Last night at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, Tyler, the Creator, the 20-year-old member of the nihilistic underground rap collective Odd Future, beat out indie pop newbies (Foster the People) and overhyped music industry creations (Kreayshawn) to be named Best New Artist.
Odd Future, who have been releasing mixtapes since 2008, enjoyed a burst of success in the past year due mainly to Tyler’s disturbing video for his song “Yonkers.” You can find the video below. If you watch it, I hope you’re okay with swear words and giant cockroaches.
Here’s the thing with Tyler, the Creator—and, more generally, with Odd Future. He does not make easy music. He will not comfort you. He will not make you want to dance. He will not make you want to party. Tyler raps slowly, which mean that his violent, misanthropic lyrics are easily discernable and thus more shocking. (In “Yonkers,” he threatens to stab Bruno Mars in his esophagus and in “Sandwitches,” he urges children from broken homes to “buy guns and kill those kids with dads and mom.”). This is violent, raw music that can’t be played on the radio. Many of Tyler’s songs don’t even have a hook. Whether you like it or buy it or hate it or deride it is up to you.
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But Tyler is so young—in fact, several Odd Future members are still teenagers—that sometimes it’s hard to reconcile his baby face and awkward demeanor with the words that come out of his mouth. Last night, he showed up to the VMAs in a tie dyed t-shirt with a picture of a cat on it and complained to the pre-show host that people weren’t tweeting about him enough. He was goofy and smiley and during the actual ceremony his supposedly hateful Odd Future cohorts—the very same people whom guitarist and music producer Steve Albini recently took to task for being outrageous a–holes on an airport shuttle—joke-rapped with Will Ferrell and Seth Rogen. In his acceptance speech, Tyler seemed genuinely flattered and honored to receive his award. “I’ve wanted this since I was nine,” he said.
Even with his Best New Artist win, Tyler, the Creator probably won’t become a household name any time soon. Even MTV isn’t sure what to do with him. After Tyler’s pre-show popularity plea, his name started trending on Twitter. MTV host Jim Cantiello halfheartedly congratulated him for getting people to talk about him. “I can’t wait to hear your homophobic rap about that later,” he said.