Brixton Academy, London
As Theresa May exited her rule earlier this year, Tyler, the Creator tweeted: “theresa gone, im back.”
The exchange was met with praise from fans online. In 2015, the then-Home Secretary May banned the Odd Future co-founder from the UK, alleging that his work “encourages violence and intolerance of homosexuality” and “fosters hatred with views that seek to provoke others to terrorist acts”. Four years later, the ban appears to have been overturned. In May, the rapper announced his return to London with an image of him standing outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, dressed in a blond wig and a red and pink ensemble. A surprise show in an undisclosed location was to be held that night, but as fans flocked to Peckham for the rapper’s return, police shut down the show for being “too rowdy”.
Three Brixton Academy shows have since been scheduled for September and, understandably, they sold out. Upon entering the Academy, the anticipation for the rapper to finally return to the stage can be felt across the venue. For the opening of his first UK headline show, Tyler appears on stage in the blond wig and canary yellow suit, standing motionless in front of a glittering gold curtain as IGOR’S THEME starts. As the drop kicks in, the crowd erupt and he careers around the stage with wild abandon, as though he’s sparring with an imaginary opponent. The song jerks to a halt and there’s a pregnant pause as he surveys the crowd. “London! It must have been four years or some shit?” The crowd react with a raucous chant of “Fuck Theresa May,” their live-wire energy surging like a current.
During his ban, Tyler has transformed dramatically – from his provocative and combustible early songs to the lovelorn artist we see now. The start of the show seems to underscore this point as he plays a run of songs from the brilliant IGOR, a record based on unrequited love and contemplative, weirdo neo-soul. A BOY IS A GUN and NEW MAGIC WAND – introduced as “My favourite song I’ve made to date. Just a little fun fact” – convey a vulnerability to the artist.
The curtain drops and Tyler sits at the piano to play the opening lines of EARFQUAKE as the crowd bellows “Don’t leave, it’s my fault” back at him. The standout track is rounded off with an acapella, his voice cracking in the last lines.
On stage, Tyler Okonma is enigmatic. Even when he’s standing still, puppet-like, the rapper is a captivating presence. Next, he plays 911 from Flower Boy, an album he says was released “during the time that bitch banned me…” but he quickly brushes it aside with: “It’s OK I’m cool now.” During Who Dat Boy, flames rise from the stage and Tyler thrashes across the platform; the track is followed by See You Again which plays out to an army of Tylers, dancing on a screen behind him.
IFHY sees the moshpit grow and the incendiary Yonkers (with its “stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn oesophagus” lyric) and OKRA’s breakneck flow raises the energy levels even higher. As it ends he sits on the floor, exhausted: “Man that shit tiring as fuck; might take that out of the setlist tomorrow.” The tempo settles again, and he undercuts the beauty of She with the line “Let the future fall into place… you cunt”.
It sums up the dichotomy of who he is as an artist. As the show comes to an end he addresses the crowd: “I don’t take back nothing I said. I’ll never apologise. They can suck my dick… I’m really happy I’m back.” The show finishes with Are We Still Friends?, and towards the end he screams and sinks to his knees. Tyler has always done things his way – and the first of his Brixton performances feels like a rejuvenating end to the events that had unfolded before. On his return to the UK, Tyler arrived with no apologies for who he is.