And besides, they do in fact have loads in common. Tyler speaks about music with both the passion of a devoted fan and the attention to detail of a critic. Flex is a similarly intense listener. They talked for a while about the 1990s/2000s hip-hop and R&B producer Kay Gee, and agreed that Eminem’s later albums don’t hold up to the early ones. By the end of the interview, Flex invited himself to warm up the crowd at Tyler’s Madison Square Garden concert in September. He also asked if Tyler would come to his car show next month.
Tyler suggested they hang out: “What do you do? I like shopping for perfume. You go shop for Timbs?”
Flex/Tyler upends all the usual rhythms of an interview: It’s not promotional, it’s not gossipy and there are barely any questions asked. Even Tyler’s freestyle — the ostensible reason for the appearance on Flex’s show — didn’t play by the usual rules. Tyler emphasized that he, unlike the typical guest, didn’t have anything prepared. Here, too, he imploded the rubric — these days, most rappers arrive with pre-written, not-yet-heard verses, a far cry from when rappers would actually freestyle.
But improvisation is what Tyler specializes in, and so he improvised, making what happened during his freestyle all the more improbable and impressive. For the last year or so, he has been referring to same-sex attraction in his music — a subject that is still widely taboo in hip-hop. Given that Tyler freely used anti-gay slurs early in his career, the move has been received with uncertainty.
In various moments of the talk, Tyler performatively flirted with Flex, telling him, “Hey, hey, look at me — I’m yours,” when Flex asked if he needed to leave. In his freestyle, Tyler doubled down, rapping several different ways about sex with men, and conjured an elaborate intimate scenario with his host: “Me and Flex was cuddled up watching Scooby-Doo eating Scooby Snacks.” It’s a masterful performance of staring into the heteronormative abyss and not flinching. (As a freestyle, maybe a little less masterful.)
Flex appeared intermittently uncomfortable — “What made you go with that verse?” he asked at one point — but mostly stayed out of the way. Full control of the conversation shifted to Tyler, who slowly injected small doses of absurdism, provocation and wit until he had, in fact, disarmed the room. He took the staid form of the radio interview and freestyle and injected them with rowdy, unpredictable energy. And he made an ally of someone who never seemed like he could be one.
“Who would have thought we would be besties?” Tyler asked.
“We gonna break the internet,” Flex promised.