Interview: Tyler, The Creator
'He almost hit Alfie! Arsehole!' The day the present turned odd for Tyler
Words Kev Kharas
Photography Richie Hopson
Have you heard the music Odd Future make? Angry, deft, rapid-fire raps set to rile over the top of lost Cold War cosmonaut synths that are peer-pressured into drifting on by stoic, hip hop rhythms and occasional blasts of distorted, static noise. Thematically, the 11-strong (mostly) teenage skateboard imps who make it deal in being teenage skateboarders, rape, calling people “faggots”, pretending to be black Nazis, therapy, absent fathers, split personalities, gang loyalty and limitless ambition.
The music Odd Future make is for the most part too jazzy, confused and pretty for the straight-up knucklehead thugs, and it’s too angry and corporeal for the bearded’n’backpacked Anticon/Stones Throw boom-bap crowd. In splitting the dichotomy that’s held sway over hip hop for at least a decade, Odd Future have found the formula to give a lethargic old dog new, bionic legs. Their main talent is for refreshment and reinvigoration — talents that are only bolstered by shock-tactics lyrics that are so shocking and shockingly-well delivered that, even in this post-2 Girls 1 Cup world they still shock.
Imagine if horses were carnivores.
But if this feature is about Odd Future, it’s more by association than anything else. Instead, it’s mostly about their leader, Tyler, The Creator.
And Tyler, The Creator does not like me.
Since I was first made aware of this — on May 2, 2011, Osama bin Laden’s deathday — Tyler and the rest of Odd Future have incited small scale fan riots from rooftops in Boston that have had cops running panicked in the streets; they’ve beaten up bottle-tossing members of their own audience in Detroit; they’ve been lead away in police cuffs in Los Angeles; and they’ve been talked about so much that they must be responsible for the murders of a tonne of sore tongues.
That in mind, the 10 spring minutes I spend with them in a skate park beneath the Westway in west London are nothing seismic. It’s deflating, though, when Tyler becomes so frustrated by my questions that he raises his skateboard up over his head and then smashes it into pieces on the ground.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
He sprints off outside to find something else to dash his board against, so I turn off the tape and follow him.
“Tell your friend to be more careful the next time he decides to break something,” says a moderately posh woman walking past with her dog. “He almost hit Alfie! Arsehole!”
The crowd that watches all this is made up of label and management reps, Odd Future’s sole female Syd Tha Kid, and a small, tour-got entourage of pretty girls, but none of us respond to the dog walker, and Tyler’s oblivious, too. He’s too busy breaking what remains of his poor board on the skate park fence to notice Alfie or the woman who thinks he’s an arsehole.
…he said, immediately after the interview was over. This tizzy hadn’t sprung up out of the blue. It’s hard to know if Tyler uses Twitter to grant the world round-the-clock access to his thoughts, or if he uses it because he wants those thoughts to go out and invade the world for him like twisted missionaries. Either way, the fact that he’s tired of talking to people with dictaphones and standing still for people with cameras had been made plain to the whole planet earlier that morning.
…he’d said. What do you ask a kid who doesn’t wanna answer any questions because he’s already answered every question you could possibly ask? I felt like some fat, old, kidless guy playing at being a youth worker on Secret Millionaire, except I couldn’t console myself with the knowledge that I had enough money to make Tyler cry at the end. Because I am often completely skint, and because Tyler will soon be very rich. Really fucking rich.
A necessarily brief history of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (because if you’ve not heard this before, you need to, and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times).
1998. Odd Future begins to take shape in the mind of Tyler Okonma, a seven-year-old asthmatic kid being raised by a single mother in the environs of L.A.. He gets Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope, Dr. Dre’s 2001 and (pre-piss-stink) Black Eyed Peas’ Behind The Front for his birthday and devours them whole: scouring inlays and learning what records look as well as sound like. He starts to make his own, composing album art, credits and track times for songs that don’t exist.
2000. Tyler gets a therapist after teachers discover a list he’d compiled of people he’d like to kill and torture. He’s a clever class clown. Someone decides to put him on Ritalin, and at this point he’s probably approaching the middle of a journeyman school career that will end up taking in 12 different institutions in 12 years.
2000—2008. Odd Future hang out, mostly with skateboards on the street. They congregate around Tyler, whose interest in music develops through Eminem, The Neptunes, Slipknot, Joy Division, Good Charlotte, Stereolab, Roy Ayers, James Pants and a load of other good and awful stuff. Tyler starts Odd Future magazine but never finishes it. They upload to YouTube videos like ‘Normal Day’ and ‘Nigga Get Off My Lawn’ — mischief skate skits cut jarringly with hip hop tracks and saturation fades. Odd Future’s online presence grows. It is nonsensical, non-narrative, anarchic. Their first release, a self-titled mixtape, appears in April ’08.
2009. Things start to get interesting in a musical sense. Bastard, Tyler’s debut album, arrives, as does Hodgy Beats’ (The Dena Tape). Hodgy is the group’s most prominent support rapper. He’s good, but he lacks the on-mic charisma of Tyler or…
2010. Earl Sweatshirt. Thebe Kgositsile was 16 when he made Earl, but that doesn’t stop the record making it abundantly clear that he is Odd Future’s most gifted rapper; possessing (possessed by?) an extraordinarily natural flow that lopes through intricate internal rhymes about rape and killing faggots with more ease than most people can recite their own shopping lists. Currently AWOL after his mother heard the record and sent him away to a Samoan reform centre called the Coral Reef Academy. It’s not known when he’ll return. Tyler refers to him as his half-brother.
Also this year come debut full-lengths from Domo Genesis (OF’s in-house weedo), Mike G (OF’s resident incompetent rapper) and MellowHype (the collaborative project of OF’s two longest-serving members besides Tyler: Hodgy Beats and producer Left Brain). The group plays first shows outside L.A., one in New York, one in London. Both sell out.
2011. Everything goes berserk. The world wakes up to Odd Future, notes Tyler’s star potential as he stomps around Jimmy Fallon’s TV studio with Hodgy and eats cockroaches before hanging himself in the video for ‘Yonkers’. On stage, they accelerate through live performances at South By South West, then Coachella, before winding up speaking to me under the Westway in the downtime between another batch of sold-out and massively-hyped European tour dates.
Post-interview headlines have been made by newest recruit Frank Ocean, who is crooning somewhere right now in a studio with Beyoncé. There have been other endorsements from people your mum and dad know the names of — Kanye West, Jay-Z — as well as the aforementioned riots, arrests and fistfights, and more headlines courtesy of a 500-word letter of rebuke from idiot-eyed, post-Pugwall twee people Tegan And Sara, who are unhappy at how many times the word ‘faggot’ has so far emerged from Tyler’s mouth.
The lesbian (it’s important for the context) duo also accused everyone else — journalists, fans, “members of the indie rock world” (oh God, what a disgusting collection of words) — of going along with it for fear of appearing to be either, a) old, or, b) a faggot. Tyler’s response?
Seventy-two hours before the cold, sunny day at the PlayStation-sponsored skatepark in Westbourne Park, I went to see Odd Future play live at a venue on the other side of the city called Village Underground. It was the day Prince William and Kate Middleton married each other and, despite previously using an NME interview to deny all knowledge of the royal wedding, Tyler and his friends didn’t miss the chance to lash out — playing against an ironic Union Jack backdrop, starting a chorus of, “Fuck Kate, Willyam’s a faggit,” and diving off speakers into a crowd that would eventually steal Tyler’s hat, prompting Odd Future to leave the stage haunches and middle-fingers raised.
But Tyler doesn’t seem to want to talk about any of that, which is understandable given he’s a homesick kid who would rather skate and eat American food than have English journalists come visit him to wave tape recorders in his face and ask him for answers to the same fucking questions over and over again.
I saw the updates on your Twitter earlier. I know you must be getting sick of this by now.
Yeah, I hate interviews, they’re the worst. And photoshoots. They’re the fucking worst.
But from what I’ve seen, you’ve always seemed quite natural in front of the camera?
I am if my friends are shooting it. Everyone else needs to step down. It’s different, ’cause those are my friends. They’re just filming because it’s fucking fun. Other people, they’re just doing it because someone sent them to do it. They’re just doing it for a cheque.*
I’m not chasing a cheque. I don’t even think there is one. I saw you saying earlier today that you feel a bit homesick.
Yeah, yeah. I got shows and shit, so this is the only free time I have, too. But I’ve got a bunch of promo tomorrow. I wish I could just skate, a lot. This place is cool, though [motioning around him at the skate park]. We don’t have anything like this where I’m from.
Whereabouts in L.A. are you from, exactly?
Is that true, though?
No, I lie. Lying in interviews makes them more fun. I’m from Compton.
You ever see old gramps Dr. Dre out on the street walking around talking to himself in his headphones?
Yeah, he’s tight. I go to parties with him all the time.
What are they like?
I dunno, wild and crazy. [motions around him again] Man, I wish we had something like this back home.
It’s a lot more regimented here, though, right? Isn’t it more fun to find your own spots and annoy security guards and stuff?
Yeah, but this shit is tight.
What do you miss about home?
Just the food. Roscoe’s.
Did you see Osama got fucked-up?
Yeah. I don’t believe it. And I don’t care.
Every time I’ve ever seen anyone write or talk about Odd Future, they always describe you as the leader; de facto, no messing at all, 100 per cent. Is that definitely the case?
I mean, if that’s what they say, then I guess. Let ’em guess what they want.
Does no one else in OF get pissed off about that?
Not that I know of. But that’s family, so they wouldn’t really… [is distracted by passing traffic] What kind of car is that? Oh gee, I ain’t never seen that shit before.
You were the original member though, I guess.
What order did everyone else join in?
Left Brain, Hodgy, Earl, Domo then Mike G. I guess. I don’t know, I don’t really think like that [laughs]. I’ve known these dudes for years.
What are they like?
They’re cool. They’re chill. Some of them smoke.
How do their personalities complement your own? Is there anything in particular about any of them you can tell me?
Nah, that’s kind of gay. That shit’s gay.
So you’ve never sat around taking ecstasy talking about why you love each other?
Nah, that shit’s horrible.
How about yourself? Are you as charged in the street as you are on the stage?
I’m hyper on the street, I guess. I’m not really critiquing myself to see if I’m the same in the street or at the show. Other people do that. It’d be kind of weird for me to do that to myself.
So you never self-reflect at all?
Nah, that’s for other people. That shit’s awkward. It’s weird when you do it to yourself.
Do you think that’s why so much comes pouring out in you lyrics?
When you’re writing that stuff about raping nurses and killing faggots, are you unhappy? Do your lyrics come out of unhappiness?
Ah, yeah. I get pissed off. I mean all these interviews I did… I’ll probably go and write a song about being pissed off about that later. I’m mad that I’m doing photoshoots when I could be… This is probably the last interview I’ll do for a while. ’Cause after a while, you just gotta start saying, ‘No.’
[At this stage, Hodgy returns from a shopping trip wearing a new, red Supreme jacket.] WHAT THE FUCK?! YOU DON’T EVEN WEAR THAT SHIT! I’M SO PISSED OFF! NO, FUCK THAT, DUDE. I BEEN WANTING THAT FOR THE PAST FOUR YEARS! [Hodgy screams like a girl and rolls past on his board, which is the cue for Tyler to start smashing up his.] “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
You okay? The jacket, or…?
Yeah, and all this other shit. I wanna go home. I’m pissed.
Do you want me to fuck off?
Nah, you’re cool. I don’t wanna be a dick. You came all the way over here so I can give you a little bit more.
Great. I’ve seen you described as a nihilist.
I don’t even know what that is.
It’s someone who doesn’t care about anything or anyone. But I don’t think that’s the right word to use, because you clearly care about a lot of shit quite a lot.
I just wanna skateboard. Fuck man! Now I need a new board.
So what do you care about?
Uh, skateboarding with my friends, and having a normal life. But I don’t have that any more. So now I’m fucked!
I really do.
But you’ve talked before about how you’ve wanted to do this since you were 10, right?
Yeah, but I didn’t know about this shit. I just wanted to make music. Now it’s like all this other bullshit comes into it.
What do you hate most about interviews?
[Laboured] When they ask the same fucking question; when they could look in any other magazine and find the same fucking answers. No one asks any different type of questions. They don’t ask questions about me. They ask questions about Tyler. That shit pisses me off. [Removes trucks, hurls rest of board away. Ridiculous situation ensues in which I’m stood over Tyler as he salvages what he can from his bust board as I ask him…]
So where’s the gap? Between you and Tyler? If you’re different, how are you different?
[Sounds of smashing board.] I have no fucking idea.
Definitely wasn’t the jacket. I knew it wasn’t the jacket. Not that this stops me wanting to listen to Odd Future. When Tyler’s second album Goblin arrives a little later on, off I go with my faggot money to buy it. Or my faggot card. Do iTunes accept faggot cards?
Goblin’s not a great record. It’s not as good as Bastard or Earl, but it doesn’t really matter at this point, because the world are aware now. And in many ways, no matter how hard Tyler might yearn for his old, inconsequential life, that’s the whole point.
Aren’t Odd Future a bit nu-metal?
No, not really. While it’s true that no one musician’s enjoyed his hat to the extent Tyler does since Fred Durst, his Supreme cap on its own does not constitute nu-metalness. As has been widely written, there are a few moments on Goblin that are uncomfortably frat (most notably ‘Radicals’, which sounds like a thuggier version of N.E.R.D.’s ‘Almost Over Now’). In truth, Odd Future are the first band to arrive in about 10 years that bored/angry kids can tote to annoy their parents. When the 12-year-old skate kids in the suburbs are still wearing Slipknot hoodies, you can appreciate how important (+lucrative?) that is.
Are Odd Future a credible threat to America?
This is overly optimistic. Tyler and his friends are products of American society — of its garbage TV, garbage celebrity gossip, junk food and internet protocols. Tyler, in many ways, is a forum troll made flesh. They’re embedded so resolutely within US culture (they couldn’t have existed anywhere other than there, now) but they’re a bundle of schizophrenic contradictions that US culture didn’t intend to make. Tyler is self-effacing and boastful. Victim and victimised. Bored of the attention already, but a born entertainer. America’s been more dangerous to him than the other way around; it’s turned him perverse — he’s like the Bart Simpson porn gif your cousin gave you on a floppy disc when you were 12, or Richard Pryor running down the street on fire, or the crow that fell down my chimney once and smeared its blood all over the walls and ceiling of my living room before finally finding the open window.
I don’t know if the crow was American or not. It wouldn’t answer my questions either.
What do you want?
I want fucking 13 minutes to take a piss.
What happened to the board you had before the one you just smashed?
I smashed it after about a week.
Someone said I wouldn’t, so I got pissed off. I did it to prove them wrong.
If you could play a show in any conceivable situation, how would that show play out?
I would play an invite-only show in a backyard in L.A.. If you don’t know Odd Future, you’re not gonna come. The Superbowl would be sick, too.
Will you ever get married?
Will you ever wear a suit?
I’ll never wear a suit in my life. Ever.
*Kev Kharas has donated his fee for this feature to charity.