If you haven’t watched Step Brothers, like, 29 times, have you even watched Step Brothers? It’s hilarious, endlessly quotable and unexpectedly profound. Beyond Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly’s improbable-yet-perfect alliance against Dale’s brother, school bullies and safe DIY, Step Brothers, like most great movies, contains a parable about life—in this case, about what it means to grow up.
The moral of the story: don’t lose your dinosaur.
Anyone who’s pursuing their passion understands what it means to hold onto your dinosaur—not least our favorite artists. In a society that demands you go to school, get a stable job and “grow up,” telling your parents you’re staying home to work on your fire mixtape and become a rap star requires a self-belief that borders on delusion, as well as the mettle to cope with the doubts and depression that threaten to derail your dreams. You better hope your dinosaur is a T-Rex.
To make that choice to listen to your inner dinosaur is one thing, but to stay in touch with it after years of struggle and—if you’re lucky enough—success is even more admirable. Throughout both, Tyler, The Creator has never lost his.
Long before he rapped about “threesomes with a fuckin’ triceratops” on “Yonkers,” Tyler’s dinosaur has guided him every step of the way. It’s the reason he put a talking goat named Felicia in a Mountain Dew commercial (he literally used to keep a goat in his mom’s garage), the reason he has his own colorful—and sometimes controversial—clothing line (“the difference between me and these n*ggas is that I make what I like”), and the reason he made Kanye West perform “Late,” a song that rarely appears on his setlists, at Camp Flog Gnaw (which, by the way, he throws). Why? Because it was his favorite song off Late Registration as a kid.
Tyler is 25 years old. If you’re still living with your parents and playing with Legos at that age, you might be called a loser. Tyler does both of those things, but guess what? He doesn’t care. His bedroom, in the Los Angeles mansion he shares with his mom and younger sister, is filled with Eminem, Napoleon Dynamite and Minions memorabilia. There’s a trampoline in there, too. “I told Jay Z that I had a trampoline in my room and he’s like, ‘Dude, keep that inner child. You’re one of the few who have it,’” Tyler toldNylon magazine. “‘Your inner child lets honesty be your main outlet.’”
Tyler often gets dismissed as a goofy man-child who relies on shock value rather than actual talent, but it’s only because we haven’t really seen someone like him before: a serious artist with a silly personality, a genius who never “grew up.”
This “walking paradox” is perfectly captured in a clip from Tyler’s upcoming Cherry Bomb documentary. In it, Tyler records “2 Seater” at legendary music composer Hans Zimmer’s studio. As he watches the string section he wrote come to life before his eyes, Tyler’s jaw hits the floor like a (big) kid stepping into Disneyland on his birthday. I’m not a betting man, but I’d put good money on that being the first time a 20-something rapper in a hoop polo and pink cap has conducted a string orchestra in Hans Zimmer’s studio.
Minutes later, Tyler is back to his normal self: riding around in a shopping cart high-fiving strangers at a mall.
Watching Tyler do his thing at Hans Zimmer’s studio reminds me of Kanye West’s Late Orchestration rehearsals at London’s Abbey Road Studios in 2005. It’s the way Kanye basks in the glory of his own music, but also studies it with a watchful eye, fine-tuning the orchestra to satisfy his progressive, perfectionist vision. “I’ve never heard piano and scratching together. I’ve heard, like, drums, live instruments, and scratching, but just those two together, and then strings, piano, scratching?” he beams. “Oh, this is gon’ fuck people up.”
Tyler, The Creator and Kanye West are two different characters, but like Tyler, Kanye has always held tight to his dinosaur.
“I still won’t grow up, I’m a grown ass kid” — “Through the Wire,” 2003
“My childlike creativity, purity and honesty / Is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts” — “Power,” 2010
“I’m a 38-year-old 8-year-old” — “No More Parties In LA,” 2016
From music to fashion to film, Mr. West has always responded to those little roars inside of him, sinking his teeth into the countless creative ventures he dreamed about when he was growing up. Like learning to make beats on an Omega computer as a kid and becoming an incredibly successful producer. Or getting kicked out of class for drawing Jordans and going on to design his own sneakers for both Nike and adidas. “When I was in seventh grade, I was really into drawing and wanted to design video games,” he said in his first MTV interview in 2002. Last summer, he released the trailer for his first video game, inspired by his late mother.
Not losing your dinosaur doesn’t necessarily mean not growing as a person, though. Kanye has reinvented himself with every new album while becoming a husband and father in the last few years. Despite his constantly shifting sound, job titles and politics (*sigh*), though, Kanye hasn’t changed all that much. If you thought his “Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Pablo Picasso” phase was new, you obviously missed when he was calling himself “the next Michael Jackson.” And this was long before he had a Roc chain.
Kanye doesn’t need me—or anyone else—to remind him about his dinosaur.
"Like they said in 'Step Brothers': Never lose your dinosaur. This is the ultimate example of a person never losing his dinosaur. Meaning that even as I grew in cultural awareness and respect and was put higher in the class system in some way for being this musician, I never lost my dinosaur."—Kanye West, GQ
Naturally, Tyler, The Creator and Kanye West’s kindred approaches to life have created a special bond between them. “Kanye West is one of the only people in this industry I consider a friend,” Tyler said in 2013. “We both have a love for art and we hate a lot of the same stuff.” That same year, Kanye called Tyler a “mentor” and revealed how he helped him out with the Yeezus tour merch, as well as sharing advice on how to direct music videos.
In their own Step Brothers moment, Tyler and Kanye competed in a foot race backstage at last year’s Coachella. The considerably more athletic Tyler won, but Kanye wasn’t having any of it. “This n*gga right here was in my way!” he cried in defeat.
If Tyler, The Creator and Kanye West inspire each other, that gift grows tenfold for everyone else. “The whole concept for The College Dropout is don’t be scared. Do what you want to do. Make your own decisions,” Kanye said shortly after the release of his debut album in 2004. Tyler echoed those sentiments in an interview with Tavis Smiley: “They would always tell me to calm down and chill and things like that, but no! That’s just my personality, that’s how I am. I always try to tell people don’t conform, don’t try to change for other people, don’t let ’em turn your color into black-and-white.”
By always staying loyal to their curiosity and creativity, Tyler, The Creator and Kanye West inspire us to never lose our dinosaurs. Because the only right way to grow up is to be yourself.