One of the more fascinating artistic evolutions since the late 2000s has been that of Tyler, The Creator. The rapper and producer surfaced as a founding member of Odd Future, an outlandish alternative rap crew that gradually permeated the mainstream as it begat a multitude of related projects. A high percentage of these recordings, including Earl Sweatshirt’s Earl (2010), Odd Future’s The OF Tape, Vol. 2 (2012), and Frank Ocean’s Grammy-winning Channel Orange (2012), have been made with Tyler’s deep involvement. As a solo artist, Tyler’s output has gleefully swung from purposefully distasteful and crude to charming and sophisticated, sometimes blurring the distinction between the extremes. His first four solo albums — Goblin (2011), Wolf (2013), Cherry Bomb (2015), and Flower Boy (2017) — debuted within the Top Five of the Billboard 200, distinguished above all other unique qualities by his gravelly voice and an irascible disposition befitting a collision-shop owner. The widespread embrace of the kaleidoscopic Flower Boy, a number two hit nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Rap Album, has led to a pair of subsequent number one albums: IGOR (2019), another Grammy-nominated recording, and CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST (2021), which expanded the artist’s stylistic reach while reaffirming his devotion to hip-hop with a raw lyrical approach.
Tyler Okonma was born and raised in Los Angeles County, splitting time in Ladera Heights and nearby Hawthorne. He got his first taste of fame when the Los Angeles Times ran a “teen on the street”-type story on the then-16-year-old skateboarding enthusiast, who was also interested in music and fashion. Around this time, Tyler began making music with Odd Future’s other core members, and in 2009 released a solo mixtape titled Bastard. By the end of the following year, OF’s surreal and filthy material, epitomized by Earl Sweatshirt’s mixtape Earl — most of which Tyler produced — had earned them a loyal following. It was during that year that a video Tyler directed for the OF track “French” took off, topping a million views by December and drawing attention to a slew of additional crew-related mixtapes that followed.
Signed as a solo artist to a one-album deal with XL Recordings, Tyler made his proper solo debut with Goblin. Upon its May 2011 arrival, the album became the first Odd Future-related product to be released through the traditional music-industry channels, and debuted at number five on the Billboard 200. Meanwhile, Tyler continued to produce for OF and its affiliates, most notably on The OF Tape, Vol. 2 and a later 2012 release, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, which won a Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album. Tyler’s second LP, Wolf, followed on the Odd Future label in April 2013. It entered the Billboard 200 at number three with an expansive list of guests — including Erykah Badu, Pharrell, Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, and Quadron’s Coco O — reflective of Tyler’s aesthetic.
Tyler’s third proper album, Cherry Bomb, another Odd Future label offering, leaked to online streaming services before its official April 2015 release date. It nonetheless became the artist’s third consecutive Top Ten entry, enhanced with uncredited guest appearances from Kanye West and Lil Wayne. Tyler’s number of productions and guest appearances subsequently continued to increase through collaborations with Ocean, fellow OF associates the Internet and Domo Genesis, and A$AP Mob. Flower Boy, his acclaimed fourth solo album, was issued through Columbia in July 2017. The LP landed at number two on the Billboard 200 and was later nominated for Best Rap Album at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.
The following year, Tyler released a small batch of non-album singles, as well as the EP-length and unsurprisingly animated Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ the Grinch. The proper follow-up to Flower Boy, the thoroughly heartsick IGOR, arrived in May 2019. It debuted on the Billboard 200 at number one and earned Tyler his second nomination for Best Rap Album. Collaborations in 2020 with Westside Gunn, Freddie Gibbs, and Lil Yachty set the stage for his sixth solo LP. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, hosted by Gangsta Grillz mixtape don DJ Drama, offered some of Tyler’s toughest beats and rhymes while incorporating synth pop and reggae deviations. Issued in June 2021, the album put Tyler back on top of the Billboard 200 and spawned the Hot 100 hit “WusYaName,” featuring YoungBoy Never Broke Again and Ty Dolla $ign. It also won Best Rap Album at the 2022 Grammy Awards. ~ Andy Kellman