Having a song banned from a radio station is a notorious achievement that will live long in the history books. However, that’s nothing compared to the hyperbolic treatment that Tyler, The Creator received in 2015 when the rapper was informed that he was no longer allowed to enter the United Kingdom for “inciting terrorism”.
The August Bank Holiday sees hundreds of thousands flock to the Reading & Leeds Festivals, and in 2015, Tyler, The Creator was booked to put on a clinic that never came to fruition after his journey to Britain faced an abrupt end. Just three months before his scheduled performances, Tyler had already visited the UK and had no concerns about attending the festivals. However, fast-forward a matter of weeks, and border control had other ideas.
“Based on lyrics from 2009, I am not allowed in the UK for three-five years (although I was there eight weeks ago). That is why the shows were cancelled,” the rapper tweeted on August 26th, 2015. This post prompted a response from the Home Office, who said: “Coming to the UK is a privilege, and we expect those who come here to respect our shared values.”
The move was completely unprecedented. Unlike other artists who had been denied entry to the UK in the past, such as Busta Rhymes or domestic abuser Chris Brown, Tyler hadn’t committed any criminal activities and didn’t deserve to be considered in the same category. Instead, the Odd Future rapper faced a punishment because of his lyrical content within work dating all the way back to his teenage years.
If the lyrics were so problematic, why was Tyler allowed to perform in the UK just three months before the ban? The countless flaws in the reasoning behind his denied entry to Britain made it a remarkable, one-off case that felt personal to the rapper. “The home secretary has considered whether, in light of this list, you should be excluded from the UK on the grounds that your presence here would not be conducive to the public good,” a letter to the rapper read from then-Home Secretary, Theresa May’s office. “The home secretary has reached this decision because you have brought yourself within the scope of the list of unacceptable behaviour by making statements that may foster hatred, which might lead to intercommunity violence in the UK.”
The letter added: “Your albums Bastard, in 2009, and Goblin, in 2011, are based on the premise of your adopting a mentally unstable alter ego who describes violent physical abuse, rape and murder in graphic terms which appears to glamourise this behaviour.”
Speaking to The Guardian just days after receiving the news, the rapper said: “Monday was one of the shittiest days I’ve ever had. I was in a detention room; I felt like a criminal. And then [a Border Force officer] showed me lyrics from songs … literally, a paper with five lines of lyrics, and four were from Bastard songs and one was from Tron Cat.”
Adding: “I never perform those songs. Thirty minutes later, the guy comes in, he gives me a paper, and he says: ‘OK, they’re not letting you in the country.’ The paper said I couldn’t come at all, saying that I support homophobia and acts of terrorism, and [it said] some other stuff. I’m just like, one, none of that is true, and two, I was here seven weeks ago. I rented out a movie theatre for a show. I did something really awesome, and it was no problem.”
Tyler was given a ban for three to five years which could have seriously halted his career in the UK, just as The Kinks’ rise in the States was thwarted in the ’60s after they received the same treatment. However, Tyler’s ban only increased his notoriety and made him even more of a star.
Following Theresa May’s resignation as Prime Minister in 2019, Tyler could breathe easily once more, and he finally made his long-awaited return back to British shores. After four years away, he had some making up to do, and the UK was hungry to see him.
Tyler announced a surprise show in May 2019 in Peckham, which was called off by the police due to “overcrowding”, but later that year, he took over the world-famous Brixton Academy for a three-night residency which made up for lost time beautifully.
However, the rapper’s redemption story wasn’t finished there. The 2019 album, Igor, chronicled Tyler’s love affair with a man, which ironically arrived just four years after his ban in the UK for “supporting homophobia”. That record took his career to the upper echelons of superstardom and led to him winning Best International Male Solo Artist at the Brit Awards in 2020.
During his speech, Tyler didn’t forget to thank those who played a part in him winning the gong, and there was one person in particular who he had to shout out. “And I wanna give a special shout out to someone who I hold dear to my heart, who made it where I couldn’t come to this country five years ago. I know she’s at home pissed off. Thank you Theresa May,” he said with a wry smile in his victory speech.
Thankfully the ban didn’t have a cataclysmic effect on Tyler and, instead, further enhanced his aura, which already made him stand out from the pack. In the end, he’d be the one who’d come out smiling and rise above the injustice that was thrown in his direction by the Home Office.