Few artists over the past decade have crafted a story arc more compelling than the Goblin-turned-Flower-Boy himself, Tyler, The Creator. With his most recent two albums, 2017’s Flower Boy and especially 2019’s IGOR, Tyler has blossomed as an all-around artist and entertainer. His production has never been sharper, and his vision for the music as something larger than himself shows a creative maturity well beyond his 29 years.
At the same time, this explosion of creativity and focus led to fewer straight raps on Tyler’s records (though he still flexes those muscles on songs like “Who Dat Boy” and “WHAT’S GOOD”). However, the man has not lost his touch. He’s proven twice already in 2020 that he’s capable of stealing the show, even while collaborating with some of the best in the game.
From Tyler’s early years as a young rapper unintimidated by the likes of Lil Wayne and Pusha-T to now, when he’s nonchalantly dropping knowledge as only he can, he’s one of rap’s greatest collaborative assets. And he just keeps getting better.
10. “Martians vs. Goblins,” The Game featuring Lil Wayne & Tyler, The Creator
Album: The R.E.D. Album Release Date: August 23, 2011
Despite the title, “Martians vs. Goblins” isn’t a heavyweight title match with Tyler and Weezy trading monstrous blows. Weezy is content to supply a simple hook (“Bitch, I’m a motherfucking martian”), perhaps not feeling the need yet to defend himself against the newcomer. Too bad, because Tyler holds zero punches (or punchlines), releasing a flurry of jabs at Bruno Mars, The Game, and LeBron James’ hairline. Unfortunately, Tyler’s verse is troubled by the homophobic language typical of his early work. Still, his menacingly irreverent swagger over 1500 or Nothin’s brooding production is prime Goblin-era Tyler.
9. “Yu (Remix),” MellowHigh featuring Tyler, The Creator
Album: MellowHighRelease Date: October 31, 2013
The final track off Domo Genesis, Hodgy Beats, and Left Brain’s MellowHigh record is the sound of kicking back with the homies and allowing the haze of weed smoke to overwhelm the senses. Tyler only raps for 25 seconds, but his succinct humor lands perfectly. “Knowing we wreck shit hotter / Than turtlenecks in Bahamas,” he brags. What exactly Tyler is wrecking, it’s hard to say since it seems he’s firmly planted on his sofa watching Futurama and All That in his fire pajamas. A perfect nonsensical Saturday morning banger.
8. “Biking,” Frank Ocean featuring JAY-Z & Tyler, The Creator
Album: N/A Release Date: April 10, 2017
By the time you get to the end of “Biking,” you forget JAY-Z is even on the track. That’s more a compliment to Frank and Tyler’s synergy than it is an indictment of the GOAT. While Frank’s verse is serene—imbued with feelings of biking alone along an LA beach lined with palm trees and feeling the cool ocean mist—Tyler plays the reckless foil, fishtailing down canyon roads with abandon and smoking tires. Sometimes you need the adrenaline boost; sometimes you need quiet meditation. “Biking” offers us both escape routes.
7. “Telephone Calls,” A$AP Mob featuring A$AP Rocky, Tyler, The Creator, Playboi Carti, & Yung Gleesh
Album: Cozy Tapes, Vol. 1: Friends Release Date: October 28, 2016
Brotherly competition often goes one of two ways—it either elevates both competitors to new levels, or it turns into the coldest of beef. Luckily, we get the former in “Telephone Calls.” Rocky goes first, offering Tyler a softball with the setup: “Tell Tyler, better step his flow up.” He wastes no time attacking Plu2o Nash’s trap beat with urgency and bravado. Tyler makes it clear he’s a tastemaker, not a taste follower: “Fuck the Gucci, fuck the Raf / And fuck the swag and all that other shit they wearin’.” Instead, Tyler rocks Hawaiian shirts and short shorts and dares to demand respect. He earns it.
6. “Trouble On My Mind,” Pusha-T featuring Tyler, The Creator
Album: Fear of God II: Let Us Pray Release Date: July 12, 2011
If Push wields his raps like a surgeon’s scalpel on “Trouble On My Mind”—cutting with precision and clarity across the beat—Tyler wields his like a Whac-A-Mole hammer. There’s no grace, no subtlety, and that’s why we love him. While he stomps on the Neptunes track, Tyler showcases his pop culture prowess, weaving together absurdist mythology of America, including the Fresh Prince, Bushwick Bill, Rugrats, and Sarah Palin’s daughter. Tyler’s simultaneously lumbering and methodical style is a mystery, but like he says, “I’m a fucking walking paradox.”
5. “After the Storm,” Kali Uchis featuring Tyler, The Creator & Bootsy Collins
Album: Isolation Release Date: January 12, 2018
Coming shortly after the release of Tyler’s career-altering album Flower Boy, his short, no-filler verse on Kali Uchis’ wavy ballad “After the Storm” solidified the new tender preciousness of Tyler Okonma. BADBADNOTGOOD’s ocean breeze layer of strings drops out, leaving the bounce of brassy synths and funky bass lines to accentuate Tyler’s carefree bloom. He surfs across the track, sun beaming on him and enraptured by Uchis’ charm. Tyler glows here and hasn’t stopped glowing since.
4. “No Idols,” Domo Genesis & The Alchemist featuring Tyler, The Creator
Album: No Idols Release Date: August 1, 2012
The importance of friendship in creating art can never be understated. In 2011, Tyler tweeted, “i dont have the passion to rap anymore. this sucks alot. its not even fun. i think i just wanna make beats and shit.” A year later, he rapped one of the hardest verses of his early career over an unsettling Alchemist beat and thanked friend Domo Genesis “for giving me the gift to wanna rap again.” Tyler takes this gift and capitalizes on it with “No Idols,” where he describes working till four in the morning, honing his craft, and not worrying about enjoying the fruits of his labor until he’s satisfied with his artistry. Oh, and the sandwich puns are prime too.
3. “327,” Westside Gunn with Joey Bada$$ featuring Tyler, The Creator & Billie Essco
Album: Pray For Paris Release Date: April 17, 2020
Tyler really got on a Westside Gunn luxury rap—the soundtrack to a dimly lit lounge sweetly smelling of D’Usse and marijuana—and said, “Glitter on my neck match the glitter on my fingernails.” He doesn’t so much fit into the suit-and-tie setting carefully crafted by Camo Monk as he does force his way in and expect “roses at his feet.” Tyler has been a champion of individuality across his career. It feels good to see his doors continue to open, and red carpets continue to roll.
2. “Sasquatch,” Earl Sweatshirt featuring Tyler, The Creator
Album: Doris Release Date: August 20, 2013
Thank God for Earl Sweatshirt, who, one, pushes Tyler to the limits of his rhyme game and two, is willing to take a backseat and allow Tyler to steal the first minute and a half of “Sasquatch.” Immediately, Tyler pokes fun at those who misconstrue his irreverent jokester persona as earnestly violent (“After filling my reputation of whore beaters / Soared to Taco Bell and I ordered some Gorditas”). What ensues next is a stream-of-consciousness, imaginary late-night drive filled with munchies, fantasies of kidnapping One Direction, and veiled insecurities about falling from cultural relevance. This is Storytelling Tyler at his best.
1. “Something To Rap About,” Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist featuring Tyler, The Creator
Album: Alfredo Release Date: May 29, 2020
This sounds like my favorite album I haven’t bought yet. With The Alchemist behind the boards again, Gibbs sets the stage with some discourse about how “God made me sell crack so I’d have somethin’ to rap about,” suggesting that the rapper’s best art stems from his vices. It reminds me of the recent Juice WRLD lyric “If it wasn’t for the pills, I wouldn’t be here,” an assertion that our struggles make us who we are.
Tyler offers a counterargument. He takes the same daydreamy Alchemist track and, instead of reflecting on the troubles of his past, looks forward to the moment he jumps off, “Sun shinin’, cold water fillin’ my pockets.” Hope is Tyler’s fuel. It allows him to see a future brighter than the vices he’s surrounded with. “Y’all often anxious, lost in y’all thoughts and I don’t relate,” he raps, seemingly addressing Gibbs’ verse directly. It’s not that Tyler ignores his past; he admits, “I used to be a Goblin under them bridges.” However, he never allows his inner demons to define him. He is a businessman, confident, and carefree.