Tyler Okonma is a lot of things — rapper, singer, songwriter, producer, fashion designer, video director, cartoon creator — but stagnant is not one of them. Since Okonma, better known as Tyler, the Creator, first emerged on the music scene in 2007 with his Odd Future collective, he has lived up to his title through an eccentric, unapologetic approach to creation, all while transforming himself from a blunt-force lyricist to an unguarded, versatile artist. Below, we track the 28-year-old’s career — from the OF years all the way up to the recently released Igor — through every age, stage, and carefully crafted era.
Odd Future (2007)
Odd Future in 10 words: Ragtag teens join forces to create an innovative rap collective.
Visual collective aesthetic: Graphic tees, snapbacks, eclectic prints, goofy group pictures, crude photoshop, doughnuts.
Tyler’s career began in the form of this group of misfits. Uniting under the wordy moniker Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, the collective was made up of 10 musicians (along with an array of accompanying non-musical members) with a knack for skate rat-style raps. Odd Future was by no means the world’s first rap collective, but along with New York’s menacing A$AP Mob (2006), the Los Angeles-based group was one of the first birthed by the internet. The crew not only helped launch the careers of multiple solo artists — including Tyler, Frank Ocean, Syd, and Earl Sweatshirt — they set the stage for other online-bred hip-hop collectives like Brockhampton.
With Tyler at the helm, OF dropped their debut project, The Odd Future Tape, in November 2008 and continued cranking out content at an unprecedented rate. A second wave of members, including Ocean, joined between 2009 and 2010. By 2011, they had churned out 12 full-length albums.
However, the collective’s history is not without controversy: a significant portion of OF’s lyrics contain depictions of murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault. While many outraged listeners protested the offensive statements, OF supporters defended the musical decisions, saying that the group was satirizing the negative expectations placed on black culture rather than encouraging the described behavior. (New Zealand clearly wasn’t convinced of OF’s intentions, and issued a ban in 2014 that barred them from entering the country to perform on the grounds that they were a “potential threat to public order and the public interest.”)
Though they have since disbanded, the staying power of Odd Future is evident in the survival and success of their members and trendy clothing brand.
Bastard in 10 words: A chaotic, curse-heavy solo debut mixtape tinged with darkness.
Visual aesthetic: Warped images of school children, hoodies, neon bubble font.
Foul-mouthed and full of surprises, Tyler’s first solo effort — the independently produced Bastard — dropped Christmas Day, 2009. The mixtape’s opening title track has us sitting in on a session with Tyler — self-described as “depressed,” “possessed,” and “Satan’s son” — and Dr. TC, the low-pitched, demon-voiced school therapist Tyler is sent to.
Bastard enlists the help of Odd Future members to elevate the aggressive beats and pointed raps, as Tyler unleashes his dark genius, hopping from talk of murder on “Pigs Fly” to raping and eating a frustrating female under the pseudonym Sarah on a track by the same name. Not only does Bastard establish the recurring character Dr. TC, it continues the trend of troubling themes and explicit storytelling that would occur in later projects.
Goblin in 10 words: Dark beats with a harsh, gritty narrative and radical statements.
Visual aesthetic: Black-and-white camera work, demonic eyes, tie dye t-shirts, neon bubble font, a green ski mask.
Tyler, the Creator’s breakout solo studio album sets the tone for his outspoken style, once again proving that he was unafraid to push the envelope further than his Odd Future counterparts. The record is propelled by interwoven dialogue between Dr. TC and Tyler as he gradually spirals into insanity and murders all of his friends, only to learn that this all occurs within the twisted confines of his imagination. Some listeners saw this as a venting of mental health struggles and frustrations with society, while others found those moments overshadowed by the record’s homophobic and misogynistic lyrics.
Tyler has since disavowed large portions of Goblin but stands by some of the hits, including “Yonkers”, the single that skyrocketed him to fame and helped him win Best New Artist at the 2011 VMAs. The “Yonkers” music video aptly represents the album as a whole, with Tyler eating a live cockroach only to vomit it back up, along with intimating his own suicide by hanging.
Wolf In 10 words: Attacks media and opponents with pointed lyrics and erratic production.
Visual aesthetic: Golf-style “Wolf” embroidery, scenic mountain backdrops, stripes, bikes.
On his sophomore studio album, Tyler constructs another elaborate narrative, this time centered on a love triangle between three characters: Wolf, Sam, and Salem. While the plot line is haphazardly followed throughout the record, Tyler’s overall message of Wolf is to speak out against everything that makes his life difficult (mainly the burdens brought by stardom and haters). “Pigs” deals with taking down bullies. On “Colossus” he raps about not being able to enjoy an outing at Six Flags. And in the closing track “Wolf,” Tyler meets with Dr. TC one last time to talk about his difficulties grieving his grandmother’s death while in the spotlight.
Despite the negativity he is working through, Tyler still manages to playfully poke fun at himself while maintaining a confident swagger.
Cherry Bomb (2015)
Cherry Bomb In 10 words: Sharing newfound joy through distorted production and optimistic, boisterous overtones.
Visual aesthetic: Bright blue, pink, yellow, and red color palette; animation; hot-rod flames; fruit and flower patterns.
In contrast to the grating synths and potent lyrics that colored most of his previous work, Tyler exhibited a relatively gentler side on Cherry Bomb, with its filtered guitar riffs and feel-good lyrics. His shift to an overall optimistic outlook is expressed through loud, abrasive production intentionally made to reflect a childlike sense of freedom and happiness.
Cherry Bomb was criticized for being too cheerful, braggadocios, and musically immature. However, Tyler was quick to rebuke these reviews, refusing to apologize for writing optimistic music that reflected his shift toward a more hopeful approach. Tyler has also revealed that Cherry Bomb was his favorite (though not necessarily his best) album.
Flower Boy (2017)
Flower Boy In 10 words: Tyler bears all through clever, introspective lyricism and heartfelt vulnerability.
Visual aesthetic: Honey bees, vibrant jewel tones, sunflowers, orange.
“I rock, I roll, I bloom, I grow.” Flower Boy is considered Tyler’s turning point. Here the king of clowning around sheds his bombastic persona for an exploration into his deep-seeded struggles. If Cherry Bomb was a relapse into adolescence, Flower Boy is Tyler’s ode to growth. Initially called Scum F— Flower Boy, the project displays a series of vulnerable thoughts and themes, from allusions to his sexuality in “Garden Shed” to the frustrations of stagnation in “Pothole” to the growing pains of romantic endeavors in “See You Again.”
However, the dark genius that dominated Tyler’s early work still lurks in “Who Dat Boy,” in which “Young T” spits a complex collection of fiery rhymes. The music video starts with a literal bang as Tyler blows his face off and bloodily stumbles through a pristine suburban neighborhood in search of his next-door neighbor (played by A$AP Rocky) to perform an impromptu face transplant. No matter how touching the album may be, Tyler remains a twisted storyteller.
In 10 words: Tyler sings about love in all its celebrations and frustrations
Visual album aesthetic: Bleach blond bowl cut, vibrant suits, sunglasses, gold chains, vintage sets, spontaneous dancing.
Igor displays Tyler at his best, brightest, and oddest. After various solo ventures over the last decade — from self-contained concept albums to long-winded vents of his psyche — Tyler’s world-building talents finally achieve a balance between his optimistic outlook and cynical tendencies, his playful boasts and lovelorn confessionals.
Inviting listeners to “just go, jump into it”, Igor follows the story of a couple as they go from strangers to honeymoon-phase lovers to obsessive partners to ex-lovers forcing a strained friendship. But the narrative feels like a springboard for the album’s diverse production rather than its focal point. Instead of the riotous, punk-rap style that dominated past albums, Igor switches it up with a genre-bending sound that’s heavily influenced by hip-hop, jazz, R&B, and pop. Tyler not only achieves this through an overall softer production style, but through a greater focus on singing.
From a bright profession of love over soft hi-hats on “Earfquake” to the acoustic guitar riff and heavy bass groove on album closer “Are We Still Friends,” Tyler showcases a classic style in line with the honesty he delivered on Flower Boy. With Igor, Tyler remains true to his clever, chaotic nature while introducing new sounds and themes that both display his maturation and set the stage for succeeding eras to come