Complex: When did the reality of what was coming next hit you?
Tyler Craven: I got tired of that place four months after being there. I was being good because I decided when I got there that I was going to be fake and that I was going to get out as fast as possible. There’s two ways to get out of that place. You’re either fake or you’re wild as shit. There’s no in-between. You can’t just be dull and keep your mouth shut, which is my main game when I go to a program.
Complex: They want to see you improve.
Tyler Craven: You know how your mom is? The therapists are basically like two female moms there trying to teach you shit. You almost have to be a gay dude. Like an emotional guy who understands things and you have to talk to them and understand where they’re coming from. In groups you have to agree with them. But then all your people who used to be your friends don’t like you anymore because you’re fake. You just look stupid to the other students, but you look good to the therapists. You can’t really have the therapists and the students like you. That’s the way it is.
Complex: Do guys who stick to their guns and still don’t give a fuck tend to get the most respect from other students? Or do people recognize that you have to be fake and it’s acceptable?
Tyler Craven: People there completely recognize that. These are all kids who have been through programs so they understand that. But there are the ones who are fake and they’re also somehow putting down the other students. That’s when you’re hated. That’s also what the therapists really love and starting coming everywhere and going crazy over you.
Complex: Is it comfortable, at least? What's the housing and food like?
Tyler Craven: Housing is reasonable. They make you clean your own house and shit, of course. Samoa is like the most obese country in the world so you have to imagine just having carbs on top of carbs. That’s really all they give you. The food's horrible. The therapists are morbidly obese. At least 400 or 450 pounds each.
Complex: Are they two guys?
Tyler Craven: No, it's two American females. These women would bring back their groceries and they would be stacked full of junk food. We would see them and about 90% of kids are there for addiction. Whether it be gambling, sex, drugs, whatever. These women were addicted to food. It’s hypocrisy.
Complex: If you got there in March, when did Thebe show up?
Tyler Craven: I honestly don’t remember. He was there for much more than half the time that I was there. I’m thinking like a month or two over half the time that I was there. He probably got there around June or July.
Complex: How did any friendship or relationship with him start?
Tyler Craven: Me and Thebe got close because we were able to share jokes very differently than he could share jokes with the rest of the students. I understood his sense of humor very well, and he understood mine. We just had the same sense of humor. We actually talked about making some videos, like some Mad TV-type shit, on YouTube together when we got back. I don’t know if he’ll have time for that when he gets back now. [Laughs.]
Complex: When did you figure out that he’s a famous rapper?
Tyler Craven: He didn’t refer to himself as famous. None of the students know how big he actually is right now. At the same time, we all knew that Tyler got in XXL magazine and Complex and all that.
He was really humble about his prodigy status. He honestly just called his mom a cunt and a bitch repeatedly for sending him there. He would just say, “Who does that?” He really didn’t know why he was sent there.
Complex: How did you guys know that? Did you have Internet?
Tyler Craven: Yeah, we do online school while there.
Complex: Your browsing isn’t monitored?
Tyler Craven: Bypassing the firewall in a third world country is very simple. No one on the island knows computers better than any average American teenager. They just don’t have access to computers like we do.
Complex: How does the timeline of your friendship with Thebe go? From meeting him and you guys sharing a similar sense of humor to him revealing what he was doing back home, as well as you guys looking online and seeing his name.
Tyler Craven: We all knew that he was a musician. The message of how popular he was became clearer and clearer during school. The staff would leave every now and then and if you were sitting next to Thebe he would pull something up and tell you to look at it. He’d have a picture of Tyler or something on the computer in some kind of magazine or an article. He’d pull up a picture of his album cover, Mellowhype or something, and we’d be like, “Oh, damn. That album cover is fucking tight.” We actually got a hold of some of his music too. We were able to download it and we played it down in the gym.
Complex: You probably had to sneak to do all of that.
Tyler Craven: Oh, yeah. Of course. I don’t know how the student got this MP3 player. I think he stole it off someone, but no one on the island even has an MP3 player so I don’t know. He had the cord so he just transferred the music during school. We would bump Odd Future during free time.
Complex: What would he say about Odd Future and Tyler?
Tyler Craven: He called Tyler his brother and said that they'd do anything for each other. He talked about the OF swag. About the atheist, murderous, wildass fuck mentality they got and we all love. But you can't just be told about his unique style. You gotta see it. He was really humble about his prodigy status, though. He honestly just called his mom a cunt and a bitch repeatedly for sending him there. He would just say, “Who does that?” Especially knowing who he is. He really didn’t know why he was sent there. He knew his mom's reason for doing it, but he was very far from understanding it. There is no understanding it because it doesn’t make sense.
Complex: Besides the music he was making, what’s her reason? Did he get into a lot of trouble the way you did?
Tyler Craven: No. He told me that he had only smoked weed a few times and he hadn’t really done drugs that much. His mind was just blown, like “Why?” He never stopped asking himself why.
Complex: What was Thebe like in the program? How did you and the group of people there interact?
Tyler Craven: There are kids there who form cliques. There were 18 to 20 kids there, just because things change and people leave and shit.
Complex: What type of kid was Thebe?
Tyler Craven: Everyone loved Thebe. He’s hilarious because he has a way with words. Just like his music. He’s quick with it too. He would just outdo everyone in being funny. People would follow him. He was a leader.
Complex: Is there any memorable shit that went down there?
Tyler Craven: He’d always do impressions. He’d do an impression of Earl. He has Thebe, who’s hilarious. When he’d turn into Earl, he’s this 80-year-old man who has a bad back. He’d just walk around like he has a horrible back, and he’d fall into the pool or something. Everyone who was around him when he turned into Earl would just start being like, “Earl! Earl! Get over here Earl!” People would do shit like write on their hand “Free Earl,” even there. Oh, what else. I talked to the guy from the New Yorker today. The guy who wrote the article.
Complex: Oh, you talked to Kelefa on the phone? What did he have to say?
Tyler Craven: Just pretty much the same stuff. General shit. I told him the article is BS, but I understood that he didn’t know any better. That was the closest that he knew to fact. But then I told him what the mix-up was, how the therapist basically forced him to write that letter.
Complex: Do you feel like if someone wanted to talk to him it had to go through a therapist who had to see what he wrote?
Tyler Craven: Oh, yeah. The only way to do it behind their back was through email or Facebook by bypassing the firewall on the Internet. There wasn’t going to be any type of phone calls or closed envelope letters going out. There wasn’t even any letters going out. Everyone just did email. You could send secret emails, but that’s also very seldom that you get that opportunity to get on the computers. They're usually right on your ass if you’re on the computer.
Complex: How do you get out of Coral Reef Academy?
Tyler Craven: That happens by you “changing,” as the therapist refers to it. If you come there perfect then you’re not going to leave for a long time. Unless you start wilding out. They have to see an improvement.
Complex: It’s up to their discretion when you leave?
Tyler Craven: It's up to their discretion and your parents' discretion. For instance, when Thebe was in the box for three months, over Christmas, the therapist wanted to take him out, but his mom said no.
Complex: Why was he in the box?
Tyler Craven: For trying to contact the rest of Odd Future while in school.
Complex: Even if you get past the firewall you can get caught?
Tyler Craven: Yeah, I mean all it takes is for them to look over your shoulder once when you’re not expecting it. If they see you on something else, that’s it. Even if you close it really quick they can go back and check the history. Especially for Thebe. They were told to watch him more.
Complex: So they know he’s Earl Sweatshirt?
Tyler Craven: The therapists comprehend how big he is, but on the island there is no such thing as fame. It’s only consists of 180,000 people so they don’t really have a comprehension of fame. They’ve been told that he’s a musician who’s very popular in the U.S.
Complex: So the only time that you have to go on the Internet is when you’re still at risk of getting caught?
Tyler Craven: There’s a schoolroom, and all the kids are in one room. It looks like a computer lab. All the computers are made so that the computer lab dude can supervise the kids. This way it's super hard to get away with. All the computers are up against the outside walls and they’re facing the middle of the room, and there’s someone in the middle of the room watching you. Often times they’re reading a magazine, or the Bible because they’re all super religious.
Complex: The only time you got Internet access was during school?
Tyler Craven: Yeah, except there’s one student there who has a PSP and my roommate had his iTouch. Like I said, the Samoans don’t understand electronics or technology that much so they don’t understand that we’re not supposed to have them. They never saw them anyway, but if they saw them they’d just be like, “Okay, it's just for music.”
Complex: Were there any girls around?
Tyler Craven: Well, no. There are six destinations. When you get to destination five you can start working, but 90% of people who have not finished high school did not get to work. Actually being out there and them giving you that much trust helps you in getting out of the program a lot. So people who have not finished high school are automatically there for longer. A lot longer. When you go out on a job, you are completely unsupervised, but it takes a very good faker to get to that point.
Complex: What’s the box like?
Tyler Craven: The box is a seven-foot by seven-foot room, with a wood floor and absolutely nothing in it. They give you a mattress. I wouldn’t even call it a mattress. It's like two inches thick. It’s a piece of foam that you sleep on. There’s a member of staff inside this tiny house and you’re segregated from the rest of the students. If you talk to any of the students outside, and the students outside respond, then they get put in there too. In a different one because they wouldn’t put two people in the same one. That would be too much entertainment for them. You’re in there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Complex: Have you been in there?
Tyler Craven: No, I was never in there. Thebe was in there for three months over Christmas. He was still in the box when I left, and he was going to be there over Christmas and New Year's. I knew he was going to be there. It’s already determined how long you’re going to be in there.
Complex: Do you not do other activities such as school while you’re in the box?
Tyler Craven: Oh, no. You don’t do anything in there.
Complex: Once Thebe went in you didn’t see him anymore?
Tyler Craven: We saw him, but we weren’t allowed to talk to him and he wasn’t allowed to talk to us. We saw him around, like 30 feet away.
Complex: So you spent about a month or two physically with him?
Tyler Craven: No. I don’t know if I did the math wrong, but I really don’t know when he got there. I lived with him in the same house for most of the time I knew him. We would just talk. We hung out. Every kid says at least a few sentences to every other kid there, but Thebe and me would sit down and talk with a couple other kids for a while.
Complex: You said he came to Coral Reef in June or July, a few months after you got there. How long did you know him before he went into the box?
Tyler Craven: I went home before Christmas. He went in there like a month before December.