Tyler, the Creator x Vince Staples
The music of rappers Tyler, the Creator and Vince Staples is seemingly diametrically opposed. Tyler, on his latest album Flower Boy, adopted a floral theme rife with garden imagery and immaculate live-instrumentation arrangements. Staples, on the other hand, worked with rising electronic producers on Big Fish Theory to craft an industrial, almost Orwellian work. Big Fish Theory is abrasive and wordy, while Flower Boy is inviting and catchy. This is not to say that Tyler failed lyrically on his album, but rather that his typically baritone flow managed to put together an album as well-known for its hooks as its verses. Both projects are successes in their own right, but this is perhaps the only unifying factor that brought Tyler and Vince together on their ongoing joint tour.
The show last week, with Vince opening and Tyler headlining, drew a packed house at Stage AE. The majority of the crowd, it seemed, came to see Tyler, and that was most apparent during Vince's set. The crowd bobbed along to his electronic-inspired bangers, but for the most part seemed disinterested in his music. This was especially upsetting given Vince's level of notoriety in hip hop and the quality of his music. The set, too, was great, as the stage and Vince's presence felt like something drawn straight from 1984. Digital cubes were able to display video twisted and turned to the beat of each song, giving the stage a surreal look meant to unsettle the audience. Hits like "Big Fish" and "Norf Norf" drew excitement from the crowd as Vince's most well known songs, but there were noticeable dips in energy when lesser-known songs like "Party People" came on. Much of Vince's new music is crafted to be danced to, as it creates an almost club-like atmosphere. As it became more explicitly clear once Tyler took the stage, the crowd was evidently more interested in moshing than dancing.
There was a lull of almost 40 minutes between Vince's and Tyler's set, and the crowd grew noticeably more restless as time went on. Then the clock struck 10:00 p.m., and Tyler's entrance began. Vince's wall of digital cubes had been disassembled to reveal a purple curtain, and the curtain eventually dropped to reveal Tyler standing atop a log resting on its side at an incline. He was well above the audience, facing away from the crowd as Flower Boy hit "Where This Flower Blooms" faded in. He turned to face the crowd only once his vocal part began, and immediately grabbed the energy of the crowd. He held it for the entirety of his set. The set itself was fairly substantial in length, as well. He played almost the entirety of Flower Boy in addition to songs off earlier albums like Goblin and Wolf. Bangers like "Who Dat Boy" and "I Ain't Got Time" sent the crowd into a frenzy. I was hit in the face at least three times, at one point so hard that my glasses flew off and went missing for half of a song. Luckily, a good samaritan helped me find them, and I was able to quickly fix them before the next track.
Aside from former Odd Future collaborators Taco — who opened the show with a DJ set before Vince came on — and Jasper who sat off to the side, Tyler was the only person on stage, and he commanded it with ease. For someone sharing such personal details in songs like "Garden Shed" and "Glitter," both of which he performed, Tyler showed uniform confidence in the words he rapped and sang. For an artist like him, who went from spouting homophobia in his early works to quietly coming out of the closet on Flower Boy, Tyler carried the same genuine energy on stage that sold me on the album. The show felt personal, cathartic — especially for Tyler as he screamed "I've been kissing white boys since 2004" — and celebratory. Tyler, the Creator has emerged as an unlikely voice for honesty and compassion with his latest work, and his show at Stage AE fully reflected that commitment.