Artist // Instagram
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.
Tyler, the Creator robbed a lot of people of the devilish grin that SpongeBob had on his face when he found out that Squidward did, indeed, like Krabby Patties. He has had one of rap's weirdest, and angriest, sagas; one dominated by a near endless crusade against homosexuality. How he's injected it into his brand and how he's considerably switched ship as his career goes onward have been integral in the narrative he currently spins, whether purposeful or not. As we learn more about Tyler, and the breadcrumbs that he leaves for curious minds to inquire about his personal life, his determination to remain ambiguous when discussing his sexual preference indicates that rap is still extremely far from maturity in manners of personal preference. That his sexuality remains an important interview topic nearly a decade into his career means that both Tyler, and hip-hop, still have a long way to go.
The pages of Tyler's book have been given to the public in encrypted form, with the latest coming from his new cover story for the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of Fantastic Man, where he addressed his cryptic sexual orientation stance. "It's still such a grey area with people, which is cool with me," he revealed. "Even though I'm considered loud and out there, I'm private, which is a weird dichotomy. The juxtaposition of loud and quiet is weird." When asked about why he decided to even speak about his sexuality on Flower Boy, his answer was even more befuddling. "It's a literal question and the thing about humans is we hate not having an answer," he explained. "We hate not being in-the-know. So, people will bullshit answers, make shit up, instead of being just, like – I don't know. There are some things that are just unexplainable." He later refused to specify if he'd ever been in love or not, even though he'd previously talked about beautiful guys that he came across during his summer in Paris.
Years ago, Tyler was a different person. An internet detective unearthed an old email from him seeking musical validation in 2008. This was before he ate cockroaches or made music about dismembering women after sex. He just wanted for his music to be heard, describing it as "crazy piano chords over fuck you lyrics." The next year, his new collective, Odd Future, released their first project, The Odd Future Tape. They welcomed themselves into the rap scene as an eclectic traveling camp of assholes, speaking in violent, idiotic tongues. Fans of horrorcore rap eagerly compared them to early-2000's Eminem, largely because of their audacity to say some of the wildest shit without a care in the world.
Tyler released his first solo mixtape Bastard in 2009 in full nihilistic splendor. As captivating as the grandeur yet claustrophobic production was, Tyler's lyrics were troubling. Every song focused on a cavalcade of sexual morbidity. The dreaded "f" word found its way into his intense lyricism, making clear his disdain for homosexual men. He revealed that his use of the epithet wasn't out of hate. "I just say 'faggot' and use 'gay' as an adjective to describe stupid shit," he said in an interview with The Guardian. His first album, Goblin, doubled down on its homophobic tendencies. By the end of the album, it was clear that something was amiss. Was he just being violently graphic to garner attention, or did he really have a problem with the gay community?
When Frank Ocean revealed that he was bisexual, Tyler was the first to openly embrace him. It struck some people as odd, that he'd scorn the gay community yet embrace someone close to him. For others, it was a sign of a fraternal bond that blossomed over years of friendship, not to be tested by supposedly different sexual preferences. In retrospect, it looks like Tyler's beaming support was because the admired his friend's confidence.
Odd Future made a slow, subtle shift from anarchists to rap outliers. Tyler cleaned up his homophobic act over the course of three more albums that pushed his sound away from bubbly anarchy to svelte ambience. His career may have started as a violent campaign against anything morally upstanding, but now he's become the weird older brother with a few secrets. One thing that, until he began writing bars about it, had never been questioned, was his own sexuality. Contrary to many of his rapper compadres, Tyler has never been enraptured in any dating rumors or paternal lawsuits. Subtle erotic bars aimed at men crept into his music as he blossomed into one of rap's most respected new-age musicians. In 2015, he outright tweeted that he "tried to come out of the damn closet" and no one noticed. On "Garden Shed" from his 2017 album Flower Boy, Tyler again stirred the contemplation of his sexuality, using Frank's experience to talk about his: "Thought it was a phase / Thought it would be like the Frank / poof, gone / But it's still going on."
His latest interview continues parading his sexuality as a talking point and acts as another integral piece of the confusing narrative that he has spun. One of the most likely theories, that his music and interviews seem to support, is that he's gay, but hesitant to publicly reveal. The world's embrace is one thing, the notoriously homophobic nature of hip-hop is another. Rising rapper Plane Jaymes worked with Yo Gotti until he was reportedly shunned once Gotti found out that Jaymes was homosexual. iLoveMakonnen came out of the closet in January of 2017 and, aside from revealing his orchestration of the Lil Peep and XXXTentacion collaboration "Falling Down," his quietness seems to extend from a culture that doesn't fully understand how to embrace him. Wishing to avoid being cast aside in similar spectacle, Tyler could be toying with his sexuality until he decides that he wants to make the bold and necessary leap.
To be clear, the cover story itself is amazing. It covers a wide range of information that helps to go inside of Tyler's complex mind. The fact that the question of his sexuality is one of the only things that websites are discussing about the article showcases exactly why Tyler hasn't, and probably shouldn't, give a straight answer. Rap's understanding of sexuality is very frigid. Anything other than heterosexual is read as homosexual, which is then received as wrong. Within a genre that punishes men's homosexuality, change has to start from the ground up.
At a certain point, Tyler should own up to whichever way that he swings. He'd be falling on a sword partly of his own creation. But it would also enable others in similar situations to come out as themselves and refrain from living a charade. Plane Jaymes kept his secret for so long because he knew that he wouldn't be embraced by the community. If someone of Tyler's caliber would open himself up, especially with such an understanding and open fanbase, it would go a long way in changing hip-hop's perception in ways that iLoveMakonnen couldn't. If he is heterosexual, then speaking about hip-hop culture's obsession with his sexuality would also spark change. He continuously throws bones to the public about his sexuality, then wonders why media picks them up. It doesn't read as being playful, but instead it reeks of hesitation. What will it take for Tyler to make a stand?
As it stands, rap's been around for nearly half a decade, and gay culture lacks the necessary representation to showcase the genre's maturity. Artists often use the possibility of another rapper being gay as a threat to their careers. In this kind of environment, homophobia thrives and multiplies. As the culture changes, the mystery of a rapper's sexuality is transfixing. But it's still not enough for a rapper to openly claim it—as is evident in artists' fall-off once they come out. For now, Tyler can only flirt with the possibilities that he creates with his performance. It makes for interesting music that creates speculation without admitting to anything concrete. There's no telling what's in the future for Tyler, but one thing's sure: both Tyler, and hip-hop, need to change. There's more at stake than one man's continuing mystery regarding his sexuality; the future of the culture itself is, as well.
More by Trey Alston: