The rapper and fashion designer has set the standard for years, and in the wake of speculation about his sexuality after ‘Scum Fuck Flower Boy’ leaked, he’s laser-focused on everything but the haters
Tyler, the Creator leaps up from his chair outside of Swingers Diner on Beverly Boulevard, West Hollywood, and two short lunges later is standing beside a black Bentley Bentayga. The driver’s window rolls down and out pops the green-dreaded head of rapper Lil Uzi Vert, who is taking the car for a test drive. He just so happened to be rolling by our lunch spot. After a brief exchange, Tyler bounds back to our table to tell me that Uzi is probably going to buy it for something like $300,000, before our conversation is drowned out by the screeching tires of the new Bentley speeding off at 90 miles per hour. “He’s fucking crazy. Uzi is crazy bro,” he tells me. “He’s actually crazy, like, I can’t explain it.” It’s this kind of thing that I imagine happens all the time in Los Angeles, where talk about driving is quotidian because you have to drive, because the weather never changes and therefore isn’t a worthy subject. Driving conversation probably bores most people, but when you’re a rapper with several hundred grand to spend, it becomes somewhat exciting. It’s a rap lyric come to life.
He returns to his “fucking fire” bow tie breakfast pasta, which is sprinkled with bacon, and drowned in 100 per cent maple syrup. Between mouthfuls, he lays down the law of our interview. “Just, no ‘What’s your inspiration?’, those are the fucking worst questions. ‘So what inspires you?’ I fucking hate that word,” he says. “It’s stupid. I get it. ‘What inspires you?’ Like every interview with anyone, ‘What inspires you?’ I don’t fucking know, dude. Google it. Eight years later and you’re still asking me this shit?!”
It’s a valid question, in Tyler’s case. Like his friend Uzi, he’s been metaphorically speeding at a clip ever since the rap collective that brought him fame, OFWGKTA, more or less disbanded in 2015. Tyler has been jumping on friends’ tracks, making music solo, producing a How It’s Made-type show for Viceland that will air later this year, reworking the theme song for Netflix’s revival of Bill Nye, and plugging away at his own fashion label, Golf Wang. He trades in knee-high socks, tees and hats in pastel colours. And now, he’s designing for Converse. He has reestablished a brand staple with its iconic One Star shoe, a mainstay of the 90s skateboard scene. But it’s less about what inspires him and more about how he manages to stay on top of so many projects that are a leech on his attention. It’s an attention that is focused, until it isn’t. Again, our interview gets interrupted by an older fan who lumbers by our table. He mumbles something about “peace and blessings” amidst a string of compliments that Tyler thanks him for, before turning to me after the guy leaves and admitting he didn’t understand a word.
The sentiment comes through, but the words are garbled. He gets it. Tyler, the Creator is often misunderstood. It was a misunderstanding of his lyrics that led to being banned from the UK for “posing a threat to public order” since August 2015. He is similarly unable to travel to Australia, though that was more to forestall another ban. Insofar as he pushes the streetwear needle, the fashion industry refuses to embrace him. He’s “too goofy”. It’s something he’s been quite vocal about in the past. He has been designing his label Golf Wang since 2010, and it’s possible to trace back a torrent of streetwear trends – which have bubbled up to luxury brands – to him. For example, queues outside of Supreme shops worldwide have almost reached a point of parody. Tyler was patient zero in bringing the cult brand a devout following. “I rapped about what I really liked, and to me Supreme, and Peg Leg, and Billionaire Boys Club was the flyest shit to me. I didn’t give a fuck about Gucci. I didn’t give a fuck about what everyone else was wearing. I didn’t want to wear no leather pants or Givenchy dog shirt, I thought my fucking Supreme hat and my fucking tie dye tee and my cut-off shirts and my fucking Vans were the fucking flyest shit and you couldn't tell me nothing.”
Now that they have disciples, Supreme has dropped a collaboration with Louis Vuitton. Those consumers will buy anything – and don’t Supreme know it. “When The Fuck Is Supreme Gonna Cut Me A Fucking Check. You Know How Many Black Kids Is Buying That Shit Now Because Of Me? Jebia, Stop Playn,” Tyler tweeted back in 2010.
Tyler wants to see that kind of money. “I’m not financially where I wanna be at and I’m not successfully where I wanna be at,” he admits.
“I’m always left out of stuff,” he continues, “like everyone is doing pop-up shops now; I was doing that in 2011. I’d never get a mention for it or anything. When everyone was putting cats on tie dye shirts in 2013, I was doing that in 2011. No one was saying anything, then, I bet you’re gonna start seeing – I mean it’s already happening – kids wearing these flooded pants. That has been a look, but I’ll never, ever be respected in that world for it. It’s not my ego, you could just look and be like, ‘Oh!’ and I’ll just never, ever be looked at as (an originator) and it’s a bummer.”
Does he wish he were name checked for his influence? “I don’t really care, but they just always leave me out… Look, I just like making shit. I’m a creative guy. If I’m not making music then I’m gonna figure out how to draw, and if that's not it I’ll play an instrument. If not, I’ll film something. I think that goes for any artist. Any person who likes making things because I hate the word ‘creative’".
“Everyone is doing pop-up shops now; I was doing that in 2011. When everyone was putting cats on tie dye shirts in 2013, I was doing that in 2011. I bet you’re gonna start seeing – I mean it’s already happening – kids wearing these flooded pants” – Tyler, the Creator
We talk about Kanye West’s well-documented thirst for approval from fashion’s gatekeepers when trying to break into the industry. He famously asked Central Saint Martin professor, the late Louise Wilson OBE, to teach him. He did an internship at Fendi. He took fashion critic Cathy Horyn out to lunch for feedback on his early collections. He begged Anna Wintour for a Vogue cover. It all seemed very un-Kanye-like. Tyler thought it odd, too. “I could do a show in Paris without any of them. They’re not stopping me. That’s the thing. People think, ‘I gotta be cool with these people to do this or I gotta get respect from the people to do this.’”
Tyler can do what he wants, gatekeepers be damned. That’s why he up and left his partnership with Vans. “Conversations with Converse finalized, cause Vans fucked up”, he raps on “I Ain’t Got Time!” “Imagine being in a fucking cocoon,” he explains. “Vans just wouldn’t let me grow. It was a ceiling and I was like, ‘Fuck this.’ Converse is allowing me to bloom, no pun intended, and it’s great.”
“I think that people are slowly starting to take note of me. Slowly, but surely,” he continues. “Like overall. Like, ‘Wow! I didn’t realise he was doing all of this. I thought he was just loud and stupid! But he’s actually pretty talented and kind of decent at what he does.’” His take on the Converse One Star comes in a saturated blue, ‘Clearwater’. It wasn’t rocket science, he tells me. “I make stuff all day and it’s funny, I think people – and probably Converse – wanted me to say, ‘When I was designing I was inspired by this and blah blah blah.’ No. It was literally pick four colourways I want to do and that was it. It’s not as intricate and deep as people be making shit out to be. Do you ever read, ‘Well, this collection is about the struggle in 90s rave in the deep blah blah.’ Nah, shut the fuck up. I just thought this shirt was tight, that’s why I made it.”
This past weekend, Tyler’s first album in two years, Scum Fuck Flower Boy, leaked 11 days before its official release. On his tracks “Garden Shed” and “I Ain’t Got Time!”, there are fairly explicit references to his coming out as gay. “Garden shed for the garçons/Them feelings I was guardin’,” he raps. In the third verse of “I Ain’t Got Time!” he spits, “I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004”. Hip hop Twitter imploded at the supposed admission. Was this the rapper coming out? Or was this another example of Tyler being misunderstood? To further confuse things, Mike G of Odd Future tweeted, “The homie not gay, he just likes dudes”.
In a follow up after this interview had taken place, Tyler refused to comment, but in the past has tweeted things like, “I TRIED TO COME OUT THE DAMN CLOSET LIKE FOUR DAYS AGO AND NO ONE CARED HAHAHHAHAHA.” Diehards think they have collected the receipts, various admissions or jokes about having a crush on 1996 Leonardo DiCaprio, or actor Cole Sprouse. None of it matters, really, if it’s true. They’re hot.
The aftermath of Frank Ocean’s talent exploding into the mainstream is not at all related to his sexuality. He wasn’t even in control of that in the first place. Ocean was outed, so to speak, when a BBC producer noticed the lyrics in one of his songs contained the pronouns “he/him” and confronted him about it before the album’s release. It was merely a secret message hidden plainly in the album’s liner notes that he wanted to relay to fans; yet that communication of his first love was conducted by a radio guy. Not exactly the most romantic way to come out to fans. And neither, I would assume, is this speculation as a result of the Scum Fuck Flower Boy leak.
Tyler’s Instagram page has been flooded with hate since yesterday – comments suggesting that he kill himself, laced with homophobic slurs, probably haters, possibly former fans. These are comments from the same peanut gallery who flipped out when he posted for the first time in six months in June to countdown his first video. “I was actually living life,” he says of his prolonged absence from social media. “Like you don’t need to know everything I’m doing. ‘Where are you?’ ‘Post!’ Like, bro, I’m living life. Go learn a fucking hobby. Literally, you have people on the internet who talk all day and comment, but can’t speak in person, who actually don’t have social skills, who can’t play an instrument, who can’t draw, who can’t do anything; but they like and leave comments on other people’s shit. And that shit is crazy to me.”
Tyler has never been worried about currying favour. And despite the hate, he still has goals. He has never been played on mainstream radio, and he wants to make more money. He’s pedal to the medal with the finish line in sight, all while giving no fucks. “Do and be and know what your goal is and strive for that. If your goal is to get everyone to like you then so be it. Mine isn’t – mine is to make music that I love and put 100 per cent of my effort in it and put it out and never be poor again.”
Scum Fuck Flower Boy comes out on July 21; the Converse One Star x Tyler the Creator is out tomorrow