Tyler, the Creator: ‘Theresa May’s gone, so I’m back in the UK’

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Four years after being turned away at the airport, the rapper talks about his battle with the Home Office, his funk reinvention – and why accusations of homophobia were wide of the mark

It is a Tuesday afternoon in mid-September and Tyler, the Creator has been in London since the weekend, when he flew in from New York to Heathrow. Going through customs was surprisingly smooth, he says. “The lady said: ‘Hey, did you have a problem with immigration here in 2015?’” He laughs. “I said, yeah.”

Four years ago, his experience was very different. The then 24-year-old rapper and musician, born Tyler Okonma, was supposed to be playing at Reading and Leeds festivals that summer. Instead, when he landed in the UK, he was taken into a detention room and shown lyrics from his first two albums: Bastard, a mixtape he had put out in 2009, when he was 18; and Goblin, from 2011. Okonma had been to the UK since those albums had come out (once, to host a screening of Napoleon Dynamite), but nevertheless he was told that he had been banned from the country for three to five years. The home secretary at the time, Theresa May, used anti-terrorism legislation to forbid him entry, releasing an official statement that said his work “encourages violence and intolerance of homosexuality” and “fosters hatred with views that seek to provoke others to terrorist acts”.

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