By Rapping About His Sexuality, Tyler, the Creator Reckons With His Past

Tyler, the Creator has long been accused of homophobia. But lines from his new album could change that narrative.

Tyler, The Creator

Image via Daniel Boczarski/Getty

Tyler, The Creator

Tyler, The Creator’s excessive use of the word faggot has always felt, to me, like an exercise in willful ignorance and selective reasoning.

In 2013, during an appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show, Tyler said, “That’s just a word, you can take the power out of that word. The way that I see things, it’s you chose to be offended if you care more about stuff like that.”

Yet, two years earlier, he told NME: “I'm not homophobic. I just think 'faggot' hits and hurts people. It hits. And 'gay' just means you're stupid. I don't know, we don't think about it, we're just kids. We don't think about that shit. But I don't hate gay people. I don't want anyone to think I'm homophobic.” He was 20 years old.

As writer Rich Juzwiak noted at the time, Tyler used the word when expressing anger at his absentee father and to convey rage at his step-father, who called him a faggot. In other words, he has used the term to be overtly homophobic when it suited him and argued that no one should be offended when his usage denoted casual homophobia because he doesn’t hate gay people or anything. I’ve never considered Tyler, The Creator to be someone who harbors prejudices towards gay people as others have believed; I merely found him confounding when it came to his defiant defense of the word.

Funnily enough, Juzwiak’s essay begins, “It's hard to imagine a purportedly heterosexual artist who has a more intimate relationship with the word ‘faggot’ than the rapper Tyler, the Creator.” Years later, we may now have insight as to Tyler’s relationship with the slur. After his forthcoming album, Flower Boy, leaked two weeks early, speculation about Tyler’s sexuality began in earnest over certain lyrics sprinkled throughout the album.

On "Foreword," Tyler raps: “Shout-out to the girls that I lead on for occasional head and always keeping my bed warm/And trying their hardest to keep my head on straight.”

From "Garden Shed": “Truth is, since you kid, thought it was a phase/Thought it would be like the Frank poof, gone/But, it's still going on.”

From "I Ain't Got Time!": “Next line will have 'em like ‘Whoa’/I been kissing white boys since 2004.”

The album itself is strong as Tyler’s talent as a rapper and producer are clearer than ever. The only difference between much of what’s heard on Scum FuckFlower Boy than previous albums like Goblin or Wolf is that Tyler doesn’t appear to be pranking listeners or trolling us for the sake of trolling. Here, he sounds sincere, and in multiple cases, more mature. There’s something endearing to hear him rap to “tell these Black kids they can be who they are” on a track featuring Frank Ocean. For those who may think his lyrics related to his sexuality are for provocation, listen again. This doesn’t sound like a man merely trying to provoke while in character; it comes across as much needed statements for clarity. Repeating “faggot” doesn’t counter homophobia, but him being more verbal about who he is, though, might.

My one concern is that some may attempt to use Tyler’s apparent declaration as absolution for Tyler’s use of faggot. I liken it to similar comments Tyler’s made that he doesn’t care about white people using “nigga.” Speaking with Hot 97, Tyler said, “We don’t actually give a fuck about that shit. Mothafuckers who care are the reason racism is still alive.” Black people use “nigga” colloquially and even if one disagrees with that usage, no one can deny that it’s not used in the same context as when white people hurl nigger at us. Faggot has never not been anything more than an insult, and while Tyler has free reign to say whatever he wants, the term itself has never evolved from its original pejorative meaning; he doesn’t get to rewrite the rules and not deal with the consequences.

Tyler merely likes playing around with epithets, and over time, certain racist symbols—notably ones that are irredeemable. Case in point, in 2015, Tyler wore an Odd Future T-shirt that reimagined a white supremacist symbol with the rainbow colors of a pride flag. In a promotional photo, he appeared wearing the tee while holding hands with a white man. Even if both were offering a nod to LGBTQ pride, Tyler is a Black man, and ultimately, has to reconcile with what it means to wear a symbol that declares him to be less than. Tyler’s sexuality is seemingly coming into clearer view with the public, but I imagine he’ll soon have to wrestle with inquirers over his perceived preferences.

Tyler’s love of white boys isn’t very surprising, given he joked repeatedly about his sexuality on social media and has rapped lines like “I’m currently lookin’ for ’95 Leo” and "Where the tall freckled white boys at? Cause I don't fuck with niggas."

Some have openly wondered if that makes him the Kodak Black of gay Black men. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but given the dearth of openly gay Black men in rap, the more non-straight ones we get, the more the merrier. Yes, even the confusing ones who make me wince at times.

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