The prospect of Tyler, The Creator’s just-announced new album leaking a couple of weeks ahead of schedule was exciting enough for the precocious rapper’s die-hard fanbase, but with said leak came news that is nothing short of earth-shattering. It appears, at least in the court of virtual public opinion, that Scum Fuck Flower Boy (also known simply as Flower Boy) is far more than the Odd Future ringleader’s fifth full-length; it is also Tyler’s coming-out, set to music.
Exhaustive analyses have already begun spooling out on Genius and in the bowels of Reddit’s hip-hop forums parsing out every individual lyric in support of this thesis. And to their credit, Tyler’s latest lyrical offerings do indeed seem to point toward an acknowledgement of his sexual preferences that would have been veiled behind the layers of a cynical facade in his previous work. The crux of this argument stems from the song “Garden Shed,” which contains such choice nuggets as “Garden shed for the garcons / Them feelings I was guarding” in addition to a nod to Frank Ocean, his fellow OFWGKTA comrade who went through a very similar public coming-out.
But as juicy as this narrative may be for the pop culture blogosphere, lest we forget, this is Tyler, The Creator we are dealing with. This is a man who puts a capital T in Trolling, a man who created three seasons of a Jackass-esque sketch comedy show for Adult Swim and a man who has made it abundantly clear in his lyrical content that his words should not be taken at face value. And yet we have found ourselves in a particular situation that warrants treating Tyler’s journey with the utmost seriousness.
We are not here to hunt for evidence proving Tyler is this sexuality or that sexuality nor are we here to give him a label; we are here to discuss a very serious implication that his situation addresses. If Tyler, The Creator is well and truly coming out of the closet, it would make him among the most problematic, controversial and downright subversive figures in queer culture today.
For starters, Tyler’s language towards and about the LGBT community has been conflicted at best, shockingly violent at worst. His debut mixtape Bastard featured such colorfully worded bars as “I change my outfit more than transexuals change gender” on “Odd Toddlers,” “Gucci belts is for them faggots” on “Session” and “Go ahead admit it faggot, this shit is tighter than butt rape” on “French.” Even for a mixtape dominated by the themes of rape fantasy and cocaine use, his flagrant disregard for anything outside his aggressively straight persona was nauseating.
Tyler quickly established himself as one of rap’s most unique voices with such purposefully despicable lyrics, the slur ‘faggot’ or ‘fag’ alone counting for a sizeable fraction of his vocabulary (it was said a total of 213 times on his first album proper Goblin, which is an average of 14.2 utterances per song). But he has continually insisted that this is nothing more than his artistic license and does not represent his personal views, just as his shocking tales of rape and murder in his music was nothing more than deranged fantasy.
Needless to say, slandering an entire community isn’t written off so easily, and Tyler’s career has been one marked by numerous instances where either he and/or his public had to reckon with his personas as both a violent lunatic and a cheerful apologist. It has produced some strange moments; such as being banned from both the United Kingdom and New Zealand for his misogynist lyrics within months of producing his label Golf Wang’s first Pride clothing collection. Being a Tyler fan (and a queer one at that) means listening to him want to “crash that fuckin’ airplane that that faggot n*gga B.o.B. is in” while also hearing him shower love unto his “gay fans.”
And yet for all of the utterly horrid epithets Tyler hurls, he has continually managed to show support for a community he simultaneously belittles. The aforementioned Pride collection is one example, albeit it being largely interpreted as a ham-fisted form of appeasing his more vocal critics. But it’s a sentiment that inevitably bled into his personal life. In an interview with Larry King, notably held after friend Frank Ocean’s coming-out, he wishfully yearns for a day in which an out gay rapper could hold sway over the mainstream. “Why does that shit matter?” he pointedly responds, “Why do we care?”
And then things began to escalate. Lyrics that were pointed critiques of ‘fags’ began to be employed on a more personal scale. His notoriously absurd stream-of-consciousness Twitter account began to feed out messages such as this:
And now we have arrived at our current position, one where a suggestively-titled album called Flower Boy implies an honest, open admission of a sexuality heretofore treated as a joke in his artistic oeuvre. There is a very real chance that this could all be some ploy or gimmick with an aftertaste of severe queer-baiting, which if so, would render Tyler’s levels of good taste and human decency at an all-time low. But for his sake, we must take this confessional as it stands.
As it stands, we now have a leading figure in pop culture questioning his heterosexuality in a community that has made it infamously difficult (nigh, impossible) to do so while retaining any amount of respect and credibility. This is no small feat; any celebrity going public with such a decision is an enormous undertaking, but the consequences of this choice in the world of hip-hop are increased tenfold. Tyler’s entire fanbase and persona are built from a place of wilful misunderstanding of the queer community, and attempting to bridge such opposing viewpoints is a commendably brave endeavor.
On the other hand, what kind of message does that send to our questioning, queer youth that a role model can emerge from a man who will trash, tarnish and humiliate theirs and other oppressed communities in service of a joke? Should we consider it a victory to uphold someone who has done active damage to women and queerfolk alike if they eventually see the error of their ways?
There are no easy answers here. Nor will there ever be. Tyler, The Creator is among our generation’s most overtly controversial and frustratingly obtuse artists of any medium. Determining his motivations is a fruitless enterprise, a course of action that will only lead to endless pontificating. We can only assuredly treat this as well as we can treat his music: that it is something worthy of both praise and staunch critique in equal amounts.
For more of our opinion pieces, see our thoughts on Bruno Mars’ cultural appropriation accusations right here.
- Cover Image: Julian Berman/instagram