Innovative and provocative rapper Tyler, the Creator has been “coming out” as gay or bisexual since his 2017 album, “Scum Fuck Flower Boy,” with the track “I Ain’t Got Time!” and the line “I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004.”
Jaden Smith — the experimental pop-hop rapper and singer, son of Overbrook’s Will Smith — has told the world that Tyler, the Creator is his boyfriend.
Tyler and Jaden join the sparse ranks of queer Black hip-hop icons — including iLoveMakonnen, Frank Ocean, Brockhampton’s Kevin Abstract and Lil Nas X — who declare their identities loudly and proudly.
Last Wednesday, on the Mann Center’s Skyline Stage, Jaden opened for Tyler’s sold-out show in support of his fifth studio album, “Igor,” offering a double dose of love-obsessed hip-hop.
Tyler has become one of hip-hop’s most distinctive performers. Appearing beneath the starry night sky with a white-gold page boy wig atop his head, black sunglasses on his expressive face and an iridescent blue suit hugging his body, Tyler looked like a cross between Andy Warhol and Geoffrey Holder.
Tyler was magnetic, high kicking, spinning and twirling alone on stage before shifting backdrops of asymmetrical fringe and glittering tinsel and fire. His presentation of “Igor” opened with the densely morose bass-synth line of “Igor’s Theme” and segued into the sweetly sinister likes of “I Think” and “A Boy Is a Gun.” Igor is a tale of bad romance, a narrative about falling in and out of love and saving one’s soul in the process. Whether hollering helplessly or pleading needlessly, Tyler has never sounded so vulnerable. On stage, the over-heated heart’s panic of “Igor” the album becomes rousing live theater.
As the crowd sang the refrain of “I Think” (“I think I’m falling in love”), the work of reconciling broken hearts and misspent passion became a communal effort, a chain of fools falling in and out of love, over and over.
Old favorites such as “She,” “Yonkers” and “IFHY” seemed old fashioned and out of place in the context of Tyler’s more emotive music. Without any Auto-Tune or muddled effects, Tyler made clarity his only stage partner, next to a white piano that got something of a workout on “Puppet.” On the intro of “Earfquake,” the piano made the song’s intimacy all the more small and aching.
As the closer, the doleful “Are We Still Friends?” made for a perfect goodnight kiss. Looking for love and accepting that it has bypassed him, again, Tyler shows what it means to reach out for a true connection and take only what is allowed.
By celebrating the banging and the quiet, the soaring and the silence, and all sides of love and heartbreak, Tyler, the Creator has given us hip hop at 360 degrees.