The evolution of Tyler, The Creator
Tyler Gregory Okonma, better known as Tyler, The Creator, is known today as one of the world’s most influential hip-hop artists. His most recent release, IGOR, epitomizes his unconventional style while capturing his more recently developed propensity for emotional vulnerability within his verses. For years, Tyler was perceived as an abrasive goofball with a knack for offensively obscene lyrics. A closer look at Tyler’s character shows that the profane, vulgar style to his words was a gimmick, and even more so—relating to criticism for homophobic lyrics—ironic. Still, Tyler, The Creator clearly evolved.
Tyler was brought up by his mother after his father left at age seven. Tyler insists this was a blessing for him in that a father figure would have prompted a more traditional road instead of pursuing his real passion. From very early on, music was just that for Tyler. His mother introduced him to jazz and soul-singing wonders like Phyllis Hyman and Erykah Badu. His aunt then introduced him to Behind The Front by The Black Eyed Peas where he witnessed a collision of instrumental style he found compelling in the jazz and soul music that he loved, with the rap verses he would jam to on the radio.
Like a song between two genres, Tyler was caught himself between a racially stratified upbringing: “I was too black for the white kids, and I was too white for the black kids,” he stated in an interview with Larry King. But noted role models of Pharrell Williams, Andre 3000, and Kanye West helped hone that struggle into a musical style that broke down stereotypes of what black masculinity looks like. Tyler’s formed group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA), otherwise known as Odd Future, was his own take on this, and the collection sparked many of his creative endeavors, one being his debut solo album, Bastard.
With deliberately offensive lyrics matched by a raw, punk-esque production feel, Bastard was a contrast to the genre style at the time, attracting a lot of attention. With following releases of Goblin (a more serious reflection on struggle with newly found fame), Wolf (a Stevie Wonder and Tame Impala inspired fusion), and Cherry Bomb, the progressively notable tonal shift in verse subject matter became even more evident with the release of critically acclaimed Flower Boy. The musical and production style holds influence from some of his early introduction to soul and jazz as a kid, and the lyrics are unshielded candor. Tyler even explicitly referenced his own battle with closeted homosexuality. However, IGOR has been perhaps his most intimate of all, covering the full arc of rejection by a loved one as Tyler struggled through the unreturned affection from a boy seeing another girl.
He’s not just a talented musician. Running his own clothing line, music festival, and television shows; the diversity of his creative outlets expanded public perception of Tyler not just as a musical artist, but as a personality, and a stage presence—a brilliantly eccentric one at that. His musical evolution was a driving vehicle for his own emotional evolution. Many still see him as that off-the-walls 19-year-old, but, as stated in his lyrics, he’s just a bold, “walking paradox,” unafraid to say what others can’t.