“It’s obvious a lot has changed,” remarks Tyler, The Creator. As he sits on a bench in Odd Future’s hastily assembled pop-up store on Oxford St, Sydney, and speaks in slow, considered sentences, his voice sounds less as if it is ripped from the belly of the beast, and more akin to an asthmatic wheeze. As he states, a lot has changed in the Odd Future camp over the past year. Last time the group were in Sydney, in May 2011, they played a run of energetic- but-modestly-attended shows at the Opera House; this time they sold out the 2000+ seat Enmore Theatre in Sydney, and performed to Kanye West, among numerous other guests. And although Tyler counts Kanye as a new friend, the more outsiders focus on the group (and mainly on him) the more he clings to the insular circle of friends that make up the collective.
“Things change but we are still as tight as we were, if not tighter, under the circumstances of fame. We can’t trust anybody in this fucking industry, which I don’t,” he states bluntly. “I don’t trust one person. I’ve stuck to the people that were there. I might have some people that I kick it with here and there, like Kanye, you know, but apart from that I don’t fuck with nobody. I’m gonna keep it that way, ‘cos I don’t need new friends.”
Such wariness of fair-weather friends and opportunists is understandable. As the storm surrounding Odd Future gets more and more out of control, Tyler stays firmly within the epicentre, keeping an auteur’s eye on every element of the group’s output: from controlling the manufacture and distribution of band merchandise, to directing the video clips and designing the artwork for the numerous releases pumped out – even down to the smallest, most seemingly-inconsequential details.
“I keep my circle as tight as possible,” Tyler explains. “The clothes, I said, ‘Fuck selling them at different stores and shit, let’s control it and open our own store.’ Fuck everybody else; I don’t need a middle-man. I don’t want my clothes sold at the same place as clothing lines that I fucking hate and don’t wanna be associated with, so I keep the control and open my own shit up. Why the fuck would I go to someone else? I’m controlling. That’s one thing, I do everything. I mean, I sat on Photoshop and did that,” he says, pointing at the A4 merchandise pricing list affixed to the wall. “I do everything myself. The only time I like help is when I ask for it.”
This controlling streak spills over into every element of his work, as does his drive to ceaselessly chronicle all that is occurring within the group. Name-checking photographers such as Ryan McGinley–indeed a lot of the collective’s photography echoes McGinley’s The Kids Are Alright collection–Tyler talks animatedly about Odd Future’s photography book Golf Wang (the title, a spoonerism of ‘Wolf Gang’).
“We take so many fucking photos. My friend Lego took that, my friend Lucas took that,” he says, pointing to framed photos of the collective displayed on the walls of the pop-up store. “We have so many fucking photos. And all the photos in the book are from before we blew up. There’s a couple in there of performances, but most of those are like 2009 and 2010, so we still have all of 2011 in pictures that we have not put in a book, we’ll put that out this year. And in 2013 we’ll put out 2012. So, we have a lot of photos.”
Life is moving quickly for Tyler, but one photograph perfectly captures how different his life has become in the past twelve months: a shot of comedian Aziz Ansari, Justin Bieber, Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, Kanye West… and Tyler, so perfectly framed and effortlessly iconic that it holds the suspicious air of a Photoshop job.
“That was backstage at one of the Watch The Throne shows: we were back there and Kanye was like ‘let’s take a photo,’ he explains, still amazed at the situation. “It was so crazy, ‘cos I felt like one of them for a second. They’re like big and they treated me as if I was one of them. Especially Kanye, he is so cool. People have so many misconceptions of him. He is such a nice person. He’s honest as shit: people are so, like, quick to criticise, but he just wants to live and do his art, and people won’t let him do that shit. He just hates all that.” The similarities between Kanye’s situation and his own don’t escape Tyler for an instant. “That’s probably why he’s a fan and stuff,” he considers. “He relates.”
Although he claims not to need any extra friends, he has spent the past year publicly courting a friendship between himself and Canadian pop star Justin Bieber: initially as a series of tweets in which he professed his wish to work with the artist, and eventually in person. It may seem surprising that the creator of some of the most controversial art since Columbine would wish to work with the perennially-sledged, squeaky-clean Bieber, but this connection makes perfect sense: both were displaced teenagers thrust into the limelight, and both have proven that, despite the fever-pitch hype that surrounds them, they are truly talented musicians. Unlike the other members of Odd Future, Tyler does not smoke weed. He claims proudly to have never had a drink (something that even Bieber couldn’t claim). Tyler is endearingly reserved as to whether a collaboration between the two will take place.
“He’s cool. We talk here and there but I never actually say anything [about working together]. I think he knows I have beats for him. When I say ‘What’s up?’ and he asks me how my music is, I never bring it up. I don’t even wanna rap on the song or anything, I just wanna give him beats,” he enthuses. “People overlook my beats, and if you listen to a lot of them, I make some really pretty beats sometimes – I just want someone to sing over them. There are a couple of beats that I made specifically for him, that, if he never uses them, they’ll never see the light of day. They’re some really good ones, too.”
As Tyler touched on, an overlooked element of Odd Future’s musical output is the actual music, which runs the gauntlet from organ-driven horrorshow themes, to lush soundbeds and dreamscapes – all anchored by atypical beat tracks. As most of the songs are either written first on piano, and affixed with a suitable beat–or vice versa–there’s an off-kilter edge that lends itself as much to spaced-out Prince-style balladry as it does to the vitriol spat on most of Odd Future’s releases to date. Tyler pinpoints the last three minutes of Radicals (the dissolution of a fierce track with the authority-baiting refrain “Kill People/Burn Shit/Fuck School” into a hypnotic soundscape), as his proudest moment on record to date. “It sounds like a cloud or something,” he says of the dreamy outro. “I really wish people looked at that Let ‘Em Go end part or Tron Catmore. I kinda want [third album] Wolf to sound like that.”
With the Odd Future Tape Vol. 2 currently acting as both a mixtape of sorts (although not in the strictest sense: Tyler and fellow OFWGKTA member Left Brain produced the majority of the beats on the record) and a concise compendium of the group’s sound, it’s natural that Tyler is thinking ahead to his third solo record, Wolf. He cites the more free- flowing, jazz-tinged work from The Neptunes’ canon as one inspiration, but is past second-guessing what people will think of the slight stylistic slide he plans to adopt.
“I think about it [the fact millions of people will hear Wolf] but it doesn’t really change the music I make. I’m still gonna make the album I always wanted to make. Some people might hate it, some people might love it but I don’t really give a shit. There’s a lot of misconceptions; everyone thinks I hate gay people, they think I’m into only hip hop and ‘90s Wu-Tang and horrorcore. I don’t like that shit really. It kinda sucks,” he admits. “The people that say that stuff don’t know me, so it doesn’t really matter. It’s cool,” he shrugs unconvincingly.
As one of the brightest young artists in his field, with a distinct vision that is spread across his already-enviable body of work, it is clear that Tyler is nevertheless yearning to expand. With a series of photography books, a string of critically acclaimed albums, an MTV award for directing the powerful Yonkersvideo, an Adult Swim show Loiter Squad recently launched, and a possible-future Bieber production credit to his name, it’s clear he isn’t planning to sit still for long. Or to stay confined by the genre in which he first flourished.
“Fuck hip hop,” he proclaims resolutely. “I hate that shit.”