Tyler Gregory Okonma, better known as Tyler, the Creator, has enjoyed a rapid career evolution over the last decade. He’s of Igbo ancestry on his father’s side.
He started as a brash teenager, gaining attention with his provocative lyrics for hip hop crew Odd Future. Along the way, he’s toned down the controversy and become a critically acclaimed artist. He’s entertaining, often mixing cranky hip-hop tracks with sentimental soul and R&B.
Tyler, The Creator Album Reviews
The Odd Future Tape
2008, not rated
Tyler, the Creator released his first project as a teenager – the 2008 mixtape The Odd Future Tape. He used the stage name Ace at this point. The collective Odd Future formed in Los Angeles in 2007 – other notable alumni include Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean, although neither joined on time for this debut. Odd Future released another mixtape, Radical (2010), and the 2012 album The OF Tape Vol. 2. The latter reached #5 on the US chart.
2009, not rated
It’s debated whether Bastard counts as Tyler’s debut – the artist himself regards it as such, while other sources count it as a mixtape.
2011, not rated
2013, not rated
2015, not rated
Regrettably, I haven’t yet heard any of Tyler, The Creator’s early albums – at some point he transitioned from provocative upstart to critically beloved artist. I should probably work backward through his discography to figure out where that transition occurred.
Tyler made the leap to the big leagues with Flower Boy, his first album for Columbia Records. It reached #2 on the Billboard 200, and marked his arrival as a mature artist, bouncing between hip hop and soul. It’s studded with guest appearances including Frank Ocean and ASAP Rocky, while ‘Foreword’ samples Sonic Youth’s remix of Can’s ‘Spoon’. Many of the songs on Flower Boy were offered to other artists first, but at the same time, it was a deliberate effort to write more personal material with Tyler addressing his sexuality.
Flower Boy is less engrossing than the albums that follow it, but there’s a great stretch in the middle where Tyler is particularly personal. On ‘Pothole’, Tyler reveals his wish to “find somebody who love me and raise a couple of lizards”. ‘Boredom’ is stripped down – there’s little more than Austin Feinstein’s guitar accompanying Tyler in the opening verse. ‘Garden Shed’ has some lovely vintage synths, and it’s more sweet than provocative.
Flower Boy is a surprisingly vulnerable record from Tyler, as sweet as often as it is cranky.
Igor documents a love triangle between Tyler, Tyler’s boyfriend, and Tyler’s boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. Comedian Jerrod Carmichael provides narration. Tyler’s the only credited producer on Igor, and he’s like a mad scientist, blending and hopping between genres; the title Igor, referencing Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant, is perfect and fitting. It’s filled with vintage synth sounds, skittery beats, and surprising twists. Tyler shows a growing interest in jazz textures.
There’s plenty happening on standout track ‘A Boy Is A Gun*’ even without Tyler’s vocal – there’s jazzy piano, Solange’s backing vocals, and sample from ‘Bound’, a #47 hit for Ponderosa Twins Plus One in 1971. Tyler’s terse vocals are a jarring contrast with the track’s lushness. Lead single ‘Earfquake’ was initially offered to Justin Bieber, while Rihanna was asked to provide backing vocals. Both refused, and the song was retained by Tyler. ‘Earfquake’ injects a lovely melody with raw immediacy. The six minutes of ‘Gone, Gone / Thank You’ are often gorgeous, especially the cascading synths that cap off ‘Thank You’.
Even if you’re not usually a hip hop fan, it’s worth spending time with Igor to witness a talented auteur creating an idiosyncratic blend of hip hop, funk, and soul.
Call Me If You Get Lost
Hip hop’s crankiest star is back with his sixth album. Tyler launched the promotion of Call Me If You Get Lost with a giant billboard in Los Angeles. There was no name attached, just the album title and a phone number. If you rang the phone number, you were played a phone conversation between Tyler and his mother, featured on the album as ‘Momma Talk’. He uses the alias Tyler Baudelaire on the record, a reference to the 19th-century author and poet Charles Baudelaire, with whom Tyler feels some a thematic affinity.
It’s perhaps unfair to label Call Me… as a hip hop album. It covers a lot of ground, with a lot of retro soul and jazz in its DNA. After 2019’s dour breakup album Igor, Tyler’s having fun here. On ‘Hot Wind Blows’ he exclaims “we all got our toes out!”, and it’s charming.
It’s a weirdly paced album. The front half consists of fleeting and interconnected tracks, while the meat of the record is in two lengthy tracks that dominate the second half. ‘Sweet / I Thought You Wanted to Dance’ has a terrific breezy hook on the retro soul of the first half, while the second part is almost a hybrid between bubblegum pop and reggae. The nine minutes of ‘Wilshire’ are the emotional centrepiece – after a restless album of genre-hopping and bravado, it’s low key and heartfelt with Tyler unpacking a failed relationship.
If you’ve read else anything on this site, it’s obvious that I don’t listen to a lot of hip hop, but Tyler, the Creator is on a hot creative streak right now and Call Me… is more brilliance from him.
10 Best Tyler, the Creator Tracks
The Boy Is A Gun
Sweet/I Thought You Wanted to Dance
Gone, Gone/Thank You
Hot Wind Blows