Odd Future’s Tyler, the Creator on Race, Broken Homes, and Waking Up Rich
Hip-hop's controversial spaz explores his awkward side
In early October, while touring across the Pacific Northwest with Odd Future for our new feature, mouthpiece Tyler, the Creator held court for some formal interview sessions. These life-on-the-road conversations generally translated to jokes, dirty language, and copious clowning on everyone on the bus; but in between, the most scrutinized man in hip-hop broke down everything from what it’s like to wake up with thousands of dollars in your bank account to learning to skate from video games. As a bonus, get a glimpse of life on the road, Odd Future style, in our video ride-along:
So, there are a couple thousand kids out there, already lined up to see you. What do you think about all this?
It's cool. I can't complain. It happened quicker than I thought, so it's not that easy to get used to. I'm still adjusting to a lot of shit.
Like people crying?
When you started posting songs to Tumblr, did you have a plan in mind?
I don't know. I'm half-half. Sometimes I know what I'm doing, sometimes I don't. Some people say, "What were you thinking when you made Bastard or Goblin?" I didn't know it was gonna become sequenced like movie albums that you have to listen to beginning to end. I didn't do that on purpose but I did, it's like my subconscious knew what I was doing... I just made a website just to put all of our shit on, just all the skate videos and songs and shit, and people just latched on.
[Odd Future's] Lionel Boyce said that even in high school, you were know as that dude...
I never went around telling people I did music ever, but some people just knew. So there was this one dude that came up to me, rocking my lyrics. It was my senior year, was weird as fuck.
What did you do?
I was like, "What the fuck?" I was like 17, he just randomly came up and started saying that shit. I was like, "Stop, it's awkward." I never told people I did music, so it was always awkward for people to just listen to it and shit. I was never the type to say, "Hey, man, check this shit out."
Did you feel shy?
Yeah, I still don't like to make beats or record in front of people.
But even playing it back to them?
The thing is, I make music I like. So it's just weird if someone says they don't like it. I get defensive, like, "I didn't make this for you, fuck you, suck my dick." That's me. That's like somebody basically saying they don't like me.
Is that why you were telling Domo earlier not to read his own reviews?
Yeah, don't read your reviews. Because nobody knows me. The people who know me are my friends that I'm with now. So people who make judgments, you know, sit there and critique, but they don't know anything about you. When you read someone writing about you and you know that shit isn't right, it just drives you fucking crazy. So I was just telling Domo don't read reviews. None of that shit fucking matters... It's just a lot to handle when the week before, you were nobody. I fucking stress out, like I go crazy, because it's a lot to handle. And I just don't want Domo or anyone else to just be under the pressure that I experience now.
A lot of people writing both good and bad things about you are, like, thirtysomething white men.
Sometimes it could be weird, 'cause they're journalists, but I don't know. I read an article on the Pitchfork Fest my manager showed me where he was just talking down on me. I had a cast on, the writer was like, "It's just like any other wack show. Let's be honest. They just jump in the crowd and kids go crazy, it's nothing that you guys are missing."
But it's age that makes a big difference. Like fresh out of high school. Those kids relate to me because I'm just like them. He doesn't relate to me because he's not like us. So it's a whole different mindset. He doesn't have the audacity to call anything stupid because I mean something to someone. Like the kid that got OF tatted on him, from the SF show. Some people might call him stupid as fuck, but to him, that shit actually means something to him. You never know, he might have listened to my music and his fucking mom died and shit, and he got that just to remind him that my music got him fucking through. So it weirds me out when there's people like that, who can't relate under any circumstances, writing. But then again, some [writers] just like it, so I'm kinda 50/50 on shit like that.
All your fans are so young and dedicated. All of us adults are talking about it, but it almost doesn't matter what we say. It's all about kids.
Yeah, like [manager Christian] Clancy. I always make fun of him, he's not even that old. He was one of those kids before. So even though he's matured and shit, deep down inside he still relates to us, he loves us and goes off. Maybe when you were fucking 18, you were fucking rebellious as shit. So when you see a girl in that pit wiling out, you're like, "OK, I was there." You're on the balcony, not down there, but you know exactly what that feels like.
You all lean on each other as people and in shows, but everyone we've talked to so far says Tyler's the glue. What's it like keeping a group together like this?
It's not that hard. I tried to put the team on my back. People don't know how deep OF really is. I didn't really have many friends when I was younger. Most of these dudes, I met when I was 16 or whatever. My mom, she had moved up north, so I stayed with my grandma. There was nights I went without fucking eating. So these dudes, I'd sleep over at their houses and they'd cook and shit, that would be like my family. I try to give back 'cause when I didn't really have shit, they was always there. These are my niggas. Anybody in my camp, even if they didn't really do shit for me then, I just try to look out for them. Any opportunity I get I try to bring them along. It's not that hard when I have to step up and shit. It's cool. I like giving back, I guess.
Was your grandma around?
She was just at the house, she's old, but she made sure I had a place over my head. I slept on the floor for like three to four years, but it was somewhere.
Were you shy? Why didn't you have friends?
I wasn't shy but I was really hyper. Nobody got my sense of humor. I was a black skater kid. I liked fucking Good Charlotte and Kenny G, and I was black. And I went to school with a bunch of black kids so they kinda swayed away from me. I was such a leader that I just went around by myself. I don't know, I was thinking differently from others. My best friends today I never went to school with. Like Jasper [Dolphin], fucking Travis ["Taco" Bennett], Lucas [Vercetti]... Because, real shit, in the black community, being different is the one thing that's just like... I guess because of slavery and shit, we just have to stick together and be so strong that being different is taboo. It's like you can't think outside the box in the black community. That's why I have so many white friends, because, real shit, no one really cares about that. I hate race. I hate that shit.
You hate race because you hate bringing it up?
Yeah, because like, why does it matter? I mean I joke about it. I have a Formspring and people ask me, like, "How do you feel that most of your fans are teenage white kids?" Those are the people I hang out with is teenage white kids, what are you fucking talking about? People who bring up shit like that, I don't know why the color of their fucking skin or their fucking background has to do with the music they can relate to or listen to. What does the color of my skin have to do with the fucking notes I'm playing? I get really aggravated and defensive, so I just try to stay away from it.
Maybe there are a lot of white kids at your shows, but it also might have to do with who has the money to afford tickets. White people just have more money than everyone else in America, it was in the census.
It just sucks. I would always be called "whiteboy" when I was fucking younger, so that just really sparked, it just always aggravated me. You don't have to be a certain color to stand on some wood with wheels on the bottom. But some people are fucking retarded so it's whatever. I just look past it as much as I can.
When did you get your first skateboard?
I was 12, I got a Blind. I had no one to skate with so it took me awhile to learn shit.
Did you learn from watching videos??Yeah and I learned off Pro Skater 4. It's a fucking game. I would always play it and I was like, fuck it, I just want a skateboard.
When did your mom move up north?
I was 16. Now she's back in L.A. so that was like three, four years ago. She's cool.
She was awesome on the VMAs.
Everyone says that. I get more hit ups about her, than me actually winning.
Your speech was obviously awesome, too.
That shit was bleeped out to the fullest, I watched it on TV later. It was awesome.
What did your mom say to you after your speech?
She was in the back just crying, and it was too awkward for me. So I kinda walked away. Frank [Ocean] was with my mom. It was weird. Awkward situations, I don't know what the fuck to do... I just walked back and Frank was like hugging her and shit. It was a cool moment but weird.
Had you seen your mom cry before?
Yeah, but those times were awkward. She understood though. She knows it's awkward.
When you write lyrics, does making situations awkward come into it?
Like making it awkward? Yeah, like on the beginning of "Sandwitches," I'm mocking myself, just because that was my reputation. "Who the fuck invited Mr. I Don't Give a Fuck / Who cries about his daddy on a blog because his music sucks." I'm mocking myself just to make it awkward on the people who said that about me, 'cause I already said it myself so there's nothing you could say. I love shit like that.
A lot of your lyrics are so personal. Does it feel weird to put it out there like that now that you've got so many fans??Sometimes. I make those songs for me. I lay down in bed before I go to sleep and think about shit that eats me up. I don't trust anybody. Even my close, close, close best friends who I would take a bullet for, there's things I don't talk to them about, so I have to make those songs just to get shit out, just to say it. Shit I don't talk about. Not having a dad. I lied to all my friends like, "Oh, my dad got work and shit." Shit like that just means shit to me, just being around like all of my friends and they got fuckin' dads and I'm looking at my mom like, "Why don't I have one?" It sucks being like 18 years old, living at my grandma's house, fucking stealing from cars and goin' to the pawn shop just to go to McDonald's and have something to eat. That shit is real. 'Cause I don't tell anyone that shit so I make those songs for myself. That people like them and relate to 'em, it's pretty cool.
And people writing "Oh Goblin, most of those songs are about how he can't handle fame and it's too much." I want you to be fucking 20 years old and wake up one day with fucking thousands of dollars in your bank account after being broke. And not being able to go skate at the fucking Supreme store you grew up at, because 40 motherfuckers wanna take pictures all of a sudden. I just woke up to this shit basically, I don't know how to handle it. So yeah I'm gonna make songs that I relate to. I can't even tweet the shit I wanna tweet anymore. I just woke up to this shit. I think about it every day.
How do you feel like you stay grounded?
I bring Lucas, we hang out at home, we skate around and shit. I watch TV, play Xbox, do shit that I did already. Fuck with people, I like fucking with people so much. I'm running a business. I'm on tour, I got a family I got to look out for. I got a fucking book coming out, I gotta work on my next album, still touring off my last album, I still have to design the next batch of merch. I just have so much and I'm 20 years old, when most people have to worry about their next term paper. It's a lot to fuckin' handle. I wrote "Tron Cat" on my birthday when I turned 19 last March. And it's just weird to know that now I can stop the end of a verse and hear the whole crowd singing it? As much as I hate performing "Yonkers," when there's kids there and I hear the whole crowd go crazy? I look at Clancy and see the smile on his face and it's the greatest feeling. 'Cause I made that beat as a joke, like shitty New York '90s something. I don't really listen to rap, I just like to rap. So people were saying OF is like the new Wu-Tang. No we're not! I don't even fucking listen to Wu-Tang. I want be compared to shit I listen to. So fuck, I'll just make a New York beat to show them. Come to find out that was the hit song so far.
It's cool that you can do this all with your friends.
I don't know how it is for Bieber. I know his bank account's good but sometimes I know he's probably like, "I don't want to go to this fucking charity event, I wanna go play Xbox. And I'm happy that I get to pick and choose what I do. Like this summer I broke my foot, so like the whole summer, I'm homesick in the middle of the fucking Czech Republic, not being able to skate or walk. So when I go home and get my cast off, two weeks before I start tour, yeah, fuck that interview, I'm gonna go to Magic Mountain and go-kart. So that's what I did that whole two, three weeks, just to get my normal childhood back. Youth is something I never wanna take for granted. I just want to smile and live life. It could be worse. A year ago, I was about to fucking end it. Luckily, Plain Pat flew me to New York, because shit got real. That was my first time out of California. I just try to smile. It could all be worse.
So, we have to ask the real shit...
Truthfully, I'm just having fun. I'm young, and when you're young you just find things that interest you. Like skateboarding, I like that shit. I read books on serial killers and rape and shit so my mind is just filled with that at the moment. I'm not a fucking serial killer. I just rap about that shit because it interests me at the moment. I'm just having fun... So if you take it seriously, you're either old as fuck, or didn't have good childhoods and take life too serious. If you have time to sit there and write articles about me and you're not doing shit... Some people just really sit there and take shit too fucking serious. You can't please everyone.
A lot of your music, especially the earlier stuff, gives off the vibe that you're really depressed.
That shit's true, I was depressed as fuck last year. And there's still shit when I'm alone in this room and I think about that just tears me the fuck up. It's just that I'm in a better mindset now. I don't sleep on the couch anymore. Most of those songs, I moved into the fucking house that I have now in May, after Goblin dropped. So that line I said on Domo's shit ["Whole City Behind Us"], like "Goblin was a disappointment / Yeah right / Shit dropped / I bought a house that night." That shit's real. I said that because I was getting so much flack because everyone had so many high expectations because of the way "Yonkers" sounded, but Goblin didn't sound like that. You have the song "Her," which I'm spilling my fucking heart out about a girl that broke my fucking heart, and it didn't have any snares, it was just some softcore porn synth shit. And then the "AU79" track, like I love jazz. People who had high expectations for "Yonkers" sounding like some old school hip-hop niggas rapping, didn't really fuck with that shit on there and was actually disappointed.
But it wasn't a disappointment for me, I put out an album I liked, I finally got my mom and my sister a fucking home, I put a lotta niggas on my team on my back. Off that album, the success that it got. I'm buying fucking expensive lotion [points to lotion] that they stopped making in 2009, and you have to get it off eBay for 40 and 50 bucks. I like the way it smells, it's like baby lotion.
Also, um, it's called Grins & Giggles
Yeah, it smells so legit. I just got another phone. My first time having a nice phone, in eight months I had three of my first nice phones so I can't fucking complain.