It’s a young crowd that fills the sold out Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight and the giddy atmosphere is palpable as kids as young as 16 await the entrance of Tyler, the Creator, the 22 year old leader of LA’s rap collective Odd Future who, as a teenager himself, became a 21st century figurehead of juvenile rebellion, urging listeners to “kill people, burn shit, fuck school” on more than one occasion. Police presence surrounding the venue is heavy, but the atmosphere inside rarely becomes sinister. Fans have come bearing gifts for their hero. Others sport weird costumes and masks more likely found in a Harlem Shake video. It’s all appropriately boisterous for the young crowd, many of whom are likely energized by the prospect of their first rap show.
Igniting the excitable audience, Odd Future DJ Taco Bennett kicks things off by turning up the heat with his iTunes collection of recent roof-scraping hip hop jams, with Waka Flocka Flame and Chief Keef among those in rotation. There’s even a spot for The Notorious B.I.G.’s 'Juicy', perhaps a nice nod to the Brooklyn crowd. Taco dances, gyrates, rips off his shirt and crowd surfs as the anticipation increases. After the rasping set, Tyler storms the arena – the stage mocked up to resemble a summer camp – performing the raucous 'French' with fellow Odd Future crew members Earl Sweatshirt and Jasper Dolphin in tow.
Earl’s presence is a particular highlight of the evening. Until a year ago Odd Future’s brightest rapping talent was taken from the group, attending school in Samoa under his mother’s watchful eye as the collective’s fame exploded. Earl spends the first half of the show mostly in the background, acting as Tyler’s hype man and joining in the on stage banter. But eventually he has his moments. The Tyler-featured new single 'Whoa' gets a run-out as well as the duo’s classic back-and-forth jam 'AssMilk' and the early Odd Future joint 'Orange Juice', each demonstrating their obvious chemistry and artistic connection that helps define the Odd Future sound.
But this is very much Tyler’s gig. After all, the show’s ultimate intention to promote his upcoming album 'Wolf'. Remaining firmly front-and-centre stage, he almost apologetically asks the crowd for their permission to play new tracks, which they are happy to receive. While Tyler has discussed the evolution of his lyrics on this record, what’s also clear is his ever improving beat making. Single 'Domo 23' and album cuts 'Trashwang' and 'Cowboy' highlight his penchant for spooky keyboard riffs, rolling drum loops and soulful piano chords. Elsewhere, the soft, sex jam 'VCR' – taken from his debut record 'Bastard' – offers a quiet breather, while he tears through some of the darker jams from his sophomore effort 'Goblin’, with 'Yonkers', 'Tron Cat' and 'Bitch Suck Dick' making up a large chunk of the set.
Tyler remains vocal between songs throughout, seeking out fans to interact with. He carries their specially-made artwork around the stage, and goofily asks people near the front for a high five. He’s particularly elated when presented with a mock up of the 'Wolf' album cover altered to feature a picture of Seinfeld’s George Castanza. When he discovers tonight is one of his fan’s birthdays, he sings a very special rendition of that old sonnet, 'Happy birthday, Fuck You!'
Yes, Tyler likes to clown around, and at times the show is a little ramshackle in nature (non-performing Odd Future members and affiliates loiter around the stage for the hell of it). But this is an artist who takes his craft very seriously, and by coupling both sides of his persona tonight, he leaves no one disappointed.
Words by Dean Van Nguyen