Tyler Okonma is a model superstar. He is an artist who, despite his huge fame, his many talents, and goodwill, both gives impeccable shows that literally make the girls in the audience faint and takes time to talk to each of the young musicians who came to listen to his conference on music creation. Before slipping away with his two bodyguards built like tanks, he offers to send you the nail polish and perfume he markets with his brand Golf le Fleur himself... Coming to Paris for a sold-out Zenith that has been postponed for two years, the collaborator of Pharrell Williams, Frank Ocean, and Kanye West among others, displays the new pair of sneakers he designed with Converse close to Rue de Verneuil. Next to the place where Gainsbourg lived, the artist well-known for embodying several characters throughout his career – Tyler, The Creator, aka Tyler Baudelaire, aka Igor, aka Felicia The Goat – gives some music industry survival tips to a group of thrilled select few. Commenting on how he and Kendrick Lamar – he attended the listening sessions of this latter’s new album – are redefining masculinity in American rap by injecting a healthy dose of vulnerability into their work, the friend of the late Virgil Abloh seizes the opportunity to remind us of the importance of designing clothes that match all skin tones. Behind closed doors, he opens up to Numéro.
Numéro: I don’t get it... You are performing at a sold-out Zenith in Paris, while simultaneously presenting your label Golf Le Fleur’s next collaboration with Converse. Isn’t selling out concert venues enough for you?
Tyler, The Creator: There are two types of people – those who think they have to do a variety of things but are not able to handle a single one of them, and those who excel in one particular area and thus can enter any other field freely. In other words, Usain Bolt could simply run fast, while Jazmin Sullivan could only sing... but they don’t do that.
According to you, are NFT launches or collaborations with CBD and alcohol brands a way for some artists to expand their influence?
Of course, it is! And it’s not a bad thing. Let’s say that’s a win-win collaboration when it’s well-done and not cheap. As far as I’m concerned, Conserve introduced me to an audience that would have never heard of me otherwise and vice-versa.
Are you refereeing to an audience that perhaps would need new ways to consume?
Consumers need to go back to the days when they would stop in front of an object for a long time because they loved it. Today, they tell themselves: “Oh, everyone wear this, so I have to get it and post it on social media” or “I’m listening to this track over and over again, because apparently it’s cool!”. They should be wearing and listening to whatever they like. Back in the days, people would wear the same sweatshirt every day because they would have waited for a long time before being able to buy it.
Are you one of those people?
I’m wearing the same Gucci brown pants for three years. They’re my favorite. For instance, I’m not selling clothes online with Golf Le Fleur, because I want people to go see and touch the product, to ask themselves if they really want this item. I don’t want them to buy a product just because they like one of my songs and then resell it. Get into your car, go to the store, observe it, feel it, touch it, and then, you’ll decide whether you want to buy it or not.
“Some artists tackle important matters in a rather hypocritical and performative way...”
It seems that you want to have an influence on the way people consume. As we know, artists can have on influence on the way people think. Do they also have a role to play regarding politics?
As an artist, you can at least trigger questions in people’s mind and invite them to question their beliefs. However, influencing them to make decision... I don’t think so. I only speak out about things I know and care about. If I am saying something, I truly mean it and act accordingly. Many people want to appear concerned...
We have been talking a lot about the massive shootings happening in the United States lately...
A lot of awful things are happening as we speak. But when I listen to the public speeches of some people, I just think: “Oh, so you’re just pretending to care to make people believe you belong to this or that community!”. It’s often hypocritical and rather performative...
Speaking about performance, why aren’t you on stage with other musicians?
It goes back to asking why I don’t wear any orange hat – I don’t need it.
You made your debut in the industry with Odd Future, a band you created at the time. To what extent has it influenced the way you work as a solo artist today?
When I was younger, I didn’t like to work with other kids at school. Being with them made me acknowledge when I needed help or others to accomplish something...
Since then, it seems like you have developed a new way to consider featuring. It takes more than an artist doing vocals on one of your verses, as it often happens in the music industry.
I sure have a very personal approach to collaboration, but I haven’t invented anything. I’m constantly learning. I can always improve what I’m doing or give a new shape to an idea...
Have you ever refused a featuring?
I’m sometimes asked to collaborate on tracks I don’t like. So, I clearly say that I don’t want to do it and the person asking always remains cool in my view! I believe it’s fine. We have to be more sincere between us. I hate liars and rejection... There are people I invited on my songs, and it didn’t work out. I’m not going to give any name, but it has happened plenty of times! At the end, we just told each other that we would try again sometime.
“I like to be in control: I even post my own videos on my YouTube channel!”
Have you given up on rock music since the release of Cherry Bomb in 2015?
On my way here, I thought to myself that I would probably go back to it. Now, experience has taught me that, despite my love for rock music, there are some things I don’t feel able to see through. Well... I have just contradicted myself!
Perhaps it is hard to sell records mixing rock and rap these days...
I do what I want. If I want some rock music, then I’ll go for some rock, even if there are some hints of rap on the track!
Apparently, some labels would force their singers, such as FKA Twigs or Charli XCX, to go viral on TikTok. Can you feel the same pressure weighing on your shoulders?
I am the boss. People working in my label are brilliant, but I am the one in control and the one who decides when to be on display or not. I even post my own videos on my YouTube channel.
Would you like to produce a visual album, launch your own platform, or create your own school like Frank Ocean, Jay-Z or Kanye West did?
I would like to design parks, like centers where we would create a community which would meet after school and to develop activities we cannot do in the neighborhoods where I grew up. We would tell kids: “Okay guys, enough with playing ball. Let’s do some canoeing or build gardens”. Regarding visual albums or platforms, no it’s too much work. Even a label... I have too much to think about. I would not be able to give someone the attention, time, and love they need for their projects.
“I’d rather have people think I'm the super talented guy who cracks a joke than the super funny guy who makes music.”
In 2019, you tweeded that would stop being funny in order for your music to be taken seriously. Although it might be an unconscious mechanism, are you afraid of self- censorship?
People online tend to focus on what goes viral. It takes all their attention. If I’m doing stupid stuffs on social media, it will be more emphasized than my talent. Then, when I’ll go out for a walk, I’ll hear: “Hey, you are the guy who ate dog shit!”. I don’t want to be known for that. In 2017, I decided to stop my bullshit and make sure my music would come first. And it changed everything.
Now, I can be silly and fun again. I’d rather have people think I'm the super talented guy who cracks a joke than the super funny guy who makes music.
It seems that Mr. Me Too by Pharrell Williams and Clipse (a cult rap group from the 2000s gathering Pusha T and No Macile) is your new favorite song. Why?
I was 14 when the song was released. It was the start of YouTube, of videos showing skaters flying flat one their face, and I would see Pharrell in this music video wearing a yellow XXL T-shirt with all his necklaces... It was amazing! By the way, only a few projects like that were released at that time, and listening to this kind of rap with a hyper minimalist beat that sounded like a Pac-Man bug... it made me love it instantly!
In the lyrics, there is also a matter of owning one’s own personality and not following any trend...
You’re right. It spoke to me on some unconscious level. Without even thinking about it, I told myself it was flawless. It is still one of my favorite songs today – I will always like it, even if it’s not exactly my favorite one.
You also said that your indie hip-hop track OGAKA, CA is one of your five favorite songs. Why is that and what are the others?
New Magic Wand, Sweet/I thought you wanted to dance... But OGAKA, CA is the song I relate to the most – the drums, the beat, the strings, the vocals, and these three minutes where I just play the synth... That song embodies that moment when you look at the sky and see the stars so clearly that you can feel you are part of the cosmos.
The new Converse x Golf Le Fleur GLF 2.0 sneakers are available now in limited edition on Conserve and Golf Le Fleur websites.