Tyler the Creator, one of the most incendiary rappers of the new millennium, was surprisingly subdued at the Truman on Thursday. The expert provocateur displayed only flashes of the incivility that accelerated his rise to stardom.
Born in California in 1991, Tyler Gregory Okonma first achieved notoriety as the de facto leader of Odd Future, the anarchic collective that introduced the major talents of Frank Ocean, Syd and Earl Sweatshirt to the world.
On Thursday, Tyler called one member of the capacity audience of 1,200 “a f***ing idiot” and swore similarly at another in the audience. He also mocked the veneration of devotees who stared at him with the adoring gaze of cult members beholding their capricious messiah.
The put-downs were in keeping with Tyler’s persona. He’s long seemed hell-bent on initiating chaos with a constant stream of offensive commentary. The tactic works because he’s enormously charismatic and extraordinarily talented.
Several of the 19 songs he performed during his 65-minute outing reflected the delight Tyler takes in challenging racial, sexual and societal conventions.
He smirked as he rapped “I want to strangle you until you stop breathing” on “IFHY” and rapped that “I’ve been kissing white boys” on “I Ain’t Got Time,” one of several confessional songs from his fascinating new album “Flower Boy.”
The project includes compositions in which he questions his artistic prospects. Tyler delivered the final verses of “November” — a song in which he asks “what if my music too weird for the masses?”— while lying on his back in a jail cell-like structure installed on the stage.
Tyler’s gruff voice was so abrasive on riotous selections like the inflammatory “Who Dat Boy” and the metal-laced “Death Camp” that it seemed capable of stripping paint from the walls of the venue.
Yet the evening’s most pleasing moments occurred when Tyler indulged in his love of R&B. Several of the pre-recorded backing tracks had been reworked to emphasize grooves that echoed the hits of smooth soul artists like Luther Vandross.
The joy Tyler exhibited while dancing to sultry songs like “Glitter” almost compensated for the perverse absence of his best material. “Yonkers,” Tyler’s 2011 breakout song that remains his most striking statement, was among his signature songs that weren’t performed in an otherwise satisfying and largely incident-free show.
Where This Flower Blooms; Deathcamp; Foreword; Boredom; Biking; 911; Mr. Lonely; IFHY; F***ing; Young/Perfect; She; 48; Tamale; Garden Shed; Who Dat Boy; November; Glitter; I Ain’t Got Time; Sometimes; See You Again