Defining the 4 musical stages of Tyler the Creator, Rap's Renaissance Man.
The great 21st-century theologian and visionary, Tyler the Creator, once said:“Fuck what they want, give them what YOU want.”Tyler was explaining hisavant-garde approach to creativity with Funk Flex during a Hot 107 interview last year.
The 28-year old do-it-all artist is a spearheading renaissance man of rap’s newest periodization - a bridge between, what some consider, this genre’s middle ages to stylistically modernized and diversified MCs of the now. A polymath of sorts or a person whose expertise spans a significant number of various subject areas, Tyler thrives on going against the grain. Defying convention at all costs. Not only is he one of the most creative, but he’s also one of the most versatile. The success of his latest album, IGOR, is proof of that fact. The project soared to the top of the charts. It was the first time ever an artist has self-produced and self-arranged an album that flew to no. 1. It just won a Grammy. In addition to his musical success, Tyler has two successful clothing lines and has had his own television show.
The original renaissance era during Europe’s 15th and 16th centuries are best known for progressions in artistic development. Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci: these men inspired the term “renaissance man.” For the 21st century, Tyler represents a peculiar artistic revival. Innovatively flowering an alternative hip-hop movement. Pushing the boundaries of normality for a millennial generation. Just as was the case during the original period of renaissance, we’re experiencing social and political upheaval. Even though he’s become known most widely for his controversial statements about homosexuality and atheism, awkward get-ups and just general weirdness - if you look closely enough, Tyler’s art has given commentary on society as few have. Projecting a fun-house mirror on hip-hop culture’s perception of “normal.” Artists willing to push these boundaries are usually the same ones we eventually be remember as revolutionary. Prince. George Clinton. KISS. Kanye West.
If you don’t believe me, take the word of some hip-hop greats. During the filming of a documentary for Cherry Bomb, Tyler’s fourth studio album, titled Death Camp - West said this about The Creator: "Thank you for putting that battery in my back. That’s one of your jobs in hip-hop. I don’t think there would’ve been a Yeezus if it wasn’t for you." He later ended the statement by saying, "It’s certain niggas that push you different." During the same filming, Wayne said, "Tyler changed the game. Maybe, I probably had a line that I knew I wouldn’t say because people would think it was too gross to put into rap or it didn’t go with the whole vibe of the song but I’ll think about something and say Tyler will say this shit."
According to the rapper, since day one, he’s produced every song for all his albums except track no. 5 on Goblin.Tyler told Funk Flex “All the art. All the videos. All the clothes. I’m on photoshop, sending the labels, my ... Here this is the cover. I’m at every edit for every video. I’m at coloring. I do everything.” And Tyler doesn’t just do everything, he does everything extremely well.As Lil Wayne went on to explain: “He’s a perfectionist. So he’s one of those guys that knows exactly what he wants from you. He might fuck around a write your verse for you.”
While appearing on the Larry King Show, Tyler said he wanted to one day do films and have his name mentioned with Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson. Lofty aspirations for the 28-year old, but well within his ability. Later Tyler would say “I don’t want my name mentioned next to other rappers.” After King questioned if Tyler was annoyed when being referred to as just a rapper, he said “I’m so much more than that, I just like making stuff. Rhyming words together in a rhythm is just one of those things.”
Rap may have propelled him into stardom but to use his words, he's so much more than just another rapper. He produces, directs, designs and acts among other things. He’s the rare combination of natural gifts, high functionality, and an inventive mind. On the Odd Future song, "Oldie," Tyler rapped some words that give you a peek at his revolutionary mindset. Highlighting his loyalty to the subsets of society often forgotten by popular music.
This is for the n***ers in the suburbs
And the white kids with n***a friends who say the n-word
And the ones that got called weird, fag, bitch, nerd
'Cause you was into jazz, kitty cats and Steven Spielberg
They say we ain't actin' right
Always try to turn our fuckin' color into black and white
But they'll never change 'em, never understand 'em
Radical's my anthem, turn my fuckin' amps up
So instead of critiquing and bitchin', bein' mad as fuck
Just admit, not only are we talented, we're rad as fuck, bitches
Stage 1 - Darkly Transgressive
Bastard, Goblin, Wolf (2009-2013)
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The early stages of Tyler’s career were salted by darkly transgressive imagery and lyrical content. Occult. Horrorcore. Music that pushed themes of violence and sexuality beyond the parameters of realism (which art often must do to make a broader point) Through these sometimes disturbing means of creativity, he built a ravenous fan base who embraced him for his alternative views and musical artistry. Tyler did this along with Odd Future, a group of friends and creative minds who were influential to the culture. Together, their words fell both gruesome and unsettling to some but seductive to others. Eminem’s influence is profoundly evident through his early catalog. Songs that define this phase are both "Yonkers" along with "Goblin."
Stage 2 - Socially Conscious
Cherry Bomb (2014-2016)
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Five years into his career Tyler renders sublime verbal offerings of social critique on Cherry Bomb. Here we saw him attacking several issues ranging from race to rap consumerism and gang culture. Tyler also began taking his already impressive production to the next level, expansions included working with Hanz Zimmer on elements for the track "2Seater" and overseeing a live orchestra for the first time in his musical arrangements. Defining this stage of his career is firstly the single "Smuckers" featuring both Lil Wayne and Kanye West. When queried about the work, Tyler said, "10 years down the line, n***as is gone be like 'Smuckers' is legendary. That one’s for the books for sure."The project showed a great deal of range - going from the cloudy, melodic sound of "Find Your Wings" which featured a smooth jazz feel to the abrasion and drill-bit sound of the title track "Cherry Bomb."
Stage 3 - Introspective
Flower Boy (2016-2019)
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Now, seemingly much deeper in touch with his artistic self with years under his belt, Tyler got personal on Flower Boy. The outpouring of what sounded like genuine feelings was not quite like anything in his catalog up that point. He told KultureHub"For Cherry Bomb, I purposely was like, I don't want to get personal at all. Like, I'm just going to make songs. And in this one, I was like alright, let me write down every feeling." The song, "See You Again" is a great example of this. When discussing the lack of rap on the album, Tyler told HipHopDX that he wanted to keep verses short and to the point so that he could give guest artists and instrumentation more of a focal point. As the time ticks on Tyler’s career, we find a trend of him letting his voice take a back seat to the arrangements and composition. He has begun more and more to speak through the instruments instead of the microphone.
Stage 4 - Symphonic
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The vocals. The transitions. The bridges. The samples. IGOR is an unpredictable, nearly flawless architecture of sonic mastery. An eloquent expression of alternative music from the perspective of hip hop - an urban symphony of sorts. IGORis the culmination of Tyler’s augmentation as an artist. Way back in 2014 the creative said he no longer wanted to rap and that he really wanted to sing and compose music. Moving forward it looks like Tyler is primarily focused on musicality rather than proving his stripes any further as an MC. Rap, the traditional sense, is probably drifting farther and farther in his rearview.
When he’s in the mood, Tyler the Creator can be one of the best MCs on earth. His penmanship coupled with the ambidexterity in his flow set him apart - shown in his verse on "Potato Salad" which also featured ASAP Rocky. It’s not a question of talent or creative bandwidth - he’s so skillful, the only boundaries are the ones he sets for himself. The ceiling for him is limitless, not just in music but anything he pursues beyond. Whichever way chooses to go, one thing you can count on is that Tyler will continue to do things his way, going against the status quo and uniformity in the face of all his critics. This sentiment is expressed in a verse from his popular song "Yonkers."
Cause I'm not one
When it come to a vision, they ain't got one
Rolling Stone never gave me a cover, so...
Um... (god) So I shot one!
I ain't do college, I said fuck them lessons
I ain't join no gang, I said fuck them weapons
Grabbed the keyboard, Clancy crossed my path
Cashed my first check and said Fuck depression, n***a!
Tyler’s way is working well. His album IGOR was nominated and ultimately won a Grammy award crowning it the best rap album of the year (EVEN THOUGH IT BELONGS IN THE ALBUM OF THE YEAR CATEGORY). This is his second consecutive album to receive such recognition. But these things aren’t likely to feed Tyler’s insatiable hunger.
As Tyler told Funk Flex, it is the passion that drives him, not the fame or accolades.“For me. What I want, I can’t grasp it. I want to make good stuff and art that gets me off. And I want to show my friends and their like aww man this is sick. You can’t grab that. And that void is never going to be filled. So, I’ll still be doing this when I’m fucking eighty.”