2011 was a while ago. When Tyler, the Creator rapped that he would “stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn esophagus” on 2011’s “Yonkers,” he wasn’t threatening the Bruno we’ve come to love or hate on “24K Magic,” “Locked Out Of Heaven,” or even “The Lazy Song.” Tyler was threatening fedora-wearing, Doowops and Hooligans, “her hair, her hair,” 2011 Bruno Mars.
A lot has happened since 2011. Barack Obama won another election. Donald Trump won one too. Your dad is now familiar with at least three Bruno Mars songs. Bruno Mars married model Jessica Caban, and together the couple adopted an adorable rottweiler, which they named Geronimo. Tyler, the Creator was barred from entering the United Kingdom and Australia for women-hating and homophobic lyrics. Tyler may have publicly come out of the closet on 2017’s [Scum Fuck] Flower Boy. Vince Staples leaped from Odd Future friend-of-a-friend to Black Panther soundtrack-certified headliner.
On Feb. 18, Vince Staples and Tyler, the Creator, performed at MTELUS, Montreal’s largest non-Bell Centre concert hall.
Staples’ opening set was ridiculous; the rapper seamlessly balanced sparse, minimalist cuts from 2015’s Summertime ‘06 with the audacious, West Coast techno of last year’s Big Fish Theory. Backed by a grid screening monochrome videos of waves, flowers, demolished project housing, and Amy Winehouse interviews, Staples violently careened across his stage before a crowd of dehydrated, vibrating rap fans.
Vince Staples is far too good to still be opening for other rappers.
Following a too-long break after his set, the curtains dropped on what must be rap’s most elaborate stage design this side of Kanye West’s Yeezus Tour (in which Kanye was chased by a wolf-thing on a mountain and sat on a literal throne made of women). Tyler began his performance atop a huge fake rainforest tree, cracked in half at about 20 feet, creating a kind of tropical fern-bannistered causeway to the rest of the stage.
Sporting a hooded peacock-blue puffer jacket, which he quickly threw aside to reveal a high-vis yellow construction vest and a 100-likes-and-I’ll-get-it soccer ball dye job, Tyler began his descent to stage level with “Where This Flower Blooms,” from Flower Boy. As his own baritone flow nearly succumbed to the audience’s loud chants of “I rock, I roll, I bloom, I glow,” Tyler seemed genuinely surprised at the enthusiasm from the Montreal contingent of his fandom.
Feeding off this crowd-sourced energy, Tyler bounced and flailed through the introspective, idyllic cuts unique to his more recent material, including “Boredom,” “911 / Mr. Lonely,” “Ziploc” (a freestyle over Jay-Z’s “4:44”), and Frank Ocean’s “Biking,” before pausing to take a breath.
“Hi,” Tyler said. “It’s fucking cold in your city. Uhhh. I like Tim Horton’s white hot chocolate. Fuck McDonalds. We got that in America. I’m gonna do this next song and shit I guess.”
Understandably a little overwhelmed by the vocal exuberance of the sold-out MTELUS crowd, Tyler’s generic stage banter nonetheless elicited laughter from his sweaty, screaming audience. From the deafening sing-alongs and off-beat clap-alongs, to the weird, uneasy this-is-my-first-mosh-pit mosh pits to songs that don’t really beg for them (“Garden Shed,” among many, many others), his reception was uniformly raucous from start to finish.
Tyler has covered an absurd amount of ground in his career. Odd Future isn’t really a thing anymore, as the weak turnout for alumnus Taco’s early opening DJ set can attest. Tyler doesn’t rap about locking Taylor Swift in his basement anymore. There were fans in the all-ages audience, I’m sure, who wouldn’t recognize the Tyler who screamed at a goth girl and rode Jimmy Fallon’s back on live television in 2012. These fans were introduced to Tyler not as a cockroach-munching wack job, but as the charming, goofy crooner seen on his recent Tiny Desk Concert. It was a little jarring to see “Yonkers” performed to a more muted response than “See You Again.” But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Tyler has made the leap to a new generation of hip hop fans, without losing an ounce of his vitality in the transition.