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 Ben Pratt

Tyler, The Creator – The Devil in a White Tee

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If you aren’t as up to speed as most of the music world, hipsters worldwide, underground rap crews and everyone with a Tumblr and Twitter account and don’t know everything about Tyler then I ain’t gonna waste my precious time tellin’ ya. What are you waiting for? Get on the net right now and do some research, man. Chances are that even though we live in a world where we have the potential to access unimaginable amounts of information simply by the click of a mouse, you are exactly like me – too busy doing something else or busy wasting your life away on Facebook to check out this guy’s Wiki page. Why go and try to find some information on the Internet when it’s some critic’s job to tell you? Well, Tyler doesn’t agree (most probably why he has such a dominant and cult-like online presence on his Twitter and Tumblr account), ‘Goblin’ is the perfect introduction into the life of Tyler, no prior knowledge necessary. It isn’t something you will find on his Wikipedia page or something you will read on a MySpace biography but it encapsulates everything that Tyler is about (expressed through his alter ego on the record, Wolf Hayley.) It’s an open journal account of what he feels and what he thinks. It’s intimate and personal and a dark look into the life and troubles that (if legitimate; some people, including me, still are trying to figure out whether this guy is for real or just running amok, acting a fool) show all the signs of a troubled and plagued youth. It makes you feel uncomfortable. Only one minute in and you are already questioning whether the purchase of this album was a good idea. I just wanted to listen to some hip-hop, not be confronted with a self-destructive third-person narrative that exposes feelings from dealing with pressure of his ‘overnight’ success, his public rise and how to follow-up his previous release.

I’m not a fucking role model, I’m a 19 year old fucking emotional coaster with pipe dreams/Since Kanye tweeted telling people he’s bumping all of my shit, these mothafuckas think I’m supposed to live up to something? Shit/ I’m still jacking off and proceeding my life careless, but getting more pussy cause I tell bitches I’m Wood Harris/LA to Paris, I’m getting these weird stares/At skate parks and airports all in the air, it’s weird/’Yonkers’ dropped and left them craniums mind-fucked/Now competition missing like that nigga my Mom fucked/He still hasn’t called me yet/But that’s a whole fucking different argument, shit I got over it/And a couple bucks in my pockets, so now I could go buy a couple hot pockets and grandmom could stop cooking them nasty ass collard greens, pressures on me like this top hat Bastard intro, how the fuck I’m gonna top that?

It makes me feel like I am actually laying on the doc’s couch next to Tyler as the simple beat runs through my headphones into the deep intricacies of my mind, essentially taking me out of mind. And whether you appreciate the music or not, is this not the aim of a musician or artist, or writer? To take the listener away from reality, even for that half-hour or hour period. That time when the listener can forget about their problems, their worries, their life for that short period of time. Nowhere in the rule book of music does it say anything about making people feel comfortable or that it has to be an easy listen, and that is something that Tyler has chosen to do, make this experience as upfront and uncomfortable for you as it is for him. You are taking this trip with him, and you better be ready. The best way to describe Tyler’s mindset (and somewhat of a present theme) throughout the album would be in the words of Tyler himself in ‘Goblin’, “Nigga fuck a mindset, my brain is an obscenity/I’m fucked in the head/ I lost my mind with my virginity”. To put it simply, it’s a hard listen and will shake you up. There is no better introduction to this album, it opens up a can of worms that are explored in dark and honest detail throughout the rest of the record.

Immediately following ‘Goblin’ is the internet sensation, ‘Yonkers’ that sky-rocketed Tyler and OFWGKTA from local skate crew to an international modern-day cult following, resembling infamous crews before them, Wu Tang Clan and Public Enemy, and saw the group gain the attention of respected leaders in the hip-hop community, Jay-Z, Kanye West and P. Diddy. With lyrics like “I’ll stab Bruno Mars in his god-damn oesophagus/and won’t stop until the cops come in” and “I’m stabbin’ any bloggin’ faggot hipster with a Pitchfork”, it’s quite evident why this song has become acclaimed and, in my opinion, is where the shock value of Tyler’s work is at its most accessible. Though it’s this shock value that may prove to be the downfall of something that holds the potential to change the way mainstream hip-hop and rap is heading. By no means am I doubting that what Tyler feels, what he expresses, hell, what is pretty much the foundation for this entire record is actually real or not. It obviously is. Just the extent he tends to converse about in his lyrics and songs seems larger than life, exploited and exaggerated. Something I’m just gonna put down to the kid’s age and immaturity. He needs to understand that he isn’t special because he has father issues or he can’t deal with his perceived public perception. Everyone deals with shit, and in tracks such as ‘Her’ and ‘She’, Tyler is walking that thin line between depressing, tormented art, and sad, lame, sex hungry teenager, often straying too far to the latter, visible with his lyrics, “I’ll be the happiest if you decide to kick it tonight/We can chill and I can act like I don’t wanna fuck/You can tell me all your problems like I really give one/But I give two for us cause you’re the one that I want”.  Tyler’s just gotta realise that he is in fact special and different because of the way he can express his hurt, his feelings and his obviously tormented thoughts of suicide and life into such honest and unmerciful dark poetry, rhythm and beat. Not because he’s the only one in the world with Daddy problems.

On the third track, Tyler is joined by fellow Odd Future member Hodgy Beats for what is perhaps the most violent and passionate song on the record, ‘Radicals’. The track starts with Tyler’s deep, dark, African-American voice booming, “Hey, don’t do anything that I say in this song, OK? It’s fucking fiction. If anything happens, don’t fucking blame me… White America. Fuck Bill O’Reilly. Four, three, two, one…” over an empty track. It feels dead. There is a slight echo and it’s like Tyler is talking to you in an empty room. You are sitting there, tied to a chair with your mouth covered in duct tape as Tyler’s voice echoes in your mind, “Kill people. Burn shit. Fuck school. Kill people. Burn Shit. Fuck school” over the simple eerie beats that were provided by Tyler himself. The lyrics are delivered with such a passion and resounding emotion and heart. At the 4:18 mark of the 7:19 marathon Tyler gets more intimate and shows that under all of the hurt (whether it be an act or not), this kid from West Coast actually has some principles and genuinely believes in himself as an artist, “Do what the fuck you want, stand for what the fuck you believe in and don’t let nobody tell you that you can’t do whatever the fuck you want”. They are words that every parent tells their teenage kid, yet for some reason the kids just wont listen unless some kid in a floral shirt and a pair of Nikes raps about it. At least Tyler is doing something to revive our delinquent youth into some sort of action … right?

‘Radicals’ is followed by ‘Tron Cat’, ‘Transylvania’ and ‘Sandwitches’ (which features what is perhaps the most exciting cameo on the record from fellow OFWGKTA member, the 17-year-old Earl Sweatshirt). All the tracks fit nicely into the arrangement of the album but don’t really add anything except for a welcome change of sound and pace. Without giving too much more away, not all the songs are totally serious or as to the point. Like the aforementioned ‘She’ and ‘Her’, Goblin does have a softer side, although not nearly evident or presented as often as I would have liked to have any real impact. In these tracks, as well as ‘Radicals’, the mood is lightened for a short period of time as Tyler collaborates with his friends and fellow OFWGKTA members. The sense of loss of direction and confusion to Tyler seems to be an easier subject to deal with once he is around his own kind.

Goblin concludes with the eerie-feeling ‘Golden’. To describe the sound of the song would be an incredibly tough ask, it comprises of a slow drum beat, with static and brass played over it, but in a slow haunting way. Think as far opposite as big band as you can. It’s the kind of beat that makes young women scared to walk home late at night because you’re frightened of that guy following you, and the more scared you become the louder and louder the echo of the footsteps become. Fuck, if I walked home at midnight listening to ‘Golden’ I would think Tyler was the dude following closely behind me, but not close enough for me to see his beaming eyes in the middle of the night. Just following and waiting. Waiting for me to get home so he can finally pull a knife on me and rape me like I’m the corporate White America he raps about and constantly degrades in his music. In its purest sense, the track is heavy, deep and intense. Make sure you have the lights switched on.

As the song and the album come to a close, Tyler speaks deeper about how the OFWGKTA experience has effected his personal relationships, especially with close friend, Earl Sweatshirt, confessing,“I’m putting myself at a distance/For instance, my best friend is now my fucking assistant/Niggas saying Free Earl without even knowing him/See they’re missing a new album, I’m missing my only friend”. Tyler is heard shouting and screaming in his own guilt as he inexplicably kills his friends before shouting, “I’m not even human/I’m a body shaped demon” and suffering a total emotional breakdown. And thus, the persona of Tyler, The Creator is revealed for all to see. A Tyler that is confused, a Tyler that is hurt, a Tyler that just hasn’t quite come to grips with life and while trying so desperately to figure it all out, like the rest of us, he gets tired, stressed, angry, cynical and just ends up telling it to fuck itself. The only difference is Tyler has a platform to turn his feelings into a voice. Sometimes it may not be the most elegant shit you’ve ever heard, or the most beautiful and heartfelt poetry, but it’s real, and you got to appreciate that. To take everything Tyler rhymes about literally would be downright dumb, even if the whole thing is an act you can’t help but respect the vision this kid is showing.

(continues overleaf)

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8 Responses to Tyler, The Creator – The Devil in a White Tee

  1. Everett True September 15, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    After reading Ben’s words on this album, I decided to give it another listen.

    Two thoughts immediately spring to mind.
    1. that stuff whining about how yr daddy didn’t love you gets awful tired awful fast

    and

    2. I can’t help but be reminded of Frank Sidebottom’s seminal 13:9:88 album.

  2. Darragh September 15, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Christianity is with you Ben!

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Christians-Against-Odd-Future/129827817095766

  3. Erika September 15, 2011 at 11:27 pm

    He’s not *even* the devil.

    Would the devil be so mundane as to tweet every time he takes a shit? A fart, even.

    Tyler: Oh I just farted!
    Hipsters: Oh how profound!

    The dude is 20 years old. TWENTY FUCKING YEARS OLD. The only people he should be impressing should be kids 5 years younger than him… and the people who’s pockets he’s lining. The money guys might be the devil, but Tyler’s not the devil. At best, he’s devil’s kibble. Devil’s gravy train.

    This is all so obviously a put-on act pushing all the right buttons paired w/ branding and internet marketing strategy. WTF? I never thought the revolution would be so transparent and boring.

    Nice work, Satan.

  4. Joseph Kyle September 15, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    No one forces an artist to do that. So he’s the Devil’s intern, a willing participant.

  5. Erika September 16, 2011 at 12:02 am

    No one forces an artist to do what? Tweet about his farts?

  6. Joseph Kyle September 16, 2011 at 12:57 am

    To sign with the devil…

  7. Erika September 16, 2011 at 4:42 am

    I don’t feel sorry for Tyler or anything. I don’t feel afraid of him, because he’s fronting and real evil tends to hide. Nor do I feel inclined to sit in judgement of any artist who was poor and hungry this time last year and has managed to turn it all around. That would be stupid. His story is the American dream and this is what inspires other hurt and hungry youngsters — the subtext maybe they too can have this kind of “success story.” But it’s all a lie, really. The one in a million shot. And now you’re rich. Now what? He says he’ll probably be into heroin at age 24 and dead by 40. This “news” is reported on a zillion websites. “Oh the shock! Oh the horror!” Maybe he’s feeling upstaged by this whole _Nevermind_ anniversary. I think he says and does some insightful things that people don’t get, then he goes out of his way to shock people. They lap it up, or they get furious… why should he use heroin? He _is_ heroin.

  8. Tamsin Chapman September 16, 2011 at 5:34 am

    “now I’m hanging out with my homeboys at Tyler’s underground rap battles, seducing drunk white chicks in abandoned warehouse car-parks”.

    Sounds like we need some evolution before we can have any kind of revolution.

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