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at an L.A. club called Low End Theory and found Tyler’s
onstage charisma infectious. “It was like, Who is this kid?”
says Newman, Adult Swim’s VP of comedy development.
As it happened, that kid had been posting on Adult
Swim’s message boards for years, explaining to no one and
everyone that one day he’d have his own Cartoon Network
show. So Newman and Weidenfeld met with Tyler, along
with Odd Future member Jasper Dolphin and a few oth-
ers. “I’d never been in a meeting like that before or since,”
says Newman, laughing. “Tyler can’t sit down, he and
Jasper are slapping each other, whispering. They’re doing what you’d normally
never do in a meeting.”
Adult S wim is known for its unfiltered content, which is beloved by adolescent
males. But the channel was also part of Turner, owned by Time Warner (and now
part of WarnerMedia, a subsidiary of AT&T, which has more than $160 billion in
annual revenue). “Adult Swim seemed like a good place for Tyler to dip a toe into
the corporate world,” says Christian Clancy.
The network green-lighted an Odd Future sketch-comedy show called Loiter
Squad, and Newman paired the band with the production company Dickhouse, the
team behind Jackass, to turn the idea into a TV series. Loiter Squad’s three-season
run ended in 2014, right as Tyler’s team thought the project had finally gelled. Adult
Swim threw some other ideas at Tyler and his writing partner, Lionel Boyce (whom
Tyler befriended in high school drama class), but they passed. “At first I thought,
‘Should we just try?’ But it was Tyler who said, ‘We don’t have to,’ ” Boyce recalls.
“He always says it’s in your mind that you feel obligated.”
Instead, the duo produced their own cartoon, The Jellies, a surreal comedy
loosely inspired by 1980s family dramedies, where the parents are jellyfish and
their adopted human child, Cornell, is an overly sensitive teen whom many critics
read as a stand-in for Tyler. They released the first season of The Jellies on Tyler’s
own digital platform; Adult Swim’s Newman acquired it last year and contracted
the pair to make a second season. “At Adult Swim, we wonder, who has figured
out something different—comedically, visually, whatever,” says Newman. “Tyler
automatically works from that space.”
“Know your worth.”
When Tyler was 9 years old, he was listening to Jamiroquai’s disco-funky Love
Foolosophy alone in his room in L.A.’s South Bay. Some kids from the neighborhood
came by and asked what he was doing, and Tyler was ecstatic. Finally, he could
nerd out with other people about music! He was never into toys; his pastime was
reading album liner notes. Jamiroquai—white guys out of the U. K. making music
that sounded like it came from people with his skin color—was upending his world.
“Ten seconds into the track, they said, ‘ This shit is gay,’ ” Tyler recalls. “It was
hard being 9 and black.”
Tyler would find affirmation from his role models. Not just Pharrell Williams
but also Outkast’s Andre 3000 and Kanye West. They inspired him sonically and
stylistically; their confident, coifed looks broke the tropes of black manhood Tyler
saw around him. “I love that man,” Tyler says of West. “What he did for young
black kids is like crazy. It’s no rules. I grew up not liking basketball, not wanting
to wear do rags and big white shirts. With him, Andre, and P, it was like, ‘Oh shit!
They’re doin’ what I want to do! It’s okay!’ ”
Tyler was impressed with them as entrepreneurs as well. By 2013, Pharrell
had two clothing lines, a You Tube channel, and collaborations on everything
from textiles to fine jewelry. West, meanwhile, was expanding into fashion and
creating spectacles, such as debuting the video for his song “New Slaves” by
projecting it onto the facades of 66 buildings around the
world, including the Chanel boutique in Beverly Hills.
Thanks to relationships Christian Clancy had made
while getting his “PhD in bullshit” in the record industry
before becoming a manager, Tyler signed to do a collaboration with Vans and scored a deal with PepsiCo to write
and direct three Mountain Dew commercials.
At the same time, though, Tyler was dealing with the
continued blowback from the music he had made as an
angry teenager that contained violent and homophobic
imagery. It didn’t matter that he stopped performing those
songs, or that they were from an Eminem-esque alter ego.
It didn’t matter that supporters like Mark Williams, the
record exec, knew that the day would come when Tyler
would share the hidden depths they sensed within him.
One of Tyler’s ads, about a thieving goat that attacks
a waitress off screen to get his Mountain Dew fix, was
interpreted by some as racist and others as misogynist.
Mountain Dew pulled the ad after one TV airing. Vans
stuck with Tyler, but he says they weren’t supportive of
him as a designer with a real viewpoint. As he’d later put
it to Dazed, “Imagine being in a fucking cocoon.” (Neither
PepsiCo nor Vans responded to a request for comment.)
The experiences helped him realize, “You just gotta
know where you sit, and that’s where people fuck up,” he
says. “I know I can’t do an I Heart Radio fuckin’ festival.
People don’t know that they don’t matter at certain places.”
Tyler has yet to apologize for his past; he rolls his eyes
preemptively at any whiff of a question on the topics of
provocation or controversy. “Do I look like a terrorist?”
is how he cuttingly summed up his feelings on being
banned by Theresa May from performing in the U.K.
He is more reflective in his art. On Flower Boy, three
songs allude to his attraction to men; in “I Ain’t Got
Time,” he admitted to kissing white boys since 2004.
On another track, “Where This Flower Blooms,” he ex-
presses a message of inclusion for his young fans, rap-
ping, “Tell these black kids they can be who they are/dye
their hair blue/shit, I’ll do it, too.” He’s been deliberately
enigmatic as cultural critics have tried to get him on the
record about his evolution, but as Mark Williams says,
“He could have made that record a little earlier, but like
most artists who come from where he comes from,
there’s a natural sense of editing and holding things
back. It’s almost like, ‘I’m not ready to reveal that yet.’ ”
“He’s just reaching the point where people in the pub-
lic are seeing him how people
who know him see him,” says
Boyce, his friend and writing
partner. “Everyone is weird and
crazy when you get to know
them. He displays that side of
himself first. If you can get along
with this side, you can get along
with my other side.”
Season 2 of Tyler’s
Swim series, The
Jellies, is expected
to air next year.
Golf Wang, Tyler’s
fashion label, is
ramping up its line
this year, from 293
to 508 items, and
home decor is on the
docket for 2019.