Everyone has that one friend. You know the one that you love despite all of their bullsh*t, but you’ll never really take them seriously? They could be the next great writer or musician or software engineer, but you never took the time to find out. To you, they’ll never outgrow the class clown persona that you’ve come to associate with them. This friend is Tyler, the Creator. He burst onto the scene with shock value raps and videos that pushed the limit of just how offensive an artist in the modern day could be. Even his interviews and Twitter profile more closely resembled that of a comedian and parody account than of a musician trying to be taken seriously for the long haul. It was 2009 when Tyler first introduced himself to us with a debut mixtape titled Bastard. It’s been nearly eight years since that time and while he still possesses the eccentricities of his earlier self, he has also revealed himself to be an artist that is begging to showcase his skillset and improvement. More often than not it’s himself that gets in the way of fully making the transition it seems like he’s aiming for. In 2017, he’s coming off an uneven and sporadic effort with 2015’s Cherry Bomb. It was an album that had glimpses of brilliance through its use of melody and matured musicianship, but contrasted it with aggressive distortion and poor mixing. With his latest release, the album cover and title of Flower Boy could indicate any number of directions that Tyler could go. If the past has told us anything, it’s that throwing expectations out the window when it comes to Tyler is probably the best bet.
The album begins with a beeping sound and Tyler shooting off a series of rhetorical questions on ‘Foreword’. If this is the true introduction to the album, then it seems as if this will be an album that questions not only past decisions, but future ones as well. English singer Rex Orange County lends a hand in the uncertain mood of the track. It’s a lush soundscape that fits both of their voices well. This leads into a collaboration between Odd Future affiliated Frank Ocean on ‘Where This Flower Blooms’. These two have always had a certain rapport on tracks and this one is no different. Backed almost entirely by piano and lights drums, the deep baritone of Tyler’s voice and clean half sung, half rapped hook from Ocean mesh nicely. ‘Flower Boy’ maintains its more downtempo and melodic side for almost the entire runtime of the album outside of a few rare moments. Tyler is singing on this album more than he ever has before. ‘See You Again’ featuring Kali Uchis is an immediate standout. He sings about a lover that he can only see in his dreams when he “closes his eyes”. Lines like “I wonder if you look both ways when you cross my mind” and others throughout the song make it apparent that Tyler may be singing about what he thinks is the perfect lover and not necessarily someone he has met before.
The lead single ‘Who Dat Boy’, which finds A$AP Rocky riding shotgun, is quite misleading to the sound of the project as a whole. It is classic Tyler in its aggressive nature and even landed him his first ever Hot 100 single on the Billboard charts. Both the second and third singles are more indicative of the albums tone. Frank Ocean shows up again, but this time with the help of newcomer Steve Lacy to assist in the loner’s anthem ‘911/Mr. Lonely’. It’s a two-part song that transitions seamlessly. The second half shows Tyler digging a little deeper and continuing to question his happiness on lines like “Purchase some things until I’m annoyed, These items fillin’ the void, Been fillin’ it for so long, I Don’t even know if it’s shit I enjoy.” It’s a roundabout way of expressing that money doesn’t buy happiness, but his delivery is like listening to someone’s unfiltered stream of consciousness as they try to explain their scattered emotions. Expressing feeling is new for Tyler and it’s ever-present on ‘Flower Boy’. Rex Orange County returns to help Tyler express his ‘Boredom’ on the third single and standout moment of the album. He questions friendships, motivations, and loneliness on the song which could just as easily be titled “Depression”.
It’d be hard to review an album like this without discussing the elephant in the room. The piece that has stolen the headlines away from the music these past two weeks. Yes, Tyler alludes to the fact that he is bi-sexual or gay or however listeners want to interpret it. It is a shocking revelation to those who only associate Tyler with using just about every derogatory term invented towards gay people in his earlier music. He alludes to his sexuality in multiple tracks, mainly ‘Garden Shed’, and bluntly states he’s been kissing “white boys since 2004” on ‘I Ain’t Got Time’. To focus solely on these two points is a cheap excuse for assessing the music on this album. Had Tyler not made the music he did when listeners first discovered him, this would not be the news that it has become. Tyler even references these concerns on one of the album’s best songs ‘November’. He asks “What if my music too weird for the masses, And I’m only known for tweets more than beats or all my day ones turn to three, fours cause of track seven?” Track seven is none other than the aforementioned ‘Garden Shed’ where Tyler discusses his sexuality the most in depth and his fear that fans might not like him anymore because of it. It represents an artist that is self-aware of his past and what this announcement could mean for him going forward. ‘November’ is a nostalgic trip down memory lane of an artist reminiscing on the happiest times of his life. It falls towards the end of the album and shows Tyler maturing before our eyes and acknowledging that it might have been time.
Flower Boy marks a new chapter in not only Tyler, the Creator’s musical career, but also his life. The hoopla surrounding his sexuality will probably be the focus upon this albums release, but to create headlines about that instead of the music would be doing a disservice to the growth displayed here. Outside of ‘Who Dat Boy’ and ‘I Ain’t Got Time’ which wouldn’t sound out of place on his earlier work, Flower Boy is a completely different affair than what we’re used to from him. It’s a softer, lighter note that carries almost the entirety of the project. He’s flexing musical chops that he alluded to having in the past, but making sure we know he has them this time. Tyler, the Creator has created plots and storylines around various characters on all of his past albums, but this is the first time it feels like we’re getting the storyline of Tyler himself. Flower Boy is a glossy, sparkling effort that can be thrown on in the background and serve as effective mood music, but a closer look into the lyrics reveals an inside look at the diary of a kid we may have written off before we even got to know him. He’s still hiding his message, this time behind the glimmery sheen of the instrumentals, but it’s there if you take the time to listen. Maybe it’s always been there. Sometimes a person can be the class clown for so long that you forget that they laugh, cry and bleed just like the rest of us. Every once in a while that same friend that you wrote off surprises you by starting his own business or landing a great job or even just by growing up. Tyler, the Creator is still the class clown, but maybe just maybe, he’s more than that.
Repeatable: ‘Foreword’, ‘See You Again’, ‘Boredom’, ‘911/Mr. Lonely’, ‘November’
Skippable: ‘I Ain’t Got Time’
By Scott Evans