Unpopular Opinion: Why Tyler, The Creator Is The Low-Key MVP Of 2015
Feb. 14, 2011: “Odd Future is coming to town, you haven’t heard?” I stared blankly at my friend with the same face most people gave me when they found out I enjoyed the wild collective’s music. It was 6:50 p.m. and instead of taking a seat in my 7:00 p.m. American Studies class, I was in route to D.C.’s U Street Music Hall – a no frills basement dance club doubling as a live music venue come sundown. I figured the night’s show would undoubtedly be worth skipping that day’s snoozefest of a lecture. “C’mon, we’re going. You’ll thank me later,” I said, handing him his ticket from my backpack. Outside, the temperature had peaked at a cool 30 degrees, and the 11th Street cross street was flooded with throngs of teenagers and twenty-something’s patiently waiting in line for a show that promised to be as titillating as a delinquent’s first joy ride.
An interesting flow of characters just as unique as the bubbling underground crew, themselves, poured into the venue. It was a sold-out crowd of mostly angsty, white kid skate mobs decked out in Supreme, freckled with black, brown and yellow faces, who all came together to partake in drunken camaraderie. They chanted “KILL PEOPLE, BURN SH*T, F**K SCHOOL” at the top of their lungs as the Goblin fictional deep cut “Radicals” brimmed. And as unromantic as moshing with hundreds of sweaty people for an hour-long show sounded, after four beers I was oblivious to the rabid stench that lingered. That night, I went back to my dorm drunk and utterly mind-f**ked by the rarity I had experienced.
That was my first and (unfortunately) last time seeing Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All live. Subsequently, it was their first booked gig outside of their native L.A., and a precursor to the fanatic fandom that would soon ensue. If you were down with OF, admission for entry was breaking all the rules and leaving all f**ks at the door. In real life, OFWGKTA’s fittingly odd, on-wax and Internet-based vigor felt like attacking grand undertakings you knew could result in near-death experiences, but will make for awesome stories for your grand kids. While some labeled their movement threatening, just witnessing the crowd feed off of their charismatic, in-your-face energy was inspiring, especially as a group of young black kids.
Crawling from the crevices of their obscene, ill-mannered YouTube channel full of F-bombs and homemade videos to ascending to full-on magazine features chronicling their unhinged, anti movement, Odd Future blossomed into more than just a trend. From inception, Tyler & Co. knew who they were, what they represented and where exactly they wanted to stand in the musical soundscape: “They are them. We are us. F**k them all.” That same confidence that resonated in their provocatively progressive voices resulted in them not only catching the attention of a more diverse audience, but reviving and breaking the mold of rap collectives, ultimately bringing a raw creativity the industry desperately needed and audiences willing to listen craved. No matter how odd and controversial, OF’s prominence likened them to the new face of rap. But U Street was just the beginning of my own good rapport with the collective.
Two days later, I’d watch frontman Tyler and Hodgy Beats introduce the Wolf Gang to the world and become unlikely household names thanks to their Jimmy Fallon TV debut, where they made the late night show their playground, hopping, jumping, and hurdling across the stage in full-face ski masks. I’d then cop a hard copy of T’s inaugural solo release, Goblin, witness him score his first MTV VMA Moonman for Best New Artist and transcend right before my eyes from awkward and lanky Ladera Heights, Ca. adolescent no name to unapologetic twenty-something rap mastermind fronting the coolest rap crew— one millennials and the world at large never knew they needed nor expected—in just the span of one year.
Okay, so maybe Odd Future is over. And while fans still haven’t gotten over the fact that people grow up and grow out of friendships (business partnerships or whatever you want to call it), it should be noted that even though the collective has more or less dismantled, OF has maintained a formidable staying power in music today, spawning successful acts like Tyler, The Creator, Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt, and The Internet, reminding us that the future doesn’t look as bad as we thought.
In particular, OF ringleader Tyler reminds us of this. But here lies the problem: Tyler has yet to receive the props and credit he deserves as one of the youngest, most forward-thinking artists of this generation. However, there are moments when it seems that T likes it that way – “See me, I don’t compromise, I know my accomplishments/F**k your compliments, b**ch I got confidence.” Whether you f**k with his music or not, you simply can’t deny T’s talent. (Wu-Tang and Odd Future publicist, Heathcliff Berru said that Tyler’s ODB with a hint of GZA). “There’s a lot of people that don’t listen to his music but love him,” says Chris Clancy, his longtime manager. “I think he’s become bigger than just the music because he represents possibility.” That would mean denouncing the fact that at 19 he had already reached multi hyphenate status: rapper-producer-visual artist-video director. Not to mention, every year since his 2011 breakout, Tyler further built upon his riotous foundation rooted in uncanny ambitions, which makes other rapper’s hackneyed hustle spiel seem like a cakewalk. Case in point: T followed up his musical endeavors by releasing a 196-page Odd Future photo book, producing three seasons of an Adult Swim sketch comedy series, Loiter Squad, designing cool merchandise, landing a sneaker collaboration with Vans, and starting his own music festival, Camp Flognaw.
But no matter how gifted and no matter how many dope projects he adds to his repertoire, it’s the controversy surrounding him that lingers at large, like my own priceless reaction when he explained the meaning behind the title, “THE BROWN STAINS OF DARKEESE LATIFAH PART 6-12 (REMIX),” or his Technicolor, n****r inscribed Vans. Sure, he’s said some crazy sh*t, I won’t shy away from that truth, but who didn’t when they were teetering on the edge of adolescence and adulthood? “The irony of it all is that he’s actually grown out of that. He’s not the guy that’s going to make some statement because that’s what you’re supposed to do nowadays,” Clancy adds. “He’s traveled the world, he’s had some incredible experiences and he’s applied that to his own life. He’s always going to be of a button pusher, but that’s just a part of who he his.” Even still, a lot of the racy lyrics that people remember from years back shadow him, as some aren’t pleased with his equal parts goofy and potty mouth that spits out obscenities like universal greetings. Satanist, misogynist, homophobic, you name it, Tyler has been labeled it. There have even been multiple articles detailing how he’s killing rap with how his music that has no intrinsic value, literally off of lyrics that he wrote nearly four years ago.
Nevertheless, the unlikely breakout star has managed to still keep the space in music he carved out for himself, with no one being anywhere close in the rankings of filling his shoes. The loyal fan base that’s been rooting for him since Goblin, even Bastard, is pure proof, which is also a sure signal that while he might not matter to some, Tyler matters. And even though the facts are on the surface, it warrants a deeper look. If you comprehend what I’m trying to get at, there’s a pattern. T continues to add more to his plate, living up to the proposal of his stage moniker: the sole proprietor of the word “creator,” but it goes unnoticed and written off as bat-sh*t crazy child’s play.
Today, the same perception of T’s mythology continues with several noted publications omitting Tyler from year-end list conversations and rankings – some of which he covered this year. 2015 alone was one of epically portioned contributions from him while counterattacking critics aiming loading ammo straight at him. It’s applause-worthy, especially after being banned from Australia and the UK indefinitely. Majority rule at VIBE may have crowned Fetty Wap as the most valuable player, but T’s superb hand job of juggling the rap game in the palm of his hands for the past four years surpasses “Trap Queen” territory any and every day in my book. F**k your feelings. T wasn’t fully appreciated the first time around with OF, so it only feels right to crown him low-key MVP this year. Take it or leave it.
To start, Tyler’s highly anticipated fourth album, Cherry Bomb, which is his most ambitious ever, alone surprised many—not just because of its unexpected release but conceptually and sonically we were introduced to a damn near grown up T. “It’s the album I always wanted to make,” he told Billboard. A far cry from the expected sinister and off-kilter narrative of his previous works, Cherry Bomb treaded whimsical waters reintroducing us to the T that fancies melodic chord changes, overdoses on Erykah Badu’s “Time’s a Wastin’,” and believes Death Grips is a higher power equating to the remedy for efficiency. Overall, the 15-track LP, which he produced all himself, is a quirky gem jammed with stouthearted jazz ensembles lead by OG Roy Ayers, ridiculously flavorsome R&B riffs performed by Boyz II Men’s Wayna Morris (“BLOW MY LOAD”) and Charlie Wilson (“F**KING YOUNG/PERFECT”), anchored by a confident as ever T, who surprisingly rounds out his usually inky, pitch-dark roar with intonated warbles. And while most of his peers complain about not getting so-called rapper friends to drop verses on their tracks, Tyler managed to snag his idol Pharrell (“KEEP DA O’s”) for a second time, and finessed features from Lil Wayne and Kanye on one track (“SMUCKERS”)—we haven’t seen such a collabo since Drake’s “Forever” (2010). Now ain’t that a tough guest list for a rapper who claims he doesn’t even f**k with rappers? And while most OF devotees and some critics weren’t necessarily fans of T’s sunnier side (average rating of 3.5 out of 5), the album served a greater purpose for him (See: “FIND YOUR WINGS”) that didn’t need to be comprehended or even appreciated for that matter by others, echoing his usual sentiment that as long as he understands what he’s doing, that’s all that should matter.
As a follow up to the LP, which charted No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums without cheesy marketing –just four various vinyl covers as a thank you to his fans who still find pleasure in purchasing physical copies –T trekked across the globe bringing his newest project to life with a 78-date Cherry Bomb World Tour touching cities between Arizona and Japan. And then he did the unthinkable. He teamed up with A$AP Rocky–another rapper who leveraged a successful career with the help of the Internet–for a joint tour, breaking his rapper friend rules. “When they first told me about this, I was like, ‘Nah, that’s weird,’” Tyler said in the tour’s official announcement video. Seemingly, while Odd Future’s up-in-the-air break up loomed in the blogosphere and people questioned whether the collective was even needed in 2015 after the lone success of most of its members, and the A$AP Mob recuperated from Yams’ untimely death, things just conveniently worked out themselves out. “Time went on and I was like, ‘Why not?’”
That same carefree energy resonated in the larger-than-life turn out for his fourth annual festival experience, Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, where he cleverly turned the parking lot of the L.A. Coliseum into an entertaining mash up of circus-like events and the biggest names in music. This year, headliner Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound shared the stage with the likes of Jhene Aiko, Willow Smith, A$AP Rocky and more, bringing out nearly 30,000 attendees – their largest turn out – without big time corporate sponsors under-riding the whole operation. Clancy recalls getting large sum offers from companies to have people pass out products at the festival (one company in particular tried to market beef jerky). “We don’t want people walking around passing out beef jerky. We want it to feel like a genuine environment and sure that takes longer, but it also lasts longer.”
Tyler also saw one of his biggest dreams come to fruition this year: Golf Media a.k.a. “Tyler and his brain without restrictions and bullsh*t.” Symbolized with a black letter G plastered on a sponge yellow background, the app—which will cost you $4.99—houses creative content curated by Tyler himself, including several original series, live streaming, a 24-hour radio in which T selects every single song that is played –I’ve heard everything from Kelis’ “Sugar Honey Iced Tea” to Pink Floyd’s “Time” in rotation – tour/show information, random articles on topics like Brad Pitt and Twitter blindness, behind-the-scenes photos, and his Golf Wang clothing line that also lives on the app. And for techies that are into gaming, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 delivered big with T being a playable character in the latest edition of the popular video game. Pretty sweet, right?
And to close out the year on an even higher note, T received the ultimate sartorial co-sign from the fashion bible, VOGUE, as they featured him in a Q&A style article about his recently released Fall line for Golf Wang. “I draw everything out before I make it. From videos to clothes to certain shots for my pictures, I usually draw everything out. I’m actually a designer. It’s not a team of people,” he told the publication, who billed him in the same hip-hop mogul category as Kanye and Nicki Minaj, who both balance bars and business-minded conversations. Leaving me with one question: Seriously, it took a fashion magazine to point out hip-hop’s newly appointed MVP?
So alas, how good is Tyler? So good that in a world of hip-hop where individuals rant about being marginalized and succumb to dumb marketing shticks, Tyler has managed to finesse success in every lane imaginable: rap, production, design, and tech, without one song in regular rotation on the radio (for four years, mind you), staying authentic to his vision. People don’t have to like Tyler or understand him. It’s almost better if you didn’t try. But at least give credit where credit is due. And who doesn’t love a dude who admits his only competition is Stevie Wonder (because the man makes the best music the world has ever heard yet has never seen his dick before). “I’m very bright, I’m smart, I’m annoying and obnoxious. I’m very creative and borderline genius, and I think other people are starting to see that too,” T said during a Tavis Smiley interview. All of this matters, every single nuance about this creatively restless and adventurous guy.
Below, a handful of T’s collaborators and acquaintances longtime and new – manager Chris Clancy, video director Tara Razavi, singer Kali Uchis, and director of photography Luis Perez – reflect on his year of MVP title-worthy accomplishments.
MORE THAN JUST A MANAGER, MORE LIKE A CONFIDANT
It takes people who are fearless to inspire other people to say, “You know what, f**k it, I’m going to go do that or try this.” And if anything, that’s the thing that would be the most profound about Tyler and his career, is his ability to challenge the way things are done and be successful at it. He wound up building something really special that also had a message attached to it that inspired kids. I see kids that fly from all over the world to see him at places and cry when they see him. It’s crazy. But he’s truly come to represent possibility. And what a great f**king thing that is today, with the world half falling apart – to have some one to look to who did it their own way.
THE BOSS LADY BRINGING T’S MUSIC VIDEO VISIONS TO LIFE
I worked on “Yonkers” with Tyler, which was his first major label release video. We got on a conference call and first thing I asked him was how serious he was about directing because I was told that he wanted to direct it. A lot of people say they want to direct but they’re not really familiar with the craft – they don’t really know what it means and it’s kind of like do they really want to direct or do they really just have a concept. The very first thing he said was, “Well, when I’m done with the rap sh*t in five years, I just want to direct.” Something about that spoke volumes to me because I knew that he had a lot of foresight. The kid was nineteen; he’s already talking about the end of his career. And he was more concerned with the directing part than the music part even though he really, really loves both. He hadn’t directed yet on that level. He might not have had the tools yet at the time, but he had a very clear vision of what he wanted. I mean look; nobody knew that that video was going to get nominated for a VMA. That just blew us all away.
I think that first conversation was very evident of who he is and how he thinks, but to be honest, he’s expanded so much more since then. I remember our conversation about the Carnival, he was like, “We want to do a carnival and just have everyone come out and have fun.” He literally will think of a sentence in his mind and it’ll turn into a movement. He does stuff that brand companies out here spend millions of dollars to try to get, and he just does it because it’s fun. No pressure, no fear. But beyond that, he’s going to be doing so much more, especially directing. He’s just doing more and more each year, so I don’t even know what’s going to happen at the end of his music career. Who knows. The sky is definitely the limit with him.
THE MAN AMPLIFYING THE AESTHETICS WHEN IT COMES TO T’S VISUAL PURSUITS
To me, Tyler is a prime example of someone who is never satisfied. Once he puts his mind to something, nothing stops him. He lives very fearless when it comes to failure and success. His growth from the minute I met him to working onset to watching him become that person everybody knows as far as visuals are concerned is amazing. Watching his growth not only as a person but also as an artist, musician and director from the beginning has been a great opportunity to witness firsthand. People don’t really get the gist of it as far as what they see in the media or in the videos, but the dude – his growth is exponential. I’ve seen him become not only a grown a** man but even a smarter individual in just the way he handles business. We had some really interesting conversations when he was recording ‘Cherry Bomb’ in the studio that I wish the rest of the world could have heard.
THE ANGELIC VOICE BEHIND “F**KING YOUNG/PERFECT”
The first day we went in the studio, we made a song from my ‘Por Vida’ project called, “Speed.” Tyler’s extremely versatile. He played a bunch of beats for me and they all sounded really different. He had composed all of them, too. He just always surprises me – the type of music that he wants to make or the type of ideas that he comes up with. He’s so curious to experiment with so many different fields of genres, things that people don’t even listen to or things that aren’t popular, or things that no one would even know where to place. And it’s like you get a very strong understanding that he doesn’t do this for anything besides his love for music, and the childlike curiosity he has for experimenting, pushing boundaries is rare.