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Tyler, The Creator: Man-child or a genius?

Put every taboo slur and sensitive social topic in a blender, leave the lid off and blast that sucker on puree. That's a beginning idea about what listening to rapper Tyler, The Creator is like.

Born Tyler Gregory Okonma, the 22-year-old rapper is still very much like a kid who likes to press his mom's buttons. In the same breath that he claims lyrics just pop into his head, he'll also admit his word choice is precisely calculated. He enjoys getting people hot and bothered.

"I'm not homophobic," he told Rap Radar in 2011, "but if someone calls you a faggot—I don't care who you are—you're going to be like, what? That shit hits. Why not use that for anyone who does anything stupid? I've been writing a lot recently, and I have that in a fuckin' rap where I tell you I'm not homophobic. I have gay friends and shit, so I just use that word on anyone because it hits people."

Lyrics that seem to ridicule domestic violence, flirt with Satan worship and even spell out fantasies about rape certainly target Tyler, The Creator for social criticism. Much like 2 Live Crew in the '80s and Eminem in the early 2000s, he is either trying to shock people to sell records or simply being true to a creative process; the trick is figuring out which things he says are just to create hype and which ones come from his heart.

Tyler—who is also the leader of the hip-hop collective Odd Future—recently stirred up controversy with a set of web commercials he directed for Mountain Dew. In them, a talking goat assaults a female waitress and then intimidates her to discourage a police lineup identification. The ads provoked Dr. Boyce Watkins of online news curator "Your Black World" to claim: "Mountain Dew has set a new low for corporate racism. Their decision to lean on well-known racial stereotypes is beyond disgusting." In response, Pepsi Co., which owns Mountain Dew, removed the ads from the Internet and apologized.

The list of people who disdain Tyler is as long as the list of people who love and glorify him. Some are drawn to his honesty, and buy into the notion that he's just rapping about his life—a touching rags-to-riches story. Until he was 20, he lived with his grandma, and on "Lone," a dark track on his 2013 album Wolf, he confesses his struggle about why he never cried over her death.

Although his behavior seems to know few boundaries and holds little respect (for gays, lesbians, Christians, battered women, etc.), there is also something charismatic and endearing about a guy who now has bundle of money and buys simple items like old Burger King watches off eBay because they were his favorite as a kid and who, despite the rapper lifestyle, says he still has never had a sip of alcohol.

Tyler is young, with a long way to go. The Beastie Boys also were once adolescent and misogynistic, and they grew up to host concerts for Tibet's freedom. Tyler is bringing back a spoken-word flow that is a refreshing change of pace from the mainstream and innocuous club rap. It will be interesting to see what Tyler, The Creator actually creates when he finally grows.

Earl Sweatshirt. Born Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, rapper Earl Sweatshirt is a member of Tyler, The Creator's Odd Future crew. After an exile to Coral Reef Academy on the island of Samoa—where his mom sent him to get his life straight—Earl returned to the U.S. last year and is set to release his first major label album. He is known for gritty asymmetrical beats paired with his melodic snake-charmer-like soft bark. His music is dark and serious.

Tyler, The Creator

With Earl Sweatshirt

9 pm Friday, May 10

Midtown Ballroom

51 NW Greenwood Ave.

$23 at bendticket.com

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