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Music

Tyler, the Creator won the Grammys with wild-eyed performance, rap album victory and fiery backstage speech

Tyler, the Creator
Tyler, the Creator performed a medley for “Igor” and later won the best rap album Grammy.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

More than a decade after he and his Odd Future collective stormed social media to inject punk rock-style rebellion into the Los Angeles rap scene and the world, Tyler, the Creator took home his first Grammy Award on Sunday. Nominated in the rap album category for “Igor,” the 28-year-old artist, producer and Golf Wang streetwear mastermind took the stage in a pink and red polo shirt, and with his mom by his side, to accept his trophy.

“You did a great job raising this guy,” he exclaimed to his mother. He also thanked his longtime musical inspiration, Pharrell Williams, before being played off. “I never really felt accepted in rap,” he said, until Williams and his approach to music made Tyler feel more included. By the night’s end, though, the genre-bending artist had made a convincing case that rap had no choice but to accept Tyler, the Creator.

Born in Ladera Heights as Tyler Okonma, he got the gold for his fifth studio album, an expansive, experimental rap and R&B record that many argued barely fit in the category. On “Igor” tracks and videos including “Earfquake,” “A Boy Is A Gun” and “Puppet,” Tyler, the Creator took on the persona of the title character: a well-dressed, sublimely confident dude with a ridiculous, Beatlesque blond bowl cut. “Igor” was victorious against Meek Mill’s “Championships,” the Dreamville collective’s “Revenge of the Dreamers III,” “I Am > I Was” by 21 Savage and “The Lost Boy” by a YBN Cordae.

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The rap album win, Tyler’s first after being nominated two other times (for “Flower Boy” in 2018 and as a feature on Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” in 2013), will probably placate his devoted fan base, many of whom expressed outrage online after the critically acclaimed “Igor” was shut out of the album of the year category.

Earlier in the show, Tyler’s solo performance confirmed his place as one of the most physically incendiary live performers in rap, rock, R&B or whatever “Igor” is made of. Whether dancing on a raised platform alone or surrounded by doppelgängers, he left it all on the Staples Center floor as he screamed and howled, his eyes seeming to nearly burst out of his skull. Tyler had a reputation as a gleeful provocateur in his Odd Future years, but has since pared it back into thoughtful, genre-obliterating funk and rock and experimental music. The performance split the difference — and ended with Tyler throwing himself into a pit of fire and disappearing from the wreckage of the stage.

But he wasn’t yet finished. After the win, Tyler headed backstage to the press room. The artist, who has never held back on his opinions, was asked about the recent controversies surrounding the awards. Calling himself “half-and-half” on the awards themselves, he said: “On one hand, I’m just grateful that what I made can be acknowledged in a world like this. But, also, it sucks that whenever we — and I mean guys that look like me, do anything that’s genre-bending or anything — they also put it in a rap or urban category. And I don’t like the ‘urban’ word. It’s just a politically correct way to say the n-word.”

Added the first-time winner, whose memorable Grammy performance earlier in the night lit up social media: “To me, when I hear that, I’m like, ‘Why can’t we just be put in pop?’ Half of me feels like the rap nomination was a backhanded compliment, like, ‘Oh my little cousin wants to play the game, let’s give him the unplugged controller so he can shut up and feel good about it.’ But another half of me is very grateful that the art that I made could be acknowledged on a level like this.”


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