THE EVOLUTION OF TYLER, THE CREATOR

From Wolf Haley to Tyler Okonma

Tyler, The Creator in the “EARFQUAKE”  video  (2019)

Tyler, The Creator in the “EARFQUAKE” video (2019)

BY STEPHEN ADDANTE

When Tyler, The Creator first popped up online, many people were completely shocked and confused about all the hype surrounding him. Much of his music was extremely vulgar and came off as aggressive and confrontational, similar to his public perception as he was often labelled as homophobic, misogynistic, and criticized for anti-religious lyrics/videos. Tyler was often spotted with his group Odd Future (OFWGKTA), sporting the iconic OF donut, causing mayhem and establishing a cult following on the internet. His distinct sound and subject matter made waves in late 2009-early 2010 when he released his first solo project Bastard. While Bastard helped give Tyler some exposure, it wasn’t until his first official studio album Goblin in 2011 that Tyler began to reach mass audiences.

On February 10th, 2011, Tyler released the music video for his single “Yonkers” which has received over 100 million views to date and features Tyler eating a cockroach and eventually hanging with a noose around his neck. “Yonkers”, along with other standout tracks “Radicals” and “Sandwitches”, gave Tyler mainstream media coverage and helped build his fan base, made up primarily of young adults. Goblin also included appearances from Odd Future members Hodgy Beats, Jasper Dolphin, Taco, Domo Genesis, Mike G, and the debut of Frank Ocean on the track “She”.

However, Tyler’s new found fame was not limited to music, as he quickly became a style icon while simultaneously breaking down celebrity (and rapper) expectations. Tyler was often spotted wearing bright colours and shirts with cats on them, usually from his clothing line Golf Wang (play on Wolf Gang) which he also launched in 2011. Odd Future can and should also be credited for the resurgence of the clothing brand Supreme as several members were very often seen wearing the brand or mentioning it in their lyrics. Tyler’s “do what I want”/ “wear what I want” attitude has been a staple in his career and can be seen as similar to that of Kanye West, who has had only positive things to say about Tyler and who would later collaborate and become good friends with him.

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Tyler and Odd Future also grew in popularity as a result of their comedy sketches / commentary posted on their YouTube page and through their series with Adult Swim, Loiter Squad (2012-2014). Much of this content featured recurring characters such as Thurnis Haley, a golfer played by Tyler. While his music at the time may not have been for everyone, there was definitely a large group of people who became fans of Tyler solely based off his sense of humour and creativity.

On March 20th, 2012, Odd Future released a collaborative album, The OF Tape Vol. 2, which featured the majority of OF members and also led to the iconic “Oldie” music video. Later in the year, Odd Future held their first annual Camp Flog Gnaw festival, which has since taken off and become a premiere music festival, filling the grounds of Dodger Stadium in LA with fans, as well as some of the biggest names in music.

A few months later, prior to the premiere of Loiter Squad season 2, Tyler teased a new solo album, Wolf, which would be released in April of 2013. Wolf began a shift in Tyler’s musical career as he experimented with new sounds and matured in some of his lyrical content. While Wolf is far from the Tyler we know today, it did show fans that there was a lot more to him than a menacing beat and explicit lyrics. The album features several melodic instrumentals and sounds, with additional vocals from Pharell and Erykah Badu, among others. While the days of “Kill people, burn s**t, f**k school” were in the past, songs like “Domo23” and “Colossus” brought somewhat of a familiar sound back to day one fans. Wolf has been said by many (yet never confirmed by Tyler) to be the final piece to a trilogy, including his other two earlier albums, Bastard and Goblin, with recurring characters such as Wolf and Dr. TC present throughout the albums (read more).

If there was any doubt after Wolf about Tyler’s musical direction, it was quickly dismissed two years later with the release of his third studio album Cherry Bomb in 2015. While Cherry Bomb is often regarded as the weakest album in Tyler’s discography among fans, there are several gems spread throughout as the album continues Tyler’s artistic evolution. The album features several different sounds with elements of jazz, rock, soul and hip-hop present among the songs. This was also around the time that Odd Future began to drift apart as several members decided to go in their own directions. As a result, Syd (who is the vocalist for The Internet) was the sole OF feature on Cherry Bomb, while other features came from new collaborators such as Kanye West, Lil Wayne, ScHoolboy Q and Kali Uchis.

As the year went on, Odd Future members gave the impression that the collective was no more as there seemed to be tension growing among some within the group. With members like Hodgy and Earl venturing into solo projects, as well as Frank Ocean seemingly falling off the face of the planet at the time, the iconic group had seen its last days. While never confirmed or officially announced, Tyler did allude to the end of OFWGKTA on his Twitter in May of 2015. Although there was speculation that some members of the group had hard feelings, it was put to rest in 2018 when Tyler, Earl, Hodgy, and Syd were all seen on stage together at the final night of LA nightclub Low End Theory’s existence.

In 2016, Tyler held his first fashion runway show featuring products from his GOLF clothing line. The stage was designed as a skate park with flowers and beautiful colours surrounding it. The show resembled many of the things to come not only in Tyler’s fashion career but in his musical direction. Collaborations with Converse were teased at the show and have since led to a whole line of products under the name GOLF le FLEUR*. Tyler’s infatuation with flowers was not limited to fashion however, as in July of 2017, he would release his most ambitious album yet, Flower Boy.

Flower Boy album cover

Flower Boy received critical acclaim for its unique sound, showcasing much of Tyler’s emotional side. The album is almost dream-like with its jazzy and soulful instrumentals. With so many different sounds, the album has something for everybody, and as a whole comes together unlike any of his previous projects. Some of the themes discussed throughout the album include fame, loneliness, love, and artistic pressure to name a few. While many of us knew Tyler to be one of the more creative artists out there, it’s crazy to think that songs like “Boredom”, “Glitter”, and “911 / Mr. Lonely”, come from the same guy who made “Radicals”. Tyler gets assists from Frank Ocean, Kali Uchis, Lil Wayne, Jaden Smith, Steve Lacy, Rex Orange County, Estelle, Anna of the North, as well as good friend A$AP Rocky on the lead single for Flower Boy, “Who Dat Boy”. Flower Boy earned Tyler his first Grammy nomination as a lead artist (was nominated for Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange as a featured artist) for Best Rap Album and it was widely regarded as one of the top albums of 2017.

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That takes us to today and the latest installment in Tyler’s career, IGOR. Released on May 17th, IGOR is perhaps Tyler’s magnum opus. There’s something about the album and Tyler’s promotion of it that just makes you think that this is what he has been working toward his whole career. He had stated on numerous occasions his love for older soul music but never fully embraced his own singing voice, that is until this album. Instead of the distorted pitched down vocals from his first few projects, Tyler instead pitches his voice up or uses his natural voice to sing throughout the album. IGOR has several similarities to Flower Boy, however, Tyler was the first to tell everyone that this is not Flower Boy, nor is it Cherry Bomb or any of his other albums.

IGOR has received rave reviews from critics, pointing to the flawless production and great vocals across the album. Features including Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti do a great job adding some extra flavour as the album progresses. IGOR debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 and serves as Tyler’s first number 1 album ever.

The growth of Tyler from the beginning days of Bastard to the present day of IGOR has been a sight to see and unlike anything else. His creativity whether it be through music, fashion, or video, is undeniable, and whether or not you enjoy the type of music he makes, you have to admire the growth and evolution of one of today’s biggest superstars.