In November Pharrell headlined Odd Future’s third annual Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival and made another one of Tyler, the Creator’s dreams come true. The Odd Future general has never hidden his
fandom Standom of all things the Neptunes. His early tweets reveal his hankering for Skateboard P to just listen to his music. And over the next few years—as OFWGKTA rose to the forefront as hip-hop’s most radical, controversial, and ruggedly independent group—Pharrell went from an idol on a pedestal to a friend to a collaborator. But even after Pharrell’s digits made their way into Tyler’s phone, Tyler’s wish of seeing N.E.R.D. perform live had yet to be fulfilled. That is until Pharrell brought out Chad Hugo during his Camp Flog Gnaw set, bringing Tyler to tears. When the drums came crashing in with the finger-in-your-chest synths of "Rock Star," Tyler turned away from the stage, body still bobbing to the beat, with his face planted firmly into his hands.
Fuck It, I Need Pharrell And Chad To Hear OFWGKTA, That's The Fucking For Right Now— Tyler, The Creator (@fucktyler) September 4, 2010
Tyler has drawn comparisons to Pharrell and his amorphous groups ever since his debut album, Bastard, but never have their similarities been more pronounced than on "Deathcamp" and "Fucking Young/Perfect," the first two songs released from the upcoming Cherry Bomb. Each one of Tyler’s albums has maturated from its predecessor, especially in the production department. His melodies have transformed from eerily beautiful to just plain gorgeous. And now he’s fully fusing jazzy chords with funky, spastic guitar riffs in the same fashion that defined and bolstered N.E.R.D.’s second release of In Search Of…. He’s taken to full out singing, too, pitching up and distorting his voice to get closer to Pharrell’s infectious tone.
(Criticism of the voice alteration is inevitable and droll. Tyler may not be able to sing, but he has brilliant ideas that are worth executing regardless. It’s the reason why Kanye West gets a pass for Auto-Tune, Pharrell’s technical shortcomings are forgiven, and no one cares that Bob Dylan’s voice started as nasally and untrained and in its current iteration proves smoking is bad, kids.)
Both Pharrell and Tyler’s formative years bear an uncanny resemblance. Born 18 years apart, the two described identical childhood interests and their peers’ judgmental perceptions of those interests. If it weren’t for the time stamps given by the band names dropped (and the swearing), you wouldn’t be able to tell who gave which of these quotes:
"I was a black skater kid. I liked fucking Good Charlotte and Kenny G, and I was black. And I went to school with a bunch of black kids so they kind of stayed away from me. I would always be called 'white boy' when I was fucking younger, it just aggravated me. You don’t have to be a certain color to stand on some wood with wheels on the bottom." (via Spin)
"I got called 'Oreo' as a kid because I was black, but I hung with white boys and skated. I had black friends, and I noticed they were into the same things but a lot of them still chose a lane. You can’t fault me because my friends were teaching me what an ollie was and I was dropping in on a mini half-pipe, listening to Suicidal Tendencies and Dead Kennedys." (via Complex)
It’s no wonder Tyler gravitated toward Pharrell, even more so than his other idols Eminem and Dave Chappelle. "In Search Of... did more for me than Illmatic," Tyler raps on "Deathcamp," which could fit snugly on N.E.R.D.’s first album. It’s a spiritual successor to the poseur-ethering “Rock Star," once again bringing hip-hop’s boisterousness to alternative rock. Pharrell’s rhyming on the top of a cop car, and Tyler’s making plates while you’re just doing the dishes. Sonically, "Deathcamp" sounds more like "Lapdance," with its repetitive, frenetic guitar riff. The only thing missing is the kick-snare combo (or any percussion at all, for that matter).
And then there’s "Fucking Young/Perfect," which is as mellifluous as "Provider." Both tracks trace their wavy guitar melodies to musique concréte. Pharrell is conflicted because his girlfriend doesn’t want him out late slangin'. Someday he wants a normal life—work a job, have kids, register to vote, etc.—but for now he’s going to keep providing the only way he knows how. Tyler’s conflict is a bit more taboo (we are still talking about Tyler, the Creator here). He too is in love, but the girl (literally) is too fucking young. And despite her youth, she’s still more mature. The relationship would still be weird if they wait until she reaches the legal age. Pharrell’s afraid his drug dealing will get him killed, and Tyler fears the six-year difference will get him a 10-year sentence or, worse, a “tree and a belt.”
The Camp Flog Gnaw show was a rare appearance for N.E.R.D., and even if they never put on another show or put out another album, it seems like they'll live on through Tyler, the Creator.
Ian Servantes is a writing living in Colorado. He's on Twitter @ian_servantes.