Tyler, the Creator‘s Sunday night set at the Sloss Music & Arts Festival in Birmingham, Alabama, was particularly special for me, a fan of the rapper and his collective Odd Future who hasn’t had the chance to see either live.
I—like many people my age—discovered Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (or OFWGKTA, for short) when a then 19-year-old Tyler Okanma, better known as Tyler, the Creator, released the single “Yonkers” in February 2011. It’s brooding with lo-fi production, clever wordplay involving Stevie Wonder as wide receiver and violent lyrics about stabbing Bruno Mars in his esophagus. “Yonkers'” blend of silliness, angst and aggression was just what a generation of teenage guys on the Internet wanted. From there, Tyler appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, won “Best New Artist” at the MTV Video Music Awards and released the much-hyped, but slightly disappointing album Goblin.
But even when the hyped died down, many fans still loved Odd Future. Their catalog of free releases, including Frank Ocean’s nostalgia, ULTRA. and Earl Sweatshirt’s Earl, infamous video interviews, their TV show Loiter Squad that airs on Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” program block and a massive online following kept their presence felt throughout the next few years.
Now it’s 2015, the collective has disbanded for the time being, and fans—as well as Odd Future themselves— have grown out of most of the shock-rap antics that once made the group appealing. Furthermore, the collective has lost a lot of their prominence in the constant musical conversation that is the Internet. They’ve virtually been forgotten or stored away in mental compartments of fans like myself, who treat OF’s material in an almost nostalgic manner. I know it may seem odd to treat a group that rose to prominence in 2011 as relic of the past, but in the Internet age, interest comes quickly and wanes just as fast. Pair that sentiment with life changes such as going off to college and preparing for life out in the “real world,” interest for a group that I genuinely loved has just faded out of my everyday conscientiousness.
I hadn’t even bothered to hear Tyler’s new album Cherry Bomb until a few days prior to Sloss, but as I crowded into the festival’s Shed Stage area my feelings for Tyler, his music and what Odd Future was all about came back to me.
Even though I had been a fan of the group for years, this was my first time seeing one of the core members live. You see, the group seemed to avoid the south like the plague. This was the first time Tyler had played Birmingham, and his Memphis performance the Friday beforehand marked his first appearance in Tennessee. I have no idea why the group as a whole never played Birmingham, Memphis, Nashville, etc. while they were at their peak, but regardless, this performance was long overdue.
Tyler (backed by OF members Taco and Jasper as his DJ and hype man, respectively) came out swinging with “DEATHCAMP,” the first track on Cherry Bomb. Even though the song isn’t a staple of his repertoire yet, the song’s aggression and energy hit the crowd like a wave. Tyler and his fans may have grown up, but the raw intensity that went into Odd Future’s live shows still holds strong. Tracks like “Domo 23,” “Tamale”and “Tron Cat” elicited the biggest reactions of the night and brought me back into the “Kill People, Burn S—, F— School” mindset that Tyler fostered on his debut album Bastard.
Between songs, Tyler and company talked with the crowd a lot. Whether they were joking about Birmingham being way more “diverse” than he expected, criticizing fans’ totems or mocking a male crowd member who allegedly asked if he could perform oral sex on the rapper, Tyler was just as his public persona had suggested: a goofy, talented, politically-incorrect young guy who you would love to hang out with after the show.
Aside from the louder, straightforward rap cuts and humor, the night’s set list included some of Tyler’s more melodic numbers, including, “IFHY,” “F—ing Young,” and the Frank Ocean collaborations “She” and “Bimmer.” These moments were welcomed additions to the set, as they added variety to the show and allowed the rapper/producer to show the brighter side of his catalog.
While Tyler failed to disappoint in all the aforementioned parts of the show, the only letdown of the night was when he delivered “Yonkers.” He seemed visually uninspired in both his stage presence and delivery. It appears he isn’t too fond of the song that launched his rise to fame, which should probably be expected. Personally, I wish he would have spent time playing a song he enjoyed performing instead, but I know many of Sloss attendees would disagree. Despite Tyler’s lack of enthusiasm, they rapped along to every verse without hesitation.
In all, watching Tyler, the Creator perform was all that I hoped it would be. It really brought out the teenage kid in me that spent countless hours of his high school years listening to Odd Future, watching the group’s music videos and laughing along to every Tweet and Vine he would post. While I’d go see Tyler again tomorrow if he came into town, it really is a shame that I didn’t have this experience when I was a teenager.
Regardless, come back down South soon, Tyler, and thanks for the music.
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