This article is supported by Converse One Star. Tyler, The Creator has released a limited edition One Star x Golf Le Fleur sneaker collection, available in Australia today. To celebrate the launch, Christopher Kevin Au looks back on some of his most defining moments.
No matter what you might think of Tyler, The Creator, you'd have to agree that he's been aptly named.
To throw Tyler in the bottomless 'rapper' pile would be doing a disservice to the long list of projects he's been able to tick off since exploding into global consciousness. He is, in every sense, a Creator: An immediate headline-grabber who's been able to stroll down various artistic avenues, often with such nonchalance that he seems like an accidental entrepreneur. Aside from a solid solo catalogue—where he directs his own videos and builds his own beats—there's the clothing line, the Adult Swim cartoon, and everything that came with the cultural tour-de-force known as Odd Future.
But just as vital as what Tyler does, is how he does it: On his own terms, with an unwavering individual approach. When Odd Future arrived at the turn of the decade, they brought a DIY mentality that made their music refreshingly genuine, filled with youthful energy and left-field weirdness. Even when they partnered with a major label for Odd Future Records, manager Chris Clancy ensured "100% creative control of all aspects of their music, art, and release schedule with no third party participation in outside business."
Watching Odd Future posse cuts like "Oldie," it's liberating to see a group of young friends making art for themselves, undeterred by their incoming superstardom. In a piece of advice to aspiring artists, Tyler told Pitchfork at the time, "At the end of the day, throughout all the jokes and bullshit or whatever, just always be yourself. Just do what the fuck you like... And fuck impressing others."
On his new track "Where This Flower Blooms" he reinforces his point by rapping, "Tell these black kids they can be who they are/Dye your hair blue, shit, I'll do it too." He urged listeners to 'Find Your Wings' on the Cherry Bomb single a few years back, supplemented by a Facebook post that would put most motivational speakers to shame. Looking at the current music landscape, it's easy to see how Tyler gave voice to rap's current band of oddballs and wildcards.
In Tyler's earlier incarnations, that 'do what the fuck you like' mentality had more chaotic repercussions. Much of Tyler's initial audience was mesmerised by his cockroach-eating, demonic demeanour on his first album and breakout single "Yonkers," and his evolution from foul-mouthed yahoo to youth visionary has been fascinating to watch.
His volatility certainly made him magnetic in his early years, but forcefully provocative lyrics and bans from various countries threatened to overshadow his genius. Since then, the snotty-nosed rapper who threatened to stab Bruno Mars has gone on to address his own attention-seeking behaviour on a track called "Mr. Lonely."
Tyler's personal changes are still unravelling before our eyes: his destructive recklessness has been largely replaced with a more fulfilling individualism. As this review of his new Scum Fuck Flower Boy album states, "The realisation that no, this belief in personal freedom doesn't just apply to figuratively killing people, burning shit, and fucking school in the most juvenile way possible, is a powerful one to kids who grew up worshipping at the OF donut shrine."
It's a progression that's predictably come with sell-out accusations for the rapper, who's had to defend his happiness to day-one fans accustomed to his brooding, violent fantasies. When one listener slammed his changing lyricism on Reddit, it picked up enough upvotes and traction to earn a response from Tyler himself.
Tyler's influence on style has also been notable. Aside from helping to turn cult skate brands like Supreme into hip-hop style staples, Tyler also heads up his own Golf Wang label, where he invites audiences into an overstated, hypercolour paradise. Created in 2011, the label and its vivacious palette arrived at a time when other rappers were championing goth-reliant, all-black-everything looks. He also hosted pop-up shops on Odd Future's tours from Tokyo to Sydney, years before Kanye West and Justin Bieber had punters paying top dollar for merchandise at temporary dispensaries.
Much like his music, Tyler's original threads—drenched in pinks, pastels and prints—have further permeated traditional rap narratives to champion individualism. "Growing up as an inner-city black kid, I wasn't the most masculine, I wasn't into sports, I liked pink 'n' shit. Liking pinks and colours and patterns, all that shit wasn't cool," he told a Los Angeles audience at last year's Golf Wang fashion show. While Tyler is far from the first rapper to wear pink, he's perhaps the most effective artist to use such colours to compliment his distance from rap's alpha-male caricatures.
With Tyler once proclaiming to "fucking hate fashion and everything about it," his own runway show has acted as a vehicle to open the doors that were previously closed on himself and his peers. "I just wanted to make sure when infiltrating their world with my runway show, it was t-shirts and big girls and short guys and black kids on the runway because they don't accept none of us in that world, for the most part," he told Dazed. Ironically enough, it might be that humble t-shirt which speaks the loudest volumes on today's runways.
Tyler takes a similar barrier-breaking approach to The Jellies, his animated series that's about to make its Adult Swim premiere–with lead character Cornell Jelly switching from white to black after the first season. When asked about the change at San Diego Comic-Con, Tyler notes that there are no black cartoon characters on television, saying "we don't got shit."
Speaking on Cornell, he goes on, "He ain't got no guns. He ain't shoot no fucking basketball. He a fucking goober. And we gonna put him on TV and he's the lead character. He ain't the comic relief, he ain't the sidekick. He the lead n***a." By offering a central character that defies the most common black stereotypes on the small screen, Tyler gives animated life to his overarching message of authentic representation.
There's no doubt that shock quotables earned Tyler much of his early fanfare, and we're sure that many fans still long for the days where his catalogue served as the perfect soundtrack to destroy private property and flip off law enforcement. But more than ever, it seems that Tyler is fully embracing the movement that he helped carve and refine: One that rallies the outcasts and the underrepresented, giving them a colourful home on centre stage.
Christopher Kevin Au is on Instagram
This article is supported by Converse One Star. The One Star x Gold Le Fleur sneaker collection is available today exclusively from Supply Store, Up There Store, and two colours only from www.converse.com.au.