Tyler, the Creator continues to evolve at the Schottenstein Center

The rapper delivered a high-energy performance on a stage made to look like a luxurious Swiss estate

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Tyler, the Creator performs at the Schottenstein Center on Sunday, Feb. 27

Tyler, the Creator makes an appearance in the newly released “Jackass: Forever" movie, playing piano while a quartet tap dances on an electrified platform. The rapper is perfectly suited to the moment, having followed a career path similar to the “Jackass” crew: snotty, youthful shenanigans leading to mainstream success and then something approaching elder statesman status, their current ventures made all the more interesting by the way each has addressed the past.

Also like the “Jackass” crew, it’s been a sometimes-ugly transition, with Tyler’s early solo material creating such a backlash that it led to him being banned from multiple countries, including the entirety of the U.K., accused of promoting violence and homophobia with his music. 

Much has changed from those early days, though, with the rapper now presenting as a model for how to gracefully evolve from internet-bred fame. In recent years, he’s earned a pair of Billboard 200 No. 1 albums and two Grammy nods, winning the best rap album award for Igor, from 2020. So, it’s understandable Tyler approached his headlining show at the Schottenstein Center on Sunday as a conquering hero, holding court on a stage outfitted to resemble a forested Swiss estate, complete with a 1939 Rolls Royce Wraith parked in the driveway. The vehicle paired nicely with the boat docked at the lip of the stage, which at one point whisked the rapper away to a grassy island in the middle of the arena for part of his performance.

In concert, Tyler drew heavily from his seventh full-length, Call Me If You Get Lost, from 2021, an album heavily rooted in his experiences growing up in the public eye. On “Massa,” performed early in the set, Tyler managed to pack 10 years of personal and professional evolution into four cathartic minutes. “Grew into my style, body and feelings, and fixed my hairline,” he rapped, a beat later adding, “I’m not that little boy ya’ll was introduced to at 19.”

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Part of Tyler’s appeal rests in his ability to consistently surprise with these ongoing evolutions. The last time the musician performed in Columbus, for example, headlining a 2019 show at Express Live, the rapper barely appeared onstage, instead ceding the spotlight to Igor, his alter-ego instantly recognizable by a bleached-blonde bob haircut and colorful, tailored suit. While Igor didn’t make an appearance this go-round, his presence was still felt in a handful of tracks performed off his namesake album, including “I Think” and “Earfquake,” on which the rapper pleaded for a lover to stay by his side.

Everything about the show was outsized, from the arena-worthy production design, which placed Tyler within the lap of luxury that surfaced in lines about tax loopholes and expensive cars (“Rolls Royce pull up, Black boy hop out,” he repeated on "Lumberjack”) to the lush musical production. Throughout, Tyler rhymed over booming beats that tended to be bright and ebullient, bass and drums hitting with floor-shaking authority.

Yet, somehow, the concert’s most compelling moments were often its most intimate, Tyler occasionally dropping his guard to reveal the fractured human at the core of everything, alternating between rapping and crooning: “Everyone I ever loved had to be loved in the shadows”; “Can I get a kiss? And can you make it last forever?”; “I can’t be alone.”

At times, Tyler blew out these personal revelations into big-screen drama. Such was the case on “IFHY,” where the rapper vacillated between love and hate, his turbulent emotions captured by the stage lighting, with flash bulbs flickering and cracking the dark, giving the appearance and feel of a massive storm blowing through. That the tempest unfolded on a private island just a short boat ride from a mountain chalet further highlighted a concept entwined within the concert’s DNA: money can buy plenty of things, but it can’t make a heart feel full.

The evening kicked off with a pair of divergent performances. Texas rapper Teezo Touchdown took to the stage swinging a chainsaw and with nails threaded in his hair but couldn’t get any of his half-baked songs to stick, while Vince Staples impressed without gimmicks, wisely adopting a simple setup (one man, one mic) that kept the focus on his effortless flow and consistently vivid storytelling. 

Singer Kali Uchis rounded out the opening performances, turning out an artful set while flanked by four dancers on whom she appeared to hold a planetary gravitational pull, able to make them fall, writhe together like snakes or twitch like extras in a Missy Elliott video with little more than a gesture. Musically, Uchis’ songs veered from heaving R&B bedroom jams to shimmering Latin pop gems, many of them carrying an affirmative quality. “If you need a hero,” she offered on “After the Storm,” “just look in the mirror.”