On April 12, Tyler, The Creator, 24, air-dropped his surprise fourth album, Cherry Bomb, the result of a new strategy in his career. “I have the attention span of a f—ing rock,” the Odd Future leader tells Billboard. “This is the first time I focused.” The new approach seems to be working: The album debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200.
Below, he talks to Billboard about the album, his supposed beef with Kendall Jenner at Coachella and more.
You seem to be more excited about Cherry Bomb than your previous LPs. What’s special about it?
It’s the music I’ve always wanted to make. Joy Division, Ronnie McNeir, N.E.R.D. — that’s the shit that really got me. To finally be able to make that — to make a song with Roy Ayers, “Find Your Wings” — is really cool. I’m living every line on the album. That’s why you don’t hear depressing, sad shit, because I’m f—ing happy.
You can hear that in songs like “Find Your Wings.” That phrase seems to be the underlying theme of the album.
You can listen from front to finish and hear me finding myself, finding my wings. Almost every song I mention some f—ing wings. I want everyone to win. I’m telling everyone: “You need to be in control of your plane. You’re a bird, why are you f—ing running? Fly.” It sounds corny, but to the n—as who have accomplished what they want, it’s the best advice.
Why’d it take four albums to get to this place, musically?
The cool thing is, you can go from every album of mine, see what I was trying to do and see the finished product on Cherry Bomb. With this one, I studied everything I like. And I know how to do what I need to do. I’ve always wanted to sing, always had an ear for how to follow a chord. But with my voice being so deep and raspy, I could never sing like Stevie Wonder or Ronnie Foster, so I’d get other people to sing. I was scared. [Pharrell] was like, “Dude, listen to Barry White and Isaac Hayes, see how they use their voice and sing about some wild shit.” That’s why “F—ing Young” is the first single.
The first single, “F—ing Young/Perfect,” is about a touchy subject: dating younger people. What made you record that song?
I wanted to make a song like Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions album. You listen to shit in the ’70s, they got to the point. Although it sounds soft, “F—ing Young” is perverted and weird, but it’s true. There was this girl that I liked, and we both had feelings for each other, but there was a five-year difference between us. It weirded me out, so I wrote a song about it.
Tyga is facing heat for a similar situation: allegedly dating Kylie Jenner.
People should just leave him alone. But then again, I don’t know why people put everything on social media that nobody has to know. They don’t have to put everything out. That girl I’m talking about, I don’t let y’all know who it is, but she’s out there.
Speaking of Kylie, you cursed out her sister, Kendall, who was in the crowd at your show during Coachella’s first weekend. Was that a joke?
Yeah, that’s my n—a. I’m really good friends with her. It was literally a joke. Like, if you saw your friend, you’d be like, “F— you!” and then go get coffee after.
Another one of your friends, Earl Sweatshirt, dropped an album a few weeks before yours. Did you two listen to each other’s music through the recording process and compare notes?
Not so much this one. Which is cool, because it’s surprising for both of us. It’s really cool watching him grow and talk about where he is in his life. He’s finding himself. It’s tight.
You’ve also mentioned that Andre 3000 is someone you speak with from time to time. What do you both connect over?
Andre is just so f—ing cool. Last time I talked to him, we were sending each other random sketches that we do in our spare time. It’s cool to know not only does someone at his level still draw and doodles, but there’s someone else that doesn’t just make art just to f—ing make money or because they have to. It’s in their blood. So that felt cool. He’s so wise. Hopefully I age like him. I don’t want to be rapping in five years or six years if there’s no evidence that that shit’s sick.
What would you be doing if you weren’t rapping?
Some other shit. Scoring. Building stuff. But maybe I’ll take a break from rap or something. I don’t know what the f— I’ll be doing, but I’ll be doing something. It’s going to be tight as f—.
What kind of films would you score?
I want to do a children’s flick really bad. You could get the really cheesy soft chords with that stuff but make it upbeat. I wanted “Deathcamp” in Mad Max so bad — it was last-minute. But I’m down to do anything, because it’ll push me.
I made “Smuckers” in 2011 and sent it to Jay Z and ‘Ye. They were going to use it, but I kind of took it back. I was trying to make horn sections and drum kicks that sound epic. The second half is this jazz ensemble [Ed. note: “Smuckers” samples “Metropolis Notte” by Gabriele Ducros]. I’m like, “Oh my God, this is f—ing amazing. Lil Wayne would sound so good over this.” I sent Wayne a reference of what I was going to put, and he sent me the verse back. I legit was about to cry. I played it for ‘Ye at his house literally four days before the album was due. He was like, “OK, I got to step my bars up. Y’all n—-s is spitting.” It was such a sick thing to know that me and Wayne had to put ‘Ye back on his feet. Like, what the f—? I’m 24 years old. What am I going to look forward to at 30?
So that’s the last song that you finished for the album?
Literally the last f—ing thing. I’m at the studio editing this shit, making sure my verse is right, and I’m like, “There’s something missing.” So at 2 a.m. — while the album was due four hours ago — I f—ing plugged my keyboard up and started adding f—ing bells and a harder bass, strings and French horns. You can hear that on me and Kanye’s verse, that’s why that part is very musical. I added that so it could match the feeling of that second half, with that beautiful f—ing epic orchestra.
How did you get Wanya Morris from Boyz II Men to collaborate on “Blow My Load,” a song about oral sex?
I’m a Boyz II Men fan. Very few people can follow notes and chords with their vocal range. Kim Burrell, Yolanda Adams is pretty cool at it, and Charlie Wilson. “Hey Lover” by LL Cool J is one of my favorite songs, just based off the fact that the Boyz II Men guys are just in the background riffing the whole time. I hit him up and he loved it. I thought because Boyz II Men is positive and all that that he would say, “Yooo.” But he was actually more excited than me.
Track nine on Cherry Bomb features Schoolboy Q and is titled “The Brown Stains of Darkeese Latifah Part 6-12 (Remix).” I have so many questions.
[Laughs] OK, so the song was done but didn’t have a title. I’m doing credits, so I’m like, “Let’s just call it something stupid so we could laugh at it ourselves.” We tried to think of the blackest name possible — we came up with Kardisha, Leroy. Darkeese Latifah is what came up. Then I was like, “Let’s make this ridiculously long.” It was originally called “The Brown Stains of Blackeese Latifah Part 6-12 (The Remix) (Rough Draft) (Club Edit) (Rodney Jerkins Mix).” That was too damn long, so we cut some short. But I thought it’d be funny if people walked up like, “Hey Tyler, ‘The Brown Stains of Darkeese Latifah Part 6-12 The Remix’ is such a great song!” [Laughs]
What do you think about Jay Z’s rollout for Tidal?
I get the concept of artists taking their shit instead of having that weird middle man. But because he got all of the biggest names in the world, it came off as weird. I think that’s why people were turned off. He gotta get an underdog in there that’s not all No. 1s to say, “Hey guys, I’m kind of one of you, this is actually kinda cool.” That’s all they gotta do, because the idea makes sense.
What made you want to launch your own app, Golf Wang?
I remember being younger saying, “I want to have my own TV channel with my favorite shows like Sister Sister, Rugrats [and] Chappelle’s Show.” And I have my hand in everything, so this is basically somewhere where my whole brain can live. I literally have my own channel.
And your own magazine too.
I’ve been trying to do a magazine. [Odd Future] started as a magazine when I was 15, so I’m finally going to be able to put stupid, funny, ridiculous, awesome shit in print. I still go to Barnes & Noble once a week — I don’t like reading articles on the phone or computer. I’m trying to put it on newsstands. Frank [Ocean] is doing one too. His is going to be really cool. I think it might focus on vehicles.
You usually shy away from politics, but what’s your reaction to the recent wave of police brutality cases?
I don’t like getting deep into that stuff, but [Oklahoma shooting victim Eric Harris] said, “I’m losing my breath,” and they’re like, “F— your breath,” and the dude died. That really made me say, “This is getting out of f—ing hand.” Like, white people are dicks, and I don’t mean as a whole. Even through the beginning of history, since people were writing down what was going on, Caucasian people have been assholes. It’s crazy.
An edited version of this article appears in the May 2nd issue of Billboard.