Tyler, the Creator has had an interesting trajectory with queer culture: The 26-year-old’s 2011 album Goblin was rife with homophobic epithets, including 213 uses of the word “fag” and other anti-gay slurs.
But on his new album, Flower Boy, which has leaked two weeks before its official July 21 release date, one stanza has fans wondering if the rapper is opening up about being bisexual—or if he’s just trying to spark controversy and conversation, as he’s prone to do.
On “I Ain’t Got Time!” Tyler raps: “Next line will have ’em like ‘Whoa’/I been kissing white boys since 2004.”
While Tyler (born Tyler Gregory Okonma) has yet to comment on the lyrics directly, he has denied being homophobic in the past.
“I’m not homophobic. I just think ’faggot’ hits and hurts people,” he told NME in 2011. “It hits. And ’gay’ just means you’re stupid. I don’t know, we don’t think about it, we’re just kids. We don’t think about that shit. But I don’t hate gay people. I don’t want anyone to think I’m homophobic.”
On Tumblrhe reiterated that his use of the word “fag” has nothing to do with sexual orientation. “I mean, I’m legit one of the least homophobic guys to walk this earth but, most people just read the surface.”
Tyler insisted that his gay fans don’t take offense at his language, and even put out a line of Pride T-shirts in 2015 as part of his crew Odd Future’s merch. In true Tyler form, the design was a rainbow spin on a white supremacist logo.
“Take a photo with a white guy in it and we have an amazing photo,” he posted on Tumblr. “The thing that tops it off is the homoerotic tone of the hand-holding, which to some degree HAS to piss off the guys who takes this logo serious.” He added that the shirt was “me playing with the idea of taking the power out of something so stupid.”
Tyler is also close with queer collaborators Syd and Frank Ocean.
“The gay community hated me for being part of Odd Future,” Syd told The New York Times in 2016. “They thought Odd Future was homophobic because they tend to use homophobic slang, and they were like: ‘How can you work for and support homophobes?’ But they aren’t homophobic; they just don’t really care whether you’re offended or not.”
When Ocean first came out publicly, Tyler was among the first to congratulate him. “My big brother finally fucking did that,” he tweeted “Proud of that n*gga cause I know that shit is difficult.”
He later expanded on his understanding of Frank’s bisexuality in a Formspring Q&A, writing, “Yeah, I’ve know for a while—he told me a long time ago. It was just funny cause I was getting bashed as a homophobe and I kept saying, ’Dude how am I one? I have gay friends.”
It’s not just his possible homophobia that’s made Tyler a contentious figure: he’s been banned from performing in the UK, citing “unacceptable behavior by making statements that may foster hatred, which might lead to intercommunity violence in the UK.”
The feeling was his albums Bastard and Goblin glamorized “violent physical abuse, rape and murder.”
So is Tyler truly sexually fluid, or is this just another prank to get listeners up in arms? Perhaps he’s finally learned that being hateful isn’t so hip anymore. Or maybe he’s seen that Syd and Frank, who are forthcoming about who they are and are making music based on feelings other than ritualistic hateful rhetoric, are earning praise and Grammy nominations.
Maybe Tyler, the Creator is finally growing up. Or maybe he’s just not done fucking with us all.