He’s been attacked by gay and women’s rights groups, defended by music bloggers, edited by writers who would presume to tell an artist how to create their work. He’s incited riots on rooftops and been arrested for disturbing the peace. He’s been described as a visionary, an obnoxious teen, a genius and a sexist homophobe. Only one thing is certain—Tyler, the Creator is a phenomenon. Still, we find ourselves wondering what exactly is it about this guy and the rest of the Odd Future collective that gets everyone so riled up. Isn’t he using the same schtick that catapulted Wu Tang Clan into stardom in the nineties? Aren’t his rape fantasies oddly reminiscent of Eminem’s murder fantasies circa 2000? What’s going on here?
The most important element of Tyler’s popularity is undoubtedly his charisma, and he has it in spades. His devil-may-care attitude towards what he says is oddly endearing, and he can get away with being completely ridiculous and spontaneous because he knows that the critics will love him no matter what. After all, when you can use the line, “Rape a pregnant b***h and tell my friends I had a threesome/You got a f*****g death wish, I’m a genie it’ll get done,” you can pretty much get away with anything. He’s also clever when it comes to marketing—actually running his Thurnis Haley Golf Wang spoof on the Golf Channel. In spite of ourselves, we find that we’re amused more and more by each Odd Future meme and video clip that pops up. (Have you seen “Grandma Reads Tyler, The Creator’s Tweets”? Gold.)
Tyler is also highly offensive, and that’s historically been a great way to drum up some chatter. (We’d include some more of his lyrics here, but we’d rather not repulse you and there’s only a certain amount of asterisks a person can use in a blog post without looking stupid.) Sara Quin of the indie folk duo Tegan and Sara was the first person of note to call him out on this last week. “The more I think about it, the more I think people don’t actually want to go up against this particular bully because he’s popular,” she writes. “Who sticks up for women and gay people now? It seems entirely uncool to do so in the indie rock world, and I’ll argue that point with ANYONE.” You can read her full letter here; it’s wordy but incredibly well-written—much more so than Tyler’s Twitter response: “If Tegan And Sara Need Some Hard Dick, Hit Me Up!” Wow. Homophobic and sexist in less than 140 characters.
Sara has a point when she writes that critics don’t take on Tyler because he’s well-liked. And we agree that it kind of sucks that he rose to fame thanks to sexism and homophobia. But to be clear, his act is just that: an act. He’s not the first artist to write horrorcore songs, and he won’t be the last. It may seem like a lame defense, but it’s an important distinction. Tyler is—or at least claims to be—straight edge, so even his raps about drug use are just part of the fantasy. Plus he’s only twenty, and last time we checked twenty-year-olds are notorious for disregarding consequences and speaking without thinking.
And putting out this kind of letter less than a week after the release of Goblin? That’s only going to help the album surpass the 50,000 mark it reached in its first seven days. Because there’s one other reason Tyler is blowing up right now: he’s talented. Very talented. Like, we’ll find ourselves unabashedly putting “Yonkers” on repeat. The album-spanning conversation with his therapist packs a punch despite their lack of fanfare, laid over beats that are simple, often almost barren. We’d argue that he isn’t on par with most of the members of Wu Tang Clan; in fact, he may not even be the most talented rapper in Odd Future. But Tyler is the group’s obvious leader, and with Earl Sweatshirt hidden away at boarding school, he’s stepped into the role with more than enough swag. Despite a few similarities to those rappers who paved the way for his collective, he maintains that aura of being an original, something fresh, something we haven’t quite seen before.
So what’s the consensus here? It’s tough to wade through all the B.S. since every blogger with a keyboard and a set of speakers has an opinion—often a very strong one—regarding Tyler and the rest of the Odd Future gang. But whether he’s just a flash in the pan or busy carving out a permanent role in the scene, we guarantee you’ll be hearing a lot about him for a while. For now, we’re content to sit back and enjoy the chaos that surrounds these Californians and their crazy music. And we’ll continue to justify Odd Future’s place on our iPods with the NPR feature “Why You Should Listen to the Rap Group Odd Future, Even Though It’s Hard.”