Tyler the cat­a­lyst

Is Tyler, the Cre­ator the lat­est mem­ber ofthe Odd Fu­ture gang to ma­ture as an artist? An­don his new recordScum F**k Flow­erBoy,has he­outed him­self, asks DeanVanNguyen

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

Odd Fu­ture Wolf Gang Kill Them All could barely have scorched the Academy with any more heat if they’d doused the stage in kerosene and sparked up a match. It was August 2011 and the brat­tish young Los An­ge­les hip-hop col­lec­tive were right at the cul­tural zeit­geist, un­leashed on Dublin with no rules, di­rec­tives or adult su­per­vi­sion.

The show was com­plete mad­ness. The bat­ter­ing bass and drums that un­der­pin Odd Fu­ture’s vi­cious beats turned the venue into a swim­ming pool-sized mosh pit. The per­form­ers climbed up equip­ment to reach fans on the up­per tier. Each mem­ber did about 17 stage dives each.

Group com­man­dant Tyler, the Cre­ator made a gnarly leap into the crowd – even though his foot was strapped up af­ter he broke a bone div­ing off a speaker in LA a few months pre­vi­ous.

On Rad­i­cal, Tyler led the chants: “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school!” A ridicu­lous state­ment when you stare at it in stark type­face, but when blast­ing out from the rap­per’s gruff vo­cal chords, it’s a call of teen re­bel­lion – a mantra that was prob­a­bly scrawled on a mil­lion school copy­books. Com­pile a list of mu­sic that par­ents never want their off­spring ab­sorb­ing and Odd Fu­ture would be near the top.

Teen­tear­away

The group emerged dur­ing an era of mil­lion­aire rap­pers over­see­ing hip-hop from mid­town Man­hat­tan cor­ner of­fices. Odd Fu­ture rat­tled the genre by bring­ing bel­liger­ent, balls out, DIY punk en­ergy. Their shows had a giddy feel, like most of the crowd had been dropped off in their dads’ cars and al­lowed off the parental leash for the very first time.

Guys like Hodgy Beats, Left Brain and Domo Ge­n­e­sis were fair rap­pers, but Tyler was the world they all or­bited. He pro­duced most of the mu­sic, which leaned on schlocky hor­ror movie-style beats, jazzy min­i­mal­ism and the spirit of his hero Phar­rell Wil­liams.

For better or worse, Tyler’s vi­o­lent lyrics were one of the defin­ing rip­ples of the group’s oeu­vre. He would veer from goofy to deeply trou­bled; from sadis­tic to at­ten­tion seek­ing. His records played like the tum­bling mind of teen tear­away. It’s as sin­is­ter a place as you might ex­pect.

Amid the mis­an­thropy, though, came mo­ments of depth. Tyler’s solo out­put exam- ined young re­la­tion­ships and the weight of be­ing a role model. An­swer is the most mov­ing ac­count of ab­sent fa­ther is­sues I’ve heard as the rap­per en­vi­sions what he might say if he could pick up the phone to call his in­vis­i­ble dad.

As Odd Fu­ture ma­tured, they went from un­ruly al­ter­na­tive he­roes to crit­i­cal dar­lings. As mem- bers of The In­ter­net, for­mer Odd Fu­ture mem­bers Syd, the group’s one-time DJ, and pro­ducer Matt Mar­tians make satin-smooth soul. Syd’s first solo al­bum Fin dropped in Fe­bru­ary, of­fer­ing the kind of sleek R&B that crosses out the 16 years since we lost Aaliyah.

Ne­wal­bum

Earl Sweat­shirt – not present at The Academy af­ter he was smuggled to Samoa by his con­cerned mother in what was the mu­sic in­dus­try’s big­gest mys­tery since the ques­tion of what Meat Loaf wouldn’t do for love – has evolved from a 16-year-old raw tal­ent with a nim­ble flow, to a brood­ing, in­tro­spec­tive artist.

Then there’s Frank Ocean, a true 21st-cen­tury su­per­star. His creak­ingly soulful al­bum Blonde was a stun­ning de­pic­tion of get­ting older. He was only 28 when it was re­leased, but he is old enough his en­tire life no longer feels like it’s in front of him.

Now here comes Tyler, the brash ras­cal no longer. His new al­bum might be called Scum F**k Flower Boy – and is due for re­lease on Fri­day – but don’t let the ti­tle turn you off. The record plays like the most bliss­ful summer nec­tar. The sever­ity has been stripped out of his method­ol­ogy. This is mu­sic for eat­ing hot bar­be­cue and sip­ping on cheap beer. Tyler makes rap mu- sic that could ap­pease The Beach Boys. It’s as quintessen­tially Los An­ge­les County as sit­ting out in Echo Park, or eat­ing Viet­namese food in San Gabriel Val­ley.

Chim­ing xy­lo­phones, gen­tly ca­ressed pi­ano chords, lazily strummed elec­tronic gui­tars and soulful vo­cals – the record has mu­si­cal­ity flow­ing through ev­ery groove. The hazy synths of opener Fore­ward re­calls the buzzing cool of Kool & the Gang’s Summer Mad­ness. Bore­dom ends with broad, play­ful or­ches­tra­tion that links Tyler to stu­dio wiz com­posers like Van Dyke Parks and Jon Brion. Tracks like the bass-heavy, A$AP Rocky-as­sisted Who Dat Boy? prove he can still serve up a cast iron banger when he feels like it.

Flower Boy also en­gages with an is­sue that has dogged Tyler’s ca­reer: his ho­mo­pho­bia. For all there is to ad­mire about his sturdy discog­ra­phy, the reg­u­lar use of the word “fag­got” has been the thorn among the roses.

Tyler has said he doesn’t use the word as a spe­cific ref­er­ence to gay people (let’s call this the “Eminem defence”). But the idea that a straight man could be the self-ap­pointed cham­pion to re­de­fine such a loaded ex­pres­sion is ex­tremely sus­pect. Es­pe­cially when Tyler used it in the same barbed way card-car­ry­ing ho­mo­phobes have done for years.

But on Flower Boy, Tyler re­con­tex­tu­alises his oeu­vre by ap­pear­ing to con­firm he is at­tracted to men. The ref­er­ences are ab­stract, but there are many. On Fore­ward he raps: “Shout-out to the girls that I lead on… And try­ing they hard­est to keep my head on straight.” And from I Ain’t Got Time: “Next line I’ll have em’ like ‘woah’/ I’ve been kiss­ing white boys since 2004.”

Ru­mours about Tyler’s sex­u­al­ity have been float­ing around for years. He’s hinted about it in in­ter­views and on so­cial me­dia enough. “I tried to come out the damn closet like four days ago and no one cared ha­hah­ha­haha,” the star tweeted in April 2015. It was dis­missed as shenani­gans from one of rap’s chief mis­chief-mak­ers.

If the al­bum is largely au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal, we may have been wit­ness­ing a real-time de­pic­tion of one per­son com­ing to terms with his own sex­u­al­ity. A young man who used a mix of ugly hu­mour and lashed-out men­ace as he worked through his own in­ter­nal feel­ings. This is some­thing rarely de­picted in art from start to fin­ish so three-di­men­sion­ally.

Flower Boy might lack the raw power of some of Tyler’s first batch of tracks, but it reestab­lishes why we need him out here right now. Amid Odd Fu­ture’s ex­tremely sanc­ti­fied alumni, he can’t be ig­nored.

“I tried to come out the damn closet like four days ago and no one cared ha­hah­ha­haha,” the star tweeted in April 2015. It was dis­missed as shenani­gans from one of rap’s chief mis­chief-mak­ers

Mu­sic that could ap­pease The Beach Boys Tyler the Cre­ator

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