Tyler, The Creator first stepped onto the rap scene with his 2009 mixtape Bastard, which picked up a following of young kids looking for an alternative hip-hop sound. Those kids found it again in Tyler‘s first full length LP Goblin. Both albums featured graphic lyrics that depicted scenes of self-harm, murder, and suicide, as well as heavy use of homophobic slurs. Tyler defended these songs later by explaining that they generate shock value.
Now, over five years after his initial controversy, he finds himself in the spotlight once more thanks to Flower Boy. This time, that controversy stems from lyrics alluding to his own sexuality, and the way in which he comes out of the closet. As an Odd Future fan that identifies as queer, I’ve got quite a few biases and opinions of my own that may affect my perspective. With that in mind, we’ll be diving into some of the other tracks that have garnered so much hype and show the next phase of Tyler‘s growth as an artist.
Mellow, Not Mellowhype
From the very first track, “Foreword”, I notice that the production value of this album easily trumps that of his past work. The contrast between this track and something like “Sandwiches” off of Goblin is night and day. His flow on this track is effortless as well, as Tyler asks questions that seem to lead into one another, such as “How many raps can I write ’til I get me a chain?/How many chains can I wear ’til I’m considered a slave?”.
Who Him Is?
Even though Flower Boy is so laid-back and emotional, it is a rap album. It just wouldn’t be complete without a few braggadocious bangers! Oddly enough, the first such track, “Who Dat Boy”, is the fifth track on the album, following three slow jams and an interlude. Tyler pairs up with A$AP Rocky on the song, rapping about the success of their different ‘business ventures’, such as the GOLF clothing line. The flows are aggressive and well-crafted, and Tyler and Rocky play off of each other with ease. Just as they maintain a ferocious energy on the track, the beat shows Tyler‘s threatening abilities as a producer.
Another enthusiastic track is “I Ain’t Got Time!”, where he dives into the problems of his fame. He sounds off on people who are around him just because he’s famous. The beat on this track is another great example of the detailed, layered production that’s all over Flower Boy. And when Tyler switches up the rhythm at 1:33, I can’t help but bob my head.
Call Me Sometime
The preceding track, “Boredom”, pertains to feelings of loneliness. The ‘find some time’ hook delivered by Rex Orange County and Anna of the North is an absolute earworm, and the watery guitars pair well with their voices. While the arrangement on this track is beautiful, Tyler‘s flow on the track is actually pretty sobering. He wonders if his detachment is his own fault, and even shows himself confronting his friends.
This dichotomy of despondent lyrics and sunny instrumentation is at its best on the track “911/Mr. Lonely”. Both Anna of the North and Frank Ocean make a return on the first half of the track. In contrast, Tyler calls himself ‘the loneliest man alive’ and uses the simple ‘911’ lyric as a dark memento, insinuating that he may be at serious risk of depression. He also mentions the things he buys to fill the void. The second half of the song is basically one long verse where Tyler maintains these themes of isolation.
Too Weird for the Masses?
Even though I think this is the best album Tyler, The Creator has put out so far, Flower Boy is not without its weeds. For me, there’s only two tracks that I just can’t get into: “Pothole” and “Glitter”. The beat on “Pothole” seems a tad mediocre in the context of the LP, and Jaden Smith‘s delivery on the hook is downright annoying. The pitch-shifted vocals and unsatisfying flows on “Glitter” also leave a lot to be desired.
Still, Flower Boy is a huge step for Tyler, and it will be remembered as one of his most honest and remarkable projects. Not only does he write his lyrics from a place of vulnerability, he also crafts some of his most intricate musical arrangements to date. It’s a great album for old and new fans alike, and I believe it may become one of the best rap albums of the year.
Notable Tracks: “Foreword”; “Who Dat Boy”; “Boredom”; “911/Mr. Lonely”
FFO: Odd Future, Frank Ocean, Rex Orange County, Pharrell Williams