On February 14, 2011, Tyler Okonma, more notably known as Tyler, the Creator, released the infamous single “Yonkers” from his debut studio album, “Goblin,” starting an internet wildfire with a dual reception of applaud and disgust.
The music video accompanying the single featured a brooding Okonma playfully rapping to a cockroach before he unexpectedly eats it. The lyrical content of “Yonkers” is equally obscene, with Okonma abrasively declaring his intent to stab “any blogging f***** with a Pitchfork.”
Okonma’s early discography left the music industry shocked and polarized. He was praised for his DIY, abstract approach to indie hip-hop as much as he was denounced for his inflammatory and harmful rhetoric. His music often embraced hate speech and grotesque fictionalizations of rape and murder with the finesse of a seventh grader.
While his youthful audience was enamored with this bold, anti-PC messaging, many within music journalism rightfully highlighted his incendiary attitude as a problem. The more sensible journalists were quick to realize that such troublesome content is likely reflective of a troubled, immature boy.
Other critics were staunch in their opposition to Okonma’s work, such as Sara of Tegan and Sara. Okonma’s response to this particular piece of criticism exemplified their point, and brings forth an essential sentiment to note: the normalization of homophobic language is markedly not OK.
However, eight years later, Tyler Okonma is playing a pivotal role in the growing acceptance of queerness in a shifting hip-hop culture that has historically been a cesspool of homophobia. Okonma himself contributed to that side of the culture, but the mistakes of the past have paved the way for a new, emotionally vulnerable and sexually open Tyler, the Creator to shine.
With “IGOR,” his latest full-length project, Okonma embraces his queer nature through a new and exciting persona. Promotional material for this unique and fresh breakup album introduced the androgynous, titular character garbed in pastel suits, a blond, bowl-cut wig, and pitch-black, oblique shades.
The album is a glitzy, rhythmic, and fringe journey with Igor through the life span of their romantic relationship. They are engaged in a variety of dispositions: swooning over their “favorite garçon,” basking in envy over a girl they see as competition, and lamenting the relationship’s inevitable end.
It’s important to note that while Igor is certainly a character, they still hold indisputable merit as a reflection of Okonma’s homosexuality.
“Flower Boy,” Okonma’s previous full-length project released in 2017, was the first instance of same-sex, romantic expression in his music. As he puts it rather bluntly on the track “I Ain’t Got Time” from that album: “I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004.”
Following these revelations of Okonma’s sexuality, the media was in awe of this unexpected honesty, with many highlighting just how contrary it was to the lyrical content of “Goblin” and other previous releases. Some outlets took it as far as to say that Okonma was merely putting on another facade, blatantly lying about his newfound homosexuality to create another ruse.
At this point, I’m going to assert that Tyler Okonma’s confessions of same-sex love are, and have always been, legitimate.
“Flower Boy” made it rather plain to see that there is no more curtain to hide behind.
“IGOR” reinforces this sentiment, and takes it a step further by using his eccentricity to create a sexually ambiguous character with an immersive, and relatable story to tell.
An individual with their sexuality stuffed into a closet is deeply susceptible to anger, depression, confusion, denial, and hatred. Perhaps the Tyler Okonma who saw himself as a goblin was suffocating under the pressure to conceal his real sexual identity, with crass and hateful messaging serving as a defense mechanism.
This might be leaning toward deeper interpretation, but from this I can certainly draw parallels to my own experiences of harmfully denying, but eventually embracing my queer identity.
Whether he intended it or not, Tyler, the Creator has lived and portrayed a story arc that resonates with many. His transformation into a queer icon is a point of inspiration: despite how scared, self-destructive, or divisive someone has been in their past, the manifestation of self-love and honest expression is always within reach.