From tracks off of his recently-released number one album IGOR to songs for other artists, these are Tyler, the Creator’s 15 best songs he’s produced.
In celebration of IGOR, Tyler, the Creator‘s first number one album, there’s no better time to take a ride through the rambunctious Flower Boy’s production credits. Through five studio albums, a number of features, mixtapes, and posse cuts, Tyler has one of the most distinctive sounds in the game. He’s grown as both a solo artist and producer since introducing himself as the de facto leader of Odd Future, redefining his sound with everything he touches.
He’s learned from some of the best: Pharrell, Kanye West, The Alchemist — and over the next 15 songs, we hear the melding of dark tenderness that’s rendered Tyler a household name.
Feast on the 15 best songs Tyler, the Creator has produced.
Wolf remains Tyler’s first real foray into the jazz tradition. As much as the aleatoric percussion has become a staple in his discography from jump, “Treehome95” steadies the drum patterning against high piano keystrokes, making for a dusty, layered pocket that he’d return to very often in his career. With a distant horn sprinkled in the midground, “Treehome95” also dials us into Tyler’s diverse taste in records. Up to this point, while showing himself to be a talented rapper and shock artist, his musicality felt secretive, hidden under a heady cult of personality that finally began to fray. “Treehome95” feels like an ending and a beginning.
The dark, plodding keys and deeply sparse bass are the easiest markers to recognize Tyler’s first major hit of the decade. Its music video is still one of the more memorable debut shock videos we’ve had the pleasure of feasting our eyes on, Tyler’s roach-eating scene forever seared into our brains. This was when Tyler was still playing off his dark identity “Wolf” with heavy voice modulation and mean-spirited raps. The track had the Gen X rap heads nervous and the punks knocking heads harder than anything else released that year. “Yonkers” put Odd Future on the Internet’s radar and they’ve held our attention ever since.
“She” feels like if Wolf fell stupidly in love but could only express that attraction through, like, stalking and homicidal threats. The black incel characterization notwithstanding, “She” was also the first time the Frank Ocean and Tyler tandem showed itself manageable in making svelte-smooth records that could thump the bass up out your speakers. The synth compromising the bottom of this track is appropriately eerie as fuck, and the droning manner with which Frank sings adds a filthy complement.
“Sword slice the air / I pulled out the nana / rolled out the bed then shot back,” Frank says, the sound clearing as he punctuates it with an eighth-note “pow pow” that rings out with such groovy intent. You almost forget that they’re talking about committing some pretty heinous crimes against the person they’re supposed to be in love with.
4. Who Dat Boy
“Who Dat Boy” feels like a landmark song that showcased not just Tyler’s adroit horror film hip-hop techniques — plucky strings and low rumble synths could’ve been a Get Out B-side — but also his pop viability. In a hip-hop world dominated by swampy trap, Tyler’s penchant cinematic sonics leans into that oft-trodden darkness without rehearsing the same sounds as his counterparts. It’s an example of the kid scaling back the lyrical shock and awe, and imbuing that ethic in the music itself.
5. Palace/Curse by The Internet
Our first entry wherein Tyler’s ear for sexy chord progression bears magical fruit. “Palace/Curse” is one of the most versatile records on The Internet’s Ego Trip, both for its midway switch up and its ability to bend into a break up record, party jam, and slowed out love song. His old Odd Future buds have grown so used to finding the cut within OF’s programmed drums, it only made sense for it to sit on this list. Not to mention, I’m a big sucker for call-and-response portions in the middle of a record. Makes it feel like we’re a lot less alone than we are which, as the next entry will show, are feelings that Tyler deals with on a pretty regular basis.
Winnin’ of the wayback machine, “EARFQUAKE” is Tyler’s subtle ode to Pharrell Williams. From the production to the melodies, this thang screams Neptunes. Playboi Carti’s guest verse is effortless, paired with Tyler’s sparkling piano riff that bottoms out to that vintage 4/4 count digression that typically starts A Neptunes track. IGOR owes its glam aesthetic to Williams but its heartbreak is felt all over the music as well. Measures open with wondrous grandeur — like the start of a promising relationship — and close out on a downward turn signaling the end. But what Tyler has found across his entire discography is the balance of genuine emotionality with the frivolity of his personality. And it’s so clear here.
7. A BOY IS A GUN
Everything about this song is rather fire. From the Ponderosa Twins “Plus On” sample — a la Tyler’s musical hero Yeezy, who used the sample in “Bound 2” — to the slight robotic modulation in Tyler’s voice, this song just feels extremely right. There’s a completely random moment — a little more than a minute in — where the song drops out and Tyler sprinkles his fingers over keys. And while there might not be some inherent meaning to that portion it just sounds dope as shit. A guitar riff pops in a little later with that same sort of kinetic improvisation that Tyler’s honed over the last couple of years. He opts against lyrical ridiculousness and instead heightens our sonic anticipation only to slightly subvert it with resounding instrumental flourishes. This is new, this is fun, but it’s so very Tyler.
In one of the many songs where Tyler invites his boo to do donuts in the coupe (he and Frank truly dig this love language), “2seater” lengthens and evolves the jazzy progressions of “Treehome95.” The difference here is that the densely layered musical canopy is less neo-soulish and more lush. When that bass drops around the 2:40 mark and the emcee takes off with the raps, peep the twinkling xylophones boppin’ in the background. By this point — around the Cherry Bomb era — we have a general idea of the direction Tyler’s music might swerve into. But here, those movements are told through a small skit that suddenly dovetails into a completely sparse bridge with a Mac DeMarco namedrop, before skying once again toward its closing moments.
This that ride around the city, voice blaring into the night air, pining for your lover music. To be fair, there isn’t too much in the way of unconventional Tyler stuff here. Nothing that says this is a moment of productive growth outside of the fact that there is a clear beginning, middle, and end. Even the off-kilter drums that we know Tyler for aren’t really present. But “PartyIsntOver/Campfire/Bimmer” is more a moment where the best of his productive chops come together. The slinking synths, twinkling keys, selective sampling, and idiosyncratic chord progressions are all done with such a rich seamlessness it had to be included.
Much like “Who Dat Boy,” “IFHY” is another standout moment in poppiness that doesn’t betray Tyler’s overall purpose and aesthetic. What’s really remarkable is how the duality of his personality — a trait that fans have seen since his earliest work — shows up here but in a toned-down fashion. This was also a celebration of transition. “IFHY” represented the turn from self-aggrandizing to psychoanalyzing his patterns of love and making that introspection plain. Let’s just say, it’s hard to see an IGOR without an “IFHY.”
11. Speed by Kali Uchis
It’s almost like the kid was listening to XXYYXX’s “About You” and wanted to make a head-knocking version. Luckily, Kali Uchis is much more melodic than that electronic slowed out trip. She’s damn near rappin’ in the cut, double-timing the whole note synths and swangin’ bass lick that make up this simple yet effective track.
When Flower Boy dropped we knew it would be something a little different from Cherry Bomb considering the press surrounding it, as well as Tyler deciding to come out as a queer man prior to its release. And while that’s all well and good, the way “Pothole” envelops the poplockin’, c-walkin’ ethic of the Westside while still feeling like a ride around record is just infectious. The bounce unlocks during Jaden Smith’s chorus, an adroit move that highlights how perfect his voice fits within Tyler’s musical stratosphere.
The drums on “SMUCKERS” are so fucking dope. It sounds like Tyler turned off the snare, making for a naturalistic thump of wood on stretched canvas, adding some oomph to his anger-rasp raps. The xylophone drops in midway through that first verse and while Yeezy doesn’t receive the beat switch up treatment like his big brother Weezy, his voice and slightly off-putting flow is an additive. Peep the pauses where he let’s the drum rolls take up musical space. My man understands that you gotta let the band — whether electronically or otherwise — get theirs.
“JAMBA” features pissed-off Tyler doing pissed-off Tyler things. I go up for a good handclap, and the way it functions here in lieu of heavy snare usage makes “JAMBA” feel like more of a rappity-rap record than anything else. Not to mention, the thick and slick synth turns on “JAMBA” portended the ways Tyler utilizes that sound to convey tone, tenor, and tambre better than most producers overusing it today.
One time for the original OF crew. It’s kinda wild to listen back to this staticky song and foretell the ways Tyler (and Earl, of course) would grow from here. “AssMilk” is far more boom bap and call and response than most of the inclusions on this list. But check out the twinkle undergirding the drum patterning here and you’ll hear the kind of sensibility that defines the rest of Tyler’s discography. This was Tyler and Earl at their youngest and most debaucherous, and the production spoke to that. But even more, it showed that there was so much promise in the gaps that lay between them. Promise that both have ended up fulfilling in their own respective trajectories.
Tirhakah Love is a contributing TV writer at the San Francisco Chronicle with music writing bylines at Rolling Stone, the Fader, and Red Bull Music Academy. He can be found on Twitter.