With Odd Future lynchpin Tyler, The Creator tweeting that the collective are “no more”, take a look back at the outspoken rapper’s first NME cover, written by Mike Williams and published in April 2011 on the week of the Royal Wedding.
“Fuck, I’m stuck. Someone fucking help me. I can’t get my arm through this stupid thing. No, don’t cut it. I can do it myself. Hold on, I’ve done it. Wait a minute… I look pretty good!”
Tyler, The Creator is struggling. Struggling to squeeze his 6-foot 2-inch frame into the tiny vintage wedding dress handed to him by NME that he’s been asked to put on. Struggling to not tell everyone to go and fuck themselves for having the temerity to ask him to do something in the first place. But worst of all, struggling to keep still as Jasper The Fucking Dolphin, his Odd Future cohort and lifelong buddy, cranks up the volume on Wacka Flocka Flame’s ‘Bustin At Em’ blasting out of the speakers in the West Los Angeles photo studio where today’s shoot is taking place, and bounces into the frame, prompting Tyler to set off on a mad dash around the set, urging the camera to follow him before freezing, whipping on a crown, stuffing his dress with money, then setting off again, headbanging.
It’s tiring just watching him, and that’s the whole point of this performance. If you can’t catch up, if you haven’t got the legs, then forget it, he’s not interested. But if you can, and you do, then he’s got it all to give. Talent, charisma and enough immature bum jokes to keep your inner delinquent laughing until lunch.
Rewind 15 minutes, and Tyler hasn’t arrived. There are a few butterflies on the set as everyone wonders what we should expect from the most talked about and controversial new artist on the planet. He’s been called a misogynist and a homophobe; accused of glorifying rape and murder, of engineering cheap shocks and thrills by belittling that by which we’re most appalled. He’s also been called the brightest new talent of his generation, a subversive and visionary wunderkind whose tales of necrophilia and despair challenge our notions of comfort and run away laughing from any idea of morality. Apparently he bores easily. Has an incredibly short attention span. Will refuse to answer anything he deems as a stupid question, and hates any intrusion into his past. He is, by all accounts, hard work.
At eight minutes past two, less than ten minutes late, Tyler arrives, flanked by his two managers, one male, one female, and followed by Jasper. “Hi, I’m Terry” he says, shaking everyone’s hand, a cockeyed baseball cap perched on his head, an array of big cats splashed across his bright purple tee-shirt, a psychedelic vision of street fashion’s loopy future. “Hi, I’m Tony” says Jasper, much shorter, a grey hoody pulled up over his head, more skate-rat than rap-star [Jasper doesn’t rap on any OF track, and is in the band “to bring in girls”]. “Any pictures, give my fucking manager a call, okay?” deadpans Jasper, passing around business cards picked up on the front desk on the way in. It’s a game of one-upmanship between the two. Who’s the stoopidest? Who’s the most shocking? Who can say the dumbest thing? “I don’t really like this shirt,” offers Tyler. “My grandma washed it and dried it and it’s gone all short. But I like the cats. That one at the bottom. She’s called Margaret. She’s my favourite.”
Tyler is essentially a show off. In the nicest sense of the word. Once the shoot is over, the camera is away and Jasper is outside on his skateboard (or rather “my fucking skateboard,” as Tyler corrects. “It ain’t even his.”), he’s a different character altogether. Sat in an offshoot room from the main studio, he sits with his long legs stretched out over a table, fiddling with his Blackberry. With his ears sticking out the sides of his cap and a lip bit in concentration, he looks about 15. This is the guy who’s got the world hanging on his every word and tweet? What has he got to say?
How did you feel about putting the dress on?
“They told me the whole concept and shit about the Royal Wedding in England, and I was like, yup, that’s cool.”
So what do you know about the Royal Wedding?
“I couldn’t give a fuck about a Royal Wedding.”
Do you know who’s getting married?
“I don’t know. I don’t think I care. Actually, I know I don’t care. Do you care about the Royal Wedding?”
Do you know who Prince William is?
“It’s Diana’s son. Didn’t she die in ’97 in a car crash? It was ’97. I’m good with dates. It was on the news. I was like six.”
To have missed all the hype and hyperbole surrounding Odd Future – and specifically their outspoken leader Tyler, The Creator – would have required a particularly long dip into the cultural void over the last sixth months. For those of you who managed it, here’s a quick recap.
Six months ago Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All were a group of hyper-active, piss-taking hormonally-charged LA teenagers skating the corners of the Fairfax area of West Hollywood. To the outside world – that is, anyone outside of their close knit crew of rappers, skaters, producers, photographers, filmmakers and cronies – they seemed to exist solely online, where their Twitters, Tumblrs and 11 free-to-download full length records opened a window onto their world of goofy larks, post-everything agenda and nightmarish self-expression.
Since the release of Tyler’s grandest statement yet, the video to single ‘Yonkers’ on February 11th, there’s been no escaping the fact that Odd Future and Tyler himself are very real. If you didn’t see the balaclava’d heads of Tyler and Hodgy Beats daubed with Manson Family iconography moshing around the set of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon to ‘Sandwitches’, then perhaps you caught the clip of Tyler diving headfirst into the crowd at the MTV Woodie Awards or heard about their performances at this years’ SXSW. Want a more direct distillation of the excitement surrounding this 20-year-old kid and his band of teenage droogs? Listen to the chanted mantra that rattles around the crowd at their live shows. “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school” – it’s controversial, it’s anti establishment, and it sums up everything that Tyler and his wolf gang stand for. Or rather, what they don’t. OF have been called punks, but that’s too easy. Tyler, Hodgy, Left Brain, Syd, Mike G, Jasper, Taco, Domo, Earl, Matt Martins and new recruit Frank Ocean are insurgents rather than descendants of a movement that peaked 34 years ago. They are, in essence, the ultimate anti-establishment act that wants to tear the world down and build it again from scratch.
“Yeah, that’s it. That’s basically it,” says Tyler, pulling himself up straight and adjusting his cap. “There’s defiance in doing what we want. I don’t like being told what to do.”
Tyler is the poster boy for the new regime. He’s an instant rebel, an anti-authority, anti-adult, gleefully bad taste anti-star in the tradition of Elvis Pressley, John Lennon and John Lydon. Does he identify with any of these?
“Not really. To me, Sid Vicious is cool. He was super chill. Actually, I’ve got a picture of him on the back of my phone [shows NME his phone]. He was just cool. But the way he died was wack, and in his head he was so fucking crazy. Hmm, I guess he just looks cool.”
He couldn’t play his bass.
“But he looked cool.”
Do you care if people think you’re cool?
“I don’t care about shit like that. I think I’m cool. That’s all that matters. To me, anyway.”
When you say you want to tear everything down and start again, have you always had a masterplan?
“It was never like that, I just fucking made music out of boredom and people happened to like it.”
Because OF is a collective, people assume you’ve got a manifesto.
“We were bored, we put a website up, we put some tunes on, people happened to like it, and that’s how it’ll continue to be. It’s just that right now it’s turning into a responsibility.”
It’ll have to change at some point. As you get bigger. As the expectation grows.
“Not really. ‘Goblin’ is still the shit I wanted to make. ‘Goblin’ has got shit on there I made during ‘Bastard’ that just didn’t make the album. I was listening to ‘Wolf’ earlier, my next album, and that’s not going to drop until next year – it’s not going to change anything. I couldn’t give a fuck if people don’t really like it. I mean, I know people are going to like it, because we have a diehard fanbase. As long as the real diehard fans who note everything like it, that’s all that matters.”
‘Goblin’, Tyler’s second full length solo album, is released via XL (home to The Horrors, Radiohead, Dizzee Rascal) on May 10th. Prior to the interview, NME requested that we hear the record for, you know, research, like. The label told us though that this wouldn’t be possible. Tyler, apparently, would “flip” if he thought we’d heard it. The only people who have heard it, according to Tyler, are “Just me and my managers. And Hodgy. But he’s the only person. I just keep it tight.”
Up to now, all you can hear online are ‘Yonkers’, ‘Sandwitches’, and the recently leaked ‘Tron Cat’. All three bristle with the anger, violence and oddball humour that have become trademark Tyler, and back up his claims that ‘Goblin’ should be considered ‘Bastard’ pt 2. ‘Bastard’, of course, was the moment when OF’s huge free-to-download back catalogue got good. The OF Tape from 2008 had it’s moments (all of them belonging to Tyler, specifically ‘Dracula’ and ‘Bubble Gum’), but ‘Bastard’ managed to harness the fuck-the-world energy and misanthropy into a solid, Neptunes-inspired rap record that sets up Tyler as an anti-hero for fucked-up kids around the world. Albeit those into ultra-violence and a bit of the old in-out. What else do we know about the record? The sleeve that Tyler posted up online a few weeks back bore the image of a 19-year-old Buffalo Bill, 19th century soldier and showman, and one of America’s favorite sons. Knowing Tyler’s dark draw to serial killers, don’t be surprised if it is in fact a subverted reference to the deranged “I’m a laaaydeee” killer in Silence Of The Lambs. The cover now seems to be a picture of Tyler’s own face, close up and unnerving. It’s the same image that beams down from a giant Billboard on LA’s famous Sunset Boulevard. Tyler insists the reason that he doesn’t want anyone to hear ‘Goblin’ is not because he lacks confidence in the record, but just that “I don’t want opinions and shit. I’d just rather make my shit and then put it out. I don ‘t need anyone else’s help. If I do, I’ll ask for it.”
With this, he looks uncomfortable, and slides down the chair until he’s almost sat on the floor of the room. We ask him if he feels under scrutiny. “I don’t know. Sometimes. Some people just mistake what I say. I don’t like people knowing too much. You know, Odd Future is just us, in our own little world, doing our shit, and like everyone knows almost everything about it, and that shit just hurts me. People dig and search and find shit out. It’s really hard. That’s why I don’t want to tell too many people about ‘Goblin’, and have them hear it [when it’s released]. The whole mystery is cool, because then nobody can really judge me,”
Ah yes, the judgement. Google Tyler’s name, or Odd Future, and you’re only a few clicks away from the controversy that follows him everywhere he goes. He’s denounced as the devil, with murder fantasies, graphic descriptions of sexual assault, alleged homophobia and misogyny prevalent in his often shocking lyrics (sample: “Your whole gang will be diminished, Bunch got the Brady’s in it / Spit sick shit like my saliva got the rabies in it / Fuck rap, I’ll be a landlord so I can rape a tenants daughter / Leave my house with a new stomach, and a baby in it” – ‘Assmilk’). He’s held up as an example of middle-class boredom and misplaced irony, dropping words like ‘faggot’ and absolving himself of any social responsibility because he’s just a kid. Tyler’s not the only member of Odd Future with these accusations levelled at him. His half brother Earl (who also appears on ‘Assmilk’) – recently discovered at a military school in Samoa by Complex magazine having apparently been banished by his mother after hearing this line: “Hurry up I’ve got nuts to bust and butts to nut/And sluts to fucking uppercut. It’s OF, buttercup/Go ahead, fuck with us/Without a doubt a surefire way to get your mother fucked/Ask her for a couple bucks, shove a trumpet up her butt/Play a song, invade her thong/My dick is having guts for lunch/…As well as supper, then I’ll rummage through a ruptured cunt.” (‘Earl’) – is arguably more extreme, but his enforced absence from the group during their rapid rise to prominence has increased the analysis of Tyler and his dubious interpretations of his feelings and frustrations. How does he feel about the allegations and criticism?
“People just look at the shock value, and don’t really look at the way I use this shit.” he says, sitting up straight and fixing us with a steely glare. “It’s just like a book or a movie. Like that song ‘Dracula’ sounds like, I don’t know, a fantasy book, like Twilight or something. The people that listened to the earlier shit first, they get it more – they appreciate ‘Yonkers’ and ‘Earl’ and the stuff that came after that, because, I don’t know… I don’t know how to explain it.”
Are you joking when you rap about this stuff? Are you trying to piss people off?
“It hurts me when people can’t see beyond the first layer. They don’t listen to the word play, or the patterns we use to the song, or the vocabulary we use. They just look at the word sodomise, or rape, or bitch or some shit, and just go like “oh my god, did you hear what he just said”. No, did you hear how he said it? The terms he used to say it?”
Do you get why some people are offended?
“People take this stuff too seriously. A lot of people take stuff too seriously. So some of the time it’s actually for them. My subconscious doing it on purpose, just to piss them off. I want people to take that stuff too seriously, especially shit like that. But, just, whatever.”
By this point Tyler is visibly annoyed. “I try to preach be yourself and do what you want. It’s not our fault if they’re fucking dumb enough to believe this shit. I just made music, and put it out, and people just happen to actually like it. I’m not a role model. Okay, well I’m a role model to some people, but I just turned 20. I’m just living life and having as much fun as I can. I don’t think about shit like that. That’s not on my mind.”
So when you say gay or faggot, do you mean homosexual, or are you using the words as replacements for something else?
“I’m not homophobic. I just think faggot hits and hurts people. It hits. And gay just means you’re stupid. I don’t know, we don’t think about it, we’re just kids. We don’t think about that shit. But I don’t hate gay people. I don’t want anyone to think I’m homophobic. [Jasper walks in to the room] Be he’s a fucking faggot! [laughs]”
At Coachella last week, Tyler was joined on stage by his hero, Pharrell Williams. Tyler describes Pharrell as a “father figure, ‘cos I didn’t have a dad, so that’s who I looked up to.” He describes the moment he met him for the first time as “fucking weird. I was nervous, my heart was beating fast, but he’s real nice. He’s chill as fuck”, and the advice that he gave him, priceless. “He had on this fucking ring. It was just a big ass motherfucking diamond. I was looking at it, and he looked at me and I was like “that ring is fucking crazy” and he was like “what, this? You’ll have that in no time, just keep doing what you’re doing, don’t worry about it”. That just makes me keep working a bit harder, so that I can say that to someone someday.”
There’s little doubt that over the coming months Tyler is going to become huge. He talks about potential collaborations (“I’d do a beat for Beyonce. Some nice melodies. If Jay Z wants me to rap on a track, I’d do it, and I’d bring my A-game”), what gets him excited (“Comics, magazines, movies, vampires, serial killers.”), and his favourite music around today. (“Obviously Wacka. But that last Toro Y Moi record is my favourite record of the year, hands down.”) It’s what makes Tyler so exciting. The breadth of his influences, his enthusiasm for new experiences, his overall auteur approach to Odd Future that has resulted in him not only writing and recording two full albums already (“Three is you include ‘The OF Tape’”), but also producing six records (“Let’s see – ‘The OF Tape’, ‘Bastard’, ‘Earl’, ‘Rolling Papers’, ‘Goblin’, and I did a lot of shit on Hodgy’s ‘Dena Tape’.”) and directing the entire artistic output of the group, from videos to cover art. His gruff baritone voice sounds 50 years too old for him, and sat atop his sparse beats and loops (not samples: “I like to create. Plus, I don’t want to pay no fucking royalties.”), it’s the most inventive, stimulating and rule breaking sound since Wu Tang reinvented hip hop in 1992. But best of all? He’s a nihilist, and deep down, couldn’t really give a fuck about any of this any more than he cares about William and Kate, John Lennon or any of his middle finger baring forefathers.
“We’re coming to England to play at the end of April, but I don’t know what the fuck it is we’re playing. I don’t care. I don’t know. I was just want to skate. Or do nothing. Or eat chicken and watch cartoons. That’s all I want to do this summer. But I can’t. On May 10th, after the record drops, literally on May 11th we have a show in Boston. And then from May 11th to August 29th, we’re fucking busy. Half of me doesn’t want to do shit, but the other half is like, ‘that’s tight. Let’s go to fucking Amsterdam!”
And with that he’s up, motioning to Jasper to get up too. Before he leaves we ask if there’s anything he feels he’s missed out. Anything else he wants to tell us.
Tyler: “I like bacon, and waffles, and cereal. I just want to eat breakfast all day. [Nodding towards Jasper] Ain’t that right, fat ass? He likes eating ass. This one time, he had this girl, and he was eating her out, and all of a sudden ‘whoops’, he’s eating her ass.”
Jasper: “I don’t remember that. That was you.”
Tyler: “What are you talking about? I don’t eat ass. I swear! I walked in on this nigga, and he had her ass open!”
Jasper: “He tried to eat my homegirl’s butt. Tyler. He loves ass. He told me.”
Tyler: “I did not say that! Who you going to believe? Do you want to see my asshole? [pulls out his phone and shows off a picture of man’s face on a billboard]. This is a picture of my dad. [Flicks to a picture of an overweight girl, gesturing towards Jasper] This is this nigga as a 12 year old girl. Are we done here? [picks up Dictaphone] Penis. We’re done.”