A friend of mine recently wrote a “five-page paper on the graphic nature of Tyler, the Creator’s lyrics.” In her words:
“The paper came out well … but I have no clue why you or anyone else would listen to that shit.”
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I listen to Tyler, the Creator because he comes off as one of the most honest artists in modern music.
Now, that’s the kind of statement that needs qualification. Taken at face value, it could mean that I think Tyler is a woman-hating, gay-hating murder. That is not the case at all.
When I say that I think Tyler, the Creator comes off as honest, I mean that he successfully taps into a groundswell of aimless, ugly anger that exists in any number of teenage people (teenage dudes, at least).
This is going to sound dismissive, but Tyler, the Creator isn’t too far removed from the last angry, violent rap acts to be successful; Limp Bizkit and Eminem. Both those two groups had their faults (Eminem couldn’t evolve past his persona despite all his talent and command, Limp Bizkit was completely terrible but succeeded by being the best parallel to 80s glam rock in their captivation of suburban white kids who didn’t know much about rap), but both of them were able to thrive off of a manipulation of deep anger that seems to crop up in kids who have nothing to be angry about.
Tyler music does the same thing, but in a much rawer way. When I listen to Tyler, I hear a portrait of a young person (it’s worth mentioning that Tyler is only 21) who’s is beside himself with hormones, confused feelings, sadness and aggression that manifests itself in ugly rage. Is it commendable? Maybe not. Is it reflective of a certain kind of person, a certain reaction to events beyond one’s control, a certain response to feeling powerless in a very visceral, convincing way? Unquestionably.
What makes Tyler even more impressive to me is how in on the joke he is about all this. Listening to Wolf, his most recent album, there are any number of lyrical tips that suggest he is totally aware of how negative and simple his rage-rap shtick is. He punctuates his songs with tracks dismissing all of it, writing off the horrible things he says as tongue-in-cheek and stupid, as if he doesn’t believe any of the shit he says; as if he thinks you are stupid for thinking he’s serious.
Even with all his ugly language (and I don’t dispute that the language is ugly and hateful), Tyler is worth listening to because he’s something of a voice for his generation. He is able to take very specific, personal moments and make them seem universal for a subset of angry kids. Tyler might eventually grow out of this kind of thing, as many young people do.
In the meantime, I’m going to keep listening to Tyler, because despite his content and his rawness, I can recognize something in his music that I see in people around me. That’s no easy feat.