Odd Future's main mouth-brain Tyler, the Creator has just released his third studio album, Wolf. With it, a progression can be seen in his rapping, producing, and all-around, international-skate-park, antiworld, image-making mogulity. Mogulity, yes, for Tyler is a mogul and an entity. Also, an anomaly. Is there a more controversial and scrutinized figure in hiphop right now than the 22-year-old Los Angeles–based Tyler Gregory Okonma? At once, he takes risks and reveals. He hits you in the face, but he lets you hit him back. He plays roles as the shock-genius, the villain, and the Amadeus. Is he homophobic? In 2011, his rape-heavy and seemingly antigay content prompted Tegan and Sara to call him on his shit.
Questions about Tyler abound. Would Frank Ocean and Syd tha Kyd—both out now—still work with him if he was antigay? Would Mountain Dew, Adult Swim, and Sony Music be working with him if he were such a social liability? He has carved out a certain mystique. Does he say too much? Perhaps. Does he push buttons and have fun? Definitely. Is it for everyone? No. Does he like cats? Very much so. Is he young and growing? Yes and yes. As of last check, he had stopped using the word "rape" in his shows. But with Tyler's worldwideness and overcharged, hard content, what gets lost occasionally is that he's an artist. Some of his brushstrokes are crude. If it causes reaction, that's what he wants.
The following "interview" took place in a Los Angeles hotel penthouse suite. Tyler despises interviews. In the room, there was a foot-high wooden box on the floor, and next to an elaborately patterned chair was a table with a bowl of wasabi peas and a note that said, "For your consumption." I had in my possession Miles Davis's The Autobiography, Plato's Five Dialogues, and Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations, to cover my bases. I also had questions ready about his beat-making, his collaboration with Miley Cyrus, his stance on LGBT issues, and what it was like working with Pharrell, Erykah Badu, and Stereolab's Lætitia Sadier for Wolf.
After waiting 15 minutes, I started eating the wasabi peas. Outside, the city gleamed yellow-gray in a veil of smog. I read the Miles book. Then the door opened, and a costumed human slowly walked out and stood silently on the pedestal. It was a guy, over six feet tall, in a silver outfit, with silver paint all over his face. At first I thought it was the Tin Man, then I realized it was one of those statue actors—a colonial statue wearing a hat and wig, covered in grimy, aqua-colored splotches mimicking oxidation. George Washington? Five more minutes went by of just the statue, and me crunching wasabi peas. I thought Tyler would walk in at any moment. Then I realized the statue was Tyler.
Oh shit, he was the statue. He'd outdone himself, without doing anything. I didn't want to stare, but fuck it, I stood up and looked him in the eye. It was definitely him. He blinked, but didn't move. I sat down and asked him music-related questions, and I got no response. A few minutes went by. Silence. So this was it, he was just going to be the statue. I liked it. I got out my phone, put it on speaker, and played Tegan and Sara's "Where Does the Good Go." Tyler remained still. The statue. Then I read from Plato's Five Dialogues. Crito is pleading with his friend Socrates to escape into exile before Socrates's death: "Do we say that one must never in any way do wrong willingly, or must one do wrong in one way and not in another? Is to do wrong never good or admirable?"
Tyler remained still. I said, "Did you know more people condemned Socrates to die than found him guilty?" I thought Tyler might respond, because he's similar to Socrates in the way people find him guilty. I had 10 more minutes left with Tyler. Next, I read out loud from Miles's Autobiography, chapter one: "The very first thing I remember in my early childhood is a flame, a blue flame jumping off a gas stove somebody lit. I remember being shocked by the whoosh of the blue flame jumping off the burner, the suddenness of it." Tyler shifted and turned slightly, dropping one of his arms down three or four inches. I figured this movement signified his resonance with the Miles passage. The movement kind of startled me. When those statues move, it scares the shit out of me, even when it's Tyler, the Creator. I asked, "What's the first memory you remember having?" And nothing.
Next, I tried the Rimbaud: "The lighting comes round to the crown post again. From the two extremities of the room-decorations negligible-harmonic elevations join." No response, but I could tell he was feeling it because he looked at me. Then I got my phone back out and played Christopher Cross's "Sailing." When it finished, Tyler said one word: "Dope." The statue had spoken. I threw out a Miley Cyrus question for the hell of it and got nothing. Then I said, "Do you like being a pariah? Is that your aim?"
"I like piranha," the statue said. He spoke again! Then nothing. With my time winding down, I felt like I had to try to get him to react to something, so I pulled up a video of a lady who married the Eiffel Tower. She's an "objectum sexual." Objectum sexuals are real. They fall in love with objects. She also had a thing for the Golden Gate Bridge, and a bow. She was a US Olympic archer. Another lady married the Berlin Wall, and a guy was in love with a Ferris wheel. They had sex and everything. I walked in front of him and held up the screen so he could see it. Just past the seven-minute mark, Tyler, the Statue broke his pose and fell down laughing. A deep, hard laugh. He got up, hugged me, and said, "THAT is some crazy shit right there." Then he walked out of the room.