“I am not a fucking role model” – The Most Important Essay You’ll Ever Read About Tyler, The Creator

I went back and listened to Tyler, the Creator’s studio albums in succession, beginning with Goblin and ending with Flower Boy. I’ve collected my thoughts, feelings and opinions here because there’s no one narrative or critique that Mr. Okuna’s music produces. The emcee who once confused me with his bars now inspires me to do and say whatever the fuck I want because tomorrow will come, whether or not you like it.

Throughout the entirety of his career, Tyler has given me too many personalities to count so I’ll list them and hope that I don’t forget any: there’s Ace, Tron Cat (aka TC), Sam, Wolf (Haley) and Tyler, the Creator. The rap community took these personas and ran rampant with the ever-changing potential stories that each character could take on. The most memorable for me, was the idea of a Trilogy that was released out of order that include Bastard, Goblin and Wolf. Like any hip-hop enthusiast, I fell in love with the conspiracy that the artist was smarter than everyone else, and it was my job to reach his level.

I still don’t think I’m there, but if there’s one thing that Flower Boy has made clear, it’s that I haven’t being paying nearly enough attention to the music before putting it in a box. Tyler, the Creator has been one of the most vulnerable artists through his music, but the coordination of his rap personalities might be the greatest musical misdirection I’ve been able to conceptualize to-date.

While we have been busy trying to decipher who it is rapping through the mic, I forgot that there was still a man behind each one of those personas; a soul playing puppet master to the soulless; just another kid trying to figure out what the fuck was going on around him.

I no longer look at Goblin like an anarchist album full of “fucks” and “ faggots,” but instead as an unapologetic diary that Tyler Okuna shared with the world. Much like Donald Glover’s creation of Childish Gambino, the zany, wild and comedic prelude to the more self-understood and self-preserved version of his current self. Goblin isn’t horricore – it’s a teenager screaming out to the world that “I’m fucked up,” and I don’t think too many people listened; I know I didn’t. Goblin enters the paradoxical mindset of a teenager who just wants a normal family and to skateboard with his friends and watch cartoons on the weekend. Instead he gets bullied for all the things that make him special, like making music, skateboarding and (maybe) being interested in guys as well as girls. However, because life has been going “pretty well” he still hasn’t taken the leap of taking his own life, which lets me know that he never stopped seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Goblin gave a look into the internal struggle between Tyler and his demons, but WOLF gives us a showdown between Sam and Wolf, but Tyler is nowhere to be found. Following the trilogy narrative, this was done intentionally to show how Tyler ended up in therapy – Camp is where he developed his demons. As cool as that would (and still could) be, I now hear raps from an MC who no longer feels attacked by his environment. Now he’s in control, but there’s the Sam, the businessman who just wants to make music and doesn’t give a damn about anyone else, “because some shit happened back at home,” and then there’s Wolf, the “new” kid who just wants to ride bikes, make friends and chill at the lake.

Tyler’s music doesn’t hide the imperfections of his childhood, but it’s his music that effectively ended his childhood and turned him into a nationally recognized artist – even if it took eating a cockroach on camera to get people to pay attention.

Colossus is the only track that Tyler, the Creator shows his real self and it’s a track speaking out on his confliction with being famous and having fans, and how annoying it is for him to get stopped everywhere he goes in public when he’s trying to chill. He’s not the first artist to deal with this issue, and he won’t be the last, but the track provides a window into his mind, and then he’s gone again and we’re dropped back into the Sam vs. Wolf saga.

Cherry Bomb has a “I’m me, fuck you if you not feeling it,” which up until this point wasn’t really anything new from Tyler, the Creator. But when looking through the lens of a misguided and misunderstood teen turned successfully confident adult, Cherry Bomb is the coming out album for Tyler. He got the world’s attention with Bastard, Goblin and WOLF and now Tyler is ready to come out from behind the personalities and personas. There’s a sense of self-acceptance that’s more beautiful than any song he could ever make.

Down to the way that the tracks are displayed in all caps like the way he tweeted at the time, and cartoon animation on the cover much like his animated show, The Jellies, Cherry Bomb is Tyler, the Creator. There is no remanence of any of his past demons, characters or personalities on the album. FIND YOUR WINGS, my favorite track off the album, sums up this album perfectly. The album is nothing like his freshman album Goblin, which was released only two years prior. His growth as a musician is stunning, but his growth as a person is inspirational.

Then there’s Flower Boy, the most polished version of Tyler we’ve seen to date. His production, lyrics, features and album cover all scream, “Look ma, I’m not so fucked up anymore.” The album is skin-tingling, toe-curling, feel-good music. No one could have predicted Tyler’s music reaching this level of maturity without him losing himself along the way, but he defied all laws of music and grew up without losing his dinosaur.

The same people questioning Tyler’s sexuality now are the same people who didn’t listen to the references of him kissing boys to prove he wasn’t homophobic or getting jealous of the boys in class in Goblin and Wolf. That isn’t to say that I believe in any of it or even care, but it proves that people only hear what they want. If there’s one thing we should understand by now, it’s that his words aren’t half as important as the musical arrangements because he can say anything, but a completely self-produced album doesn’t happen often. Appreciate the music before you stick the artist into a box.

Now the culmination of Odd Future makes a little bit more sense to me – they needed each other for one reason or another and by some divine nature (and a little Left Brain magic) they found one another. Over the past couple of years, Tyler, Frank, Syd, Steve and Matt have all shared their dealings with self-confidence; issues that ultimately affected their ability to create music. With the exception of Frank Ocean, whose Blonde album was released in 2016, all of them have released solo projects in 2017, which lets me know that their doing OK right now and that’s all that matters.

Listening to Tyler grow up right before my ears and being able to revisit his younger years over and over is a special gift that not many other artists have given me until this point. It’s not only impressive, but it’s admirable to be able to see someone willing to give so much to his listeners who have now become loyal fans and followers, because we see the progression in his writing and production ability. Flower Boy showed me, though, that he’s grown as a person and as a man as well. He’s become a role model for me and millions of other teenagers and young adults who don’t really understand why they have a goblin living inside them.