Tyler, the Creator’s Dirty Dozen Moments

From the March 7, 2013 edition

Believe it or not, Tyler, the Creator first blipped onto the pop culture radar more than three years ago with the release of his first solo album, Bastard. Like most glimpses into the past, that seems like ages ago, but also impossibly recent. Has he really been around three years already? And why does that seem so much longer in internet years?

To be fair, it’s been more like two years since Odd Future mania swept through the internet and teenage rapper/producer/ringleader Tyler Okonma became the kind of guy you have to have an opinion about. Even in our viral society, that kind of hype storm takes time to whip up.

Those clouds have mostly cleared now. The novelty of Odd Future’s internet-bred grassroots stardom has worn off, as has the shock value of the crew’s audacious immaturity and its punk-rock approach to hip-hop. Yet Tyler remains a polarizing figure at age 22, and Wolf, his forthcoming third LP, is among the most anticipated albums of the spring.

Tyler will launch his tour supporting Wolf at the Newport this Tuesday, exactly six months after Odd Future made its Columbus debut at the same venue. To get prepped, here’s a rundown of 12 pivotal moments in his career so far.

Dec. 25, 2009: Bastard released to Tumblr

Tyler’s first album caught on gradually. First, Odd Future’s insular enclave of online followers gobbled it up. Little by little, it caught the attention of publications like Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, particularly the eerie, piano-led title track: “This is what the devil plays before he goes to sleep.”

July 26, 2010: “EARL” video posted to YouTube

Technically, “EARL” was Earl Sweatshirt’s moment to shine; it was the last sign of the youthful rap phenom before his mom shipped him off to Samoa for more than a year, spawning countless “Free Earl!” chants. But the video, which featured Earl, Tyler and the rest of Odd Future downing a blended drug cocktail among other imagery, played a huge part in raising the group’s profile.

Nov. 8, 2010: Odd Future plays first New York show

By the time Odd Future hit Webster hall in late 2010, the group was a budding media sensation. As a review from The Fader points out, seemingly the entire New York music press and every hip record label was in attendance.

Feb. 10, 2011: “Yonkers” video posted to YouTube

Tyler’s self-directed video for “Yonkers,” the lead single from his second album, Goblin, remains the most iconic imagery in the Odd Future canon. Stark black and white footage shows the rapper swallowing a roach, his eyes black and glassy, before taking off his shirt and hanging himself. It’s pure Eminem-style trolling, and it’s glorious to see.

Feb. 16, 2011: Tyler and Hodgy blow minds on “Fallon”

If the “Yonkers” video turned heads, Tyler’s appearance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” blew them off. Backed by The Roots, Tyler and Odd Future associate Hodgy Beats tore through “Sandwitches” in what must have been the most furious performance in late night TV history.

Feb. 25, 2011: Tyler meets Justin Bieber

Tyler makes no secret of his musical preferences. One of the more surprising aspects of his taste is a fixation with Justin Bieber. Proving that every little boy’s dreams could someday come true, the gruff, goofy rapper tweeted a photo of himself hanging out with the Biebs in a recording studio. (He’s since recorded with Miley Cyrus too.)

March 11, 2011: Billboard puts Odd Future on the cover

Influential rap journalist Andrew Nosnitsky’s Billboard cover story speculated about whether Tyler and his friends represented the “odd future” of the music industry.

March 16-19, 2011: Odd Future rules SXSW 2011

The entire music press got their taste of Odd Future when the group rained terror on Austin’s annual industry sprawl. The group did not disappoint its fans or its haters, wowing crowds at a number of unofficial parties and combusting after a mere three songs at Billboard’s official showcase.

Dec. 23, 2011: Tyler arrested for vandalism at The Roxy

Odd Future’s Christmas show at Los Angeles venue The Roxy went sour when Tyler was kicked out and arrested on suspicion of smashing a mixing console. He later paid the club $8,000 to compensate for the damage. By this point, Goblin had been received with mixed reviews, and Odd Future was starting to seem like an annoyance rather than the future of music.

March 20, 2012: “Oldie” video posted to YouTube

Just when it looked like Odd Future was a fad whose time had passed, the group recaptured its charming guerilla spirit with an impromptu video shoot at a Terry Richardson photo session. Lance Bangs’ clip shows the group (including a newly returned Earl!) in its most appealing state: A bunch of talented friends goofing off together, with Tyler running the show.

March 25, 2012: “Loiter Squad” premieres on Adult Swim

Odd Future’s TV series, “Loiter Squad,” is even more of a lark than the group’s music, but it (along with 2011’s “Golf Wang” photo book) established the group as a legit multimedia empire.

Feb. 15, 2013: “Domo23” video posted to YouTube

With a ridiculous(ly entertaining) pro wrestling sendup, Tyler debuted his first single from Wolf in typically self-mythologizing fashion: “I ate one roach and I made a lot of money.”