It’s hard to believe that Tyler the Creator, Grammy nominee, began his career as leader of the brash and controversial hip hop collective Odd Future (short for Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, or OFWGKTA). Releasing collaborative tapes and solo albums throughout their short career, the group whipped up a frenzy of controversy and gained a fervent fan base. ‘Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome’ rapped Tyler notoriously on 2011’s Tron Cat, a cut from his major label debut Goblin. So how did one of rap’s most contentious figures in recent years reinvent himself to garner a Grammy nomination for his latest album, 2017’s Flower Boy? And how did the anti-establishment rapper who used to shout, “Fuck every label and magazine here, suck my dick!” at shows find himself doing fashion collabs with Vans, Converse and Suicoke?
Odd Future’s nonconformity was always one of their biggest appeals. Firm believers in doing things their own way, they regularly created their own clothing. “Tyler had grown up drawing doughnuts on his pants and dressing his own way and doing stuff,” said their manager, Christian Clancy. “These guys are just making clothes for themselves, and then it’s a no-brainer for me as a manager to say, ‘OK, this is an obvious business.’ As I always say, the margin on socks is better than the margin on CDs, that’s for sure”. Designing clothes for themselves led to designing clothes for their fans, and the Odd Future fashion label was born. Sold in hundreds of stores across the world, including their own flagship store on Fairfax Avenue, LA from 2011 to 2014, the brand is still immensely popular today. A quick search on Instagram shows that the top two recommendations after the hashtag #oddfuture, are #oddfutureforsale and #oddfuture4sale. Delving into these searches brings up bright pastel colours adorned with pink and yellow donuts, an image which was incorporated into the Odd Future logo.
In 2011, during Odd Future’s rise, Tyler formed his own clothing brand named Golf Wang, a spoonerism of Wolf Gang. Developing on Odd Future’s use of bold colours and bright logos, Golf Wang began to be sold alongside Odd Future’s merchandise at the flagship Fairfax Avenue store. Without attachments to the group, the brand was able to flourish beyond the collective’s demise following their final live performance in 2014. While it could be argued that Odd Future as a fashion brand has stagnated since then, Tyler’s clothing line, Golf Wang, free from the shackles of the collective, has continued to go from strength to strength.
Golf Wang, now somewhat ironically referred to solely as Golf (“that’s my least favourite sport, to be honest” said Tyler in 2014), hosted their first fashion show in 2016. Attended by high profile stars such as Kanye West and Kendall Jenner, the Golf le Fleur shoe brand was revealed during the show. “I did collabs with Vans… but I realised black people don’t really own shit,” explained Tyler. “I’ma start my own shit.” The Vans collaboration was a smart one. Vans’ culture is deeply rooted in skateboarding and music. It allowed Tyler and Odd Future to collaborate with an industry giant without losing sight of their vision as an anti-establishment group. Now the precedent of industry collabs had been set, the Golf Wang fashion label could now work with other recognised members of the shoe game. A collaboration between Golf le Fleur and Converse arrived in 2017. Continuing with the suede theme of the Vans collab, Tyler designed a unique pair of Converse One Stars which had a flower stitched around the iconic Converse star. They were a roaring success, with four subsequent collaborations released to date.
While a flower embossed fashion line seems a long way from Tyler’s aggressive musical beginnings, his route to creating music which fits alongside his fashion career seems carefully planned in hindsight. Tyler’s major label debut, Goblin, was a sinister, 75 minute album full of dark piano instrumentals and distortion. It featured the word faggot and similar homophobic slurs 213 times. Hints of colour and light shone through the darkness – Frank Ocean’s appearance on the single ‘She’ is a notable shift from the record’s murky vibe. Washed with warm synths, Tyler’s follow up, Wolf, continued the feel of ‘She’ with abundant luscious production. It still feels bloated at 71 minutes and 18 tracks – an issue which Tyler rectified on 2015’s Cherry Bomb. At 54 minutes and 13 tracks, it’s a significant effort to creating a more bite sized collection of music. On the Grammy nominated Flower Boy, Tyler combined all these elements. The album feels like an amalgamation of his musical and designer talents. The name sits alongside the Golf le Fleur line comfortably. The artwork is full of Golf Wang’s signature saturated colours, alongside sunflowers and bees – two symbols which can comfortably incorporated into his clothing just like the donut was by Odd Future.
While Tyler’s current persona feels like a huge shift from his earlier self, it’s been a gradual change. Despite being banned from the UK for, amongst other things, ‘supporting homophobia’, lyrics on Flower Boy have led to speculation about whether he himself may be bisexual or homosexual. ‘The next line will have them like ‘whoa’/I been kissing white boys since 2004’ raps Tyler on Ain’t Got Time. Garden Shed sees Tyler admitting ‘truth is, since a youth kid, thought it was a phase’.
These lines are a complete 180 lyrically from his earlier releases, but they reflect how the culture of hip hop is changing. Odd Future, being born in the 90s, were no doubt influenced by Eminem’s releases around the turn of the millennium. ‘Hate f*gs? The answer’s yes’ rapped Eminem on 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP, an album which is regularly included on ‘best of all time’ album lists and sold 1.76 million copies in the USA in the first week. It was the fastest selling album by a solo artist in the USA for a decade and a half until Adele’s 25 in 2015. While Eminem’s music is still commercially successful, a drop in critical reception demonstrates changing tastes. Tyler’s early lyrics wouldn’t fly in today’s market, which has shifted in such a way that the vulnerable and sexually opaque lyrics included in Flower Boy are now applauded.
Brockhampton, filling the market’s gap of a young hip hop collective left behind by Odd Future, make a point of rapping about being gay. ‘"Why you always rap about bein' gay?"/'Cause not enough n*ggas rap and be gay/Where I come from, n*ggas get called f*ggot and killed’ raps group leader Kevin Abstract on the collective’s breakthrough Saturation trilogy, a far cry from Tyler’s early days.
Tyler’s discography now acts as a fascinating timeline of hip hop’s switch in opinion regarding homosexuality. Odd Future’s early days still saw them receive backlash for their lyrics, something which they were able to brush off with relative ease due to the prominence of Syd and Frank Ocean within their group, both members of the LGBTQ community. Today the homophobia would be unacceptable, something which Tyler is surely aware of. While no definitive statement on his sexuality has been released, it’s certain that he’s a long way from the controversial figure he was as he emerged on the scene nearly a decade ago. Whether that’s out of necessity or choice is something that possibly remains to be seen.
Entering 2018, we see Tyler having carved out his own niche in both the music and fashion world. In May, Tyler dropped 435, a track which clocks in at just over 90 seconds. The most fascinating part of the video accompanying the track was the apparent Suicoke x Golf Wang collaboration which Tyler teases at the end.
The collaboration was confirmed in June, with the sandal available for one day only at Slam Jam’s pop-up Paris store. Tyler’s transformation is complete, and it’s fair to say no one would have expected this would be where he’s at today.