music and the fact that he’s also behind the all of the group’s visual artwork, from album covers to music videos. And the doughnut-featuring cover of the group’s lone studio album, 2012’s The OF Tape Vol. 2, proved something of a harbinger for their future branding endeavors.
Tyler, the Fashionista
Walk into a Zumiez anywhere in America and Tyler’s influence on fashion won’t be hard to spot. In addition to the current moment that dad hats, tie-dye and classic Vans are enjoying, all of which Tyler has been rocking for years, you’ll also notice Odd Future itself has become a successful streetwear brand. Their pink doughnut logo stands out amongst the earth tones normally associated with skate culture, their product is relatively affordable (T-shirts, for example, average around $25) and it’s all designed with Tyler’s sign-off.
Tyler, the Director
Way back before he became the worst nightmare of suburban parents everywhere, Tyler Okonma was just a kid who liked movies so much that he once intended to go to film school, though it seems he hardly needed the training. Under the name “Wolf Haley,” his work as a director — from his own “Yonkers” and “Who Dat Boy” videos to the clip he shot for L.A. punks Trash Talk’s song “F.E.B.N.” — is nuanced, combining sparse and unsettling horror aesthetics with slapstick comedy.
Tyler, the Comedian
Speaking of comedy, you may not know this but Tyler is really fucking funny. That, of course, was sarcasm, as Tyler’s deadpan, absurdist wit has permeated all of his creative work.
For example, there’s Loiter Squad, the Jackass-inspired prank show he produced for Adult Swim, the pilot episode of which features Odd Future associate Taco (whose DJ set will open Thursday’s show) dressed like a baby and getting sprayed with a fire hose by real L.A. firefighters. Or then there’s The Jellies, Tyler’s latest Adult Swim show, a cartoon about a family of jellyfish.
And just because, here’s one of my favorite videos on the whole internet: Tyler meeting his “dad” on The Eric Andre Show, which is truly a match made in WTF heaven.And last but not least…
Tyler, the Creator
Who would have guessed that one of the most influential artists of the past decade would be a goofball skate rat from Ladera Heights? Even when he was just another voice in the crowded Odd Future clique, it was clear there was something about Tyler, the Creator that was different than his cohorts. (The same goes for Frank Ocean.) Even in his most shocking and vulgar work, there was a sophistication that showed someone with a clear artistic vision rather than cheap shock tactics.
Yes, some of Tyler’s early work is pretty gross, and a lot of it deserves the criticism it’s gotten over the years. But over those same years Tyler has refined his work, trading epithets for emotional exploration, and his latest, Flower Boy, is so far removed from, say, Goblin, that you can barely tell they’re made by the same guy, save for Tyler’s instantly recognizable Cookie Monster-voice.
Take, for example, “Garden Shed,” the probing confessional where Tyler may or may not come out as bisexual, a far cry from faux-homophobic outrage of his early twenties.
I mean, in 2014, Tyler was arrested at South by Southwest for inciting a riot and now he does jazzy, restrained concerts for NPR. That’s gotta count for something, right?