Tyler, The Creator says he’s ditching depressing rap. The 24-year-old LA-native stated that he plans to shift focus, he’s now “just positive”. “Being sad is not tight. I just wish people would understand that being-sad shit is not cool. It’s negative and it sucks.” He’s absolutely right. There’s no doubt that Odd Future’s music is impactful and listened to by thousands of easily-influenced minds. What kind of message would they be sending with lyrics like “Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School”? Hip hop has always been about self-expression, but does that mean an artist should always express how they feel, or might it be more beneficial to send a positive message and be a role model?
I love Tyler. I was depressed for a few years and during that time I found his music to be most relatable. Even if the Yonkers music video creeped me out–and still creeps me out–I could always count on Tyler to tell me how he’s feeling and help me understand how I’m feeling too. Goblin and Wolf are two of my favorite albums because even when I was sad, I thought “Hey, Tyler’s sad too. I’m not alone.” On top of that, my dad was always working when I was a kid, so occasionally it felt like he wasn’t there. He’s a great dad and I love him, but I felt I could use Tyler’s relationship with his father as expressed through his words to try and understand my relationship with my own. Hip hop was my escape, how I expressed myself, if only through what I was listening to at the time. Some days I’d want to wake up to “Touch The Sky” by Kanye West and feel like I was going to seize the day. Other days, you could find me on my bed, with “L.E.S” by Childish Gambino on repeat, reflecting on what was wrong with me. I think depressing music can help us internally empathize and come to terms with our struggles and shortcomings. It’s a way to realize “everyone’s struggling, and we’re all in this together.”
Tyler’s albums have always had this combination of anger and hope: an accurate representation of the human condition. It feels as if his previous albums were a mix of venting about his childhood and giving advice to those who felt as if they were stuck in the same situation. Goblin is a peek into Tyler’s mind. The combination of dark lyrics, deceivingly harmless instrumentals, and overall dark tone is a recipe for the classic Tyler sound. “Yonkers” introduces us to the duality of his conscience, between the persona of Wolf Haley and Tyler himself. “Radicals” starts off with an anarchical sound that concludes with a softer verse about letting go. Goblin is twisted, and despite this, it’s more of an outlet for people with dangerous thoughts than anything else. The relaxed beats and occasional Frank Ocean lyrical seduction make for a cathartic project, allowing listeners to let it all out by taking the words in. Tyler even goes so far as to add a disclaimer, saying, “Don’t do anything that I said I did in this song, it’s fiction” on “Radicals”. Tyler’s fully self-aware of the possible consequences of his albums getting through to certain individuals.
Wolf takes a step in a different direction. It’s still apparent that Tyler’s troubled, but rather than the angry theme of lashing out we heard on Goblin, Wolf is more somber and reflective. There are more fast-paced songs than on Goblin. “Awkward” and “Answer” stand out on the album, darker songs that peer into Tyler’s personal life. Tyler’s already received fame with Goblin at this point, and Wolf tells us how he deals with notoriety and recognition. However, it still has its outliers. “Tamale”, “Trashwang”, and “Rusty”, still lined with the lyrics from the Tyler we’ve come to expect, have choruses, features, and beats that seem more like mainstream hip-hop. “Trashwang” specifically has more of a trap style, it’s a song that could have been from any number of different artists.
Tyler’s two previous albums send a message of individualism and catharsis. They’re a way to let go and start fresh, to empathize with Tyler and the rest of Odd Future. But they could have also been received by someone who didn’t really get the point, who’s now more motivated than ever to harm. Beyond his own personal life changes, this could be a potential catalyst for the shift in Tyler’s music.
But what does this mean for Tyler’s projects from this point onwards? His latest album, Cherry Bomb, wasn’t as well received as Goblin or Wolf, something that Tyler attributes to a lack of connection from the words to his mind: “I feel like a lot of people wasn’t really fucking with it, saying it wasn’t personal.” However, he goes on to dispel that sentiment, “But this album is really personal. It’s just that I’m not doing it in a dark, depressing, ‘I want to kill myself’ way anymore.” I personally enjoyed Cherry Bomb, possibly because I worked through my own depression around the same time the album came out, so the timing was ideal for the circumstances. I think Tyler’s work is a prime example of how we can follow and relate to an artist’s psychological journey through his or her music, and even if it doesn’t feel like it’s how they truly feel, we have to trust that the artist is giving us the music we’re meant to hear.
Music is incredibly influential on people’s lives. I don’t think artists should sacrifice their creative vision for a little controversy. We need to understand that lyrics have a powerful impact on society, and be watchful of what kind of lyrics are being put out (See Alex’s post on Action Bronson at NXNE), but we need to let the artist show us how he or she is feeling, not expect the artist to make music for how we’re feeling. Odds are any song in the industry has someone that can relate to it, and hopefully grow as a result. If hip hop lyrics were entirely “Eat your vegetables and give to charity”, we wouldn’t have some of the best music that’s ever been put out, and I wouldn’t want to live in a world where we can’t embrace a change in an artist’s mindset.