Tyler the Creator's Evolution From Firebrand to Renaissance Man

The evolution of Tyler the Creator continues.
The evolution of Tyler the Creator continues. Photo by Sam Rock
click to enlarge The evolution of Tyler the Creator continues. - PHOTO BY SAM ROCK
The evolution of Tyler the Creator continues.
Photo by Sam Rock
In the 12 years that have passed since the formation of Odd Future, no single figure in music has followed a career trajectory quite like Tyler Okonma. Better known by his stage name, Tyler the Creator, Okonma has evolved from a controversial fringe rapper into a full-fledged hip-hop renaissance man within the span of a decade.

Odd Future, the California group that launched his career, also included renowned artists such as Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean. Odd Future wrote the book on 21st-century hip-hop collectives and paved the way for younger groups like Brockhampton to find mainstream success. In a few short years, Odd Future developed a cult following, established a brand that became a streetwear sensation, terrified parents across the nation through lyrics such as “kill people, burn shit, fuck school,” and eventually splintered off into some of the most successful solo careers of the decade. The group burned bright and fast and left a few fires in its wake.

Okonma was the first of the collective to branch off into a solo career, and early records such as Goblin and Wolf established him as an inflammatory voice of horrorcore rap. For a time, he was the face of the transgressive subgenre: He was banned from entering the United Kingdom because of his incendiary lyrics, and in 2014, he was arrested in Texas for inciting a riot during a show at South by Southwest.

The violent and outrageous reputation that defined the early years of Tyler the Creator's solo career makes its eventual evolution that much more extraordinary. Following 2015’s Cherry Bomb, which saw the rapper expand his sonic palette while maintaining most of the uneasy unpredictability that characterized his earlier records, came Flower Boy: a marked departure and a huge leap forward in terms of maturity for the formerly one-dimensional rapper. Flower Boy’s lyrics featured the most straightforward expressions of Tyler's emotions to date, and he even used the album as a platform to come out of the closet. The album saw him expand into jazz and neo-soul soundscapes, was nominated for the Grammy for Best Rap Album, and signaled the beginning of a new phase in his career.

This year’s Igor continued Tyler's musical hot streak and garnered further critical and commercial success for the rapper. The record, which was his first number one album debut on the Billboard charts, dips into more streamlined R&B and further explores deeper emotional territory without sacrificing the avant-garde strangeness of his previous work.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the past few years of his career has been his expansion into other artistic ventures outside of music. He has continued to develop his clothing line Golf Wang with biannual fashion shows to flaunt new collections and collaborations with established brands such as Converse, and he has added multiple TV productions to his list of credits: 2017 brought the premieres of Nuts & Bolts, a Viceland TV series he produces and stars in, and The Jellies!, an ongoing Adult Swim animated comedy series he produces. He also directs all of his music videos, providing yet another outlet for his offbeat impulses.

In establishing his multifaceted artistic ventures, Tyler has positioned himself as something of a Kanye West Lite, providing a similarly wide net of creative output but without the cringe-inducing rants and statements. He and West have collaborated on music a number of times, and it's easy to see the resemblance when comparing the two rappers' careers.

Tyler is no stranger to South Florida: He has performed here four times in the past five years, including as a headliner at 2019's III Points Music Festival. Now, after years of reinvention, Tyler has achieved arena status, and he'll play a headlining show at the American Airlines Arena Sunday, September 29.

Between music, television, and fashion, Tyler the Creator has established himself as one of the few true renaissance men of rap. Though he's undoubtedly a polarizing figure, there's yet to be a dull moment in his career, and that's what ultimately defines him.

Tyler the Creator. With Jaden Smith and Goldlink. 7 p.m. Sunday, September 29, at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; Tickets cost $45.50 to $55.50 via
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James Biagiotti is a freelance music writer based in South Florida. He spends his time listening to and playing music and watching Dolphins and Marlins games.
Contact: James Biagiotti