If you looked at Tyler, the Creator's last three albums in a vacuum, the work that preceded them would be unthinkable. If anything, that's been the defining element of his career: evolution, experimentation, and unabashed confidence in everything he produces, no matter the blowback.
Ahead of his concert at the FTX Arena on Sunday, March 20, it's worth diving into Tyler's history and evolution as an artist.
Born Tyler Okonma, the Los Angeles native has become a hip-hop superstar, fashion icon, and cultural icon, but in 2007 it was just him and some friends making music for fun.
Now the 31-year-old has two RIAA-certified Platinum singles in "Earfquake" and "See You Again," is a Billboard Hot 100 mainstay, has earned five Grammy nominations with one win, and has left an indelible mark on the cultural zeitgeist. For a person who can't abide the word "culture," Tyler, the Creator has surely left his mark on it.
Before he was a trendsetting solo act, Tyler, the Creator was a *CK cofounder and an integral part of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA), better known as Odd Future.
The group, featuring Tyler, the Creator; Frank Ocean; Earl Sweatshirt; and Domo Genesis (among others), released its first mixtape, The Odd Future Tape Vol. 1, in 2008. Characterized by vulgar, irreverent lyrics and Tyler's signature rasp, the 19-track volume was a sign of things to come.
In December 2009, Tyler released his first solo project, the mixtape Bastard, to some acclaim, making Pitchfork's Top 50 Albums of 2010 and eventually landing on Billboard's"21 Under 21."
But it wasn't until Tyler released "Yonkers" and the accompanying video that the world seemed to take notice.
Uploaded to the Odd Future YouTube channel, "Yonkers" was the first single off Tyler's first studio album, Goblin. The minimalist, black-and-white video features Tyler sitting on a stool in an empty room while playing with a cockroach, which he eventually eats and throws up.
The video ends with Tyler hanging himself.
While the visual was controversial on its own, violent and vulgar lyrics over a crunchy beat only served to amplify it — and it took the world by storm. By 2011, the song had amassed nearly 128 million views on YouTube.
Leveraging his growing fame and the popularity of Odd Future, the Odd Future record label was established in 2011 and the group began venturing into other mediums, including fashion and comedy. The collective created the streetwear brand Golf Wang, inspired by skater and hip-hop culture, and even starred in their own sketch comedy show, Loiter Squad, which aired for three seasons on Adult Swim.
Odd Future and Tyler continued to stir up controversy and garner acclaim. But their notoriety followed them, too, and in 2014, the group was barred from entering New Zealand, when immigration officials "deemed [the group] to be a potential threat to public order and the public interest for several reasons, including incidents at past performances in which they have incited violence."
It wasn't long after that Tyler himself was banned from performing in the United Kingdom in 2015. This time the culprit was the lyrics in "Bastard" and "Goblin."
"Coming to the UK is a privilege, and we expect those who come here to respect our shared values," British officials said at the time.
Juxtapose all that with Tyler, the Creator as an artist today.
His third studio album Cherry Bomb, released in 2015, was met with mixed reviews. Pitchfork's Matthew Ramirez wrote that it "bears all the hallmarks of [Tyler's] personality, for good and for ill." Reviewers at the time were worried that was the wall — that maybe all Tyler would ever be was a raunchy rapper propped up to challenge the establishment.
That was until Flower Boy.
Released two years after Cherry Bomb, Tyler's fourth studio full-lengh offered a more sincere and thoughtful Tyler, a Tyler who let down his walls. The album meets his established angst with a previously untapped emotional perspective where there used to be anger.
The next album, Igor, followed that same trend. Igor augments sad Tyler with a journey from denial to acceptance of unrequited love.
Which brings us to Tyler's most recent album, Call Me if You Get Lost.
His seventh studio album feels like a culmination of everything he's learned as an artist, returning to roots with a mixtape feel while maintaining the emotional and artistic maturity he showed with Flower Boy and Igor. Hosted by mixtape legend DJ Drama, the album is a mesh of the best of Tyler, offering pointed and crunchy raps with more melodic and emotional pieces.
There's no announcement of another album, but Tyler has continued to produce music with other artists like Snoh Aalegra and Rex Orange County.
Tyler, the Creator.With Kali Uchis, Vince Staples, and Teezo Touchdown. 7 p.m. Sunday, March 20, at FTX Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; ftxarena.com. Tickets cost $25.50 to $125.50 via ticketmaster.com.
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