Tyler, The Creator has consistently proven to be a hip-hop blogger’s inspiration. Controversial, youthful and enigmatic all come to mind as apt descriptors of the one-time Odd Future front man and make for leads to countless clickbaity stories. With the release of his fourth full length project, Flower Boy, Tyler is tossing these preconceptions aside all while paradoxically keeping them as relevant as ever.
The controversy in question is Tyler’s homosexuality, which in all honesty couldn’t be less of a motivator to listen to this album. Plenty of sites have dissected the meanings behind verses on tracks like “Glitter” and “Garden Shed” though neither song should elicit such musings. Regardless of Tyler’s sexual preferences, he has effectively and maturely captivated the same blogosphere he once dominated some six years ago.
Had Tyler crafted an album in 2011 surrounding his sexuality, he’d likely be bouncing from site to site, interview to interview, engaging in banter as interviewers skirt around tackling the question on everyone’s mind: “Well Tyler, is it true?”
Of course, what would follow would be a largely incoherent back and forth in which Tyler dodges questions and talks about any and everything on his mind not related to his music. At one point in his career, Tyler needed a platform, and his outrageous (often vomit involved) antics provided him just that.
The same way, however, that Kendrick Lamar pushed himself not to wallow in the gangster drenched soundscapes that guided Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, Tyler is experiencing an artistic revival that both intrigues old fans and garners new ones. Where many writers are concerned with how a still maturing Tyler, The Creator could have espoused a multitude of homophobic slurs throughout his career only to supposedly “come out” on this album, the real intrigue lay in how he managed such growth after the hot-and-cold release Cherry Bomb. The rhythmic and personal Tyler that existed on Wolf largely went missing on Cherry Bomb, as listeners were greeted with disharmonious and distorted compositions like the title track and “Pilot.” On Flower Boy, however, Tyler blends a dash of maturity with glimpses of his usual flair to present a tactfully composed and refreshing album.
As much as Tyler has avoided the same spotlight he once craved over the last two years, his engagement with creations beyond music have allowed for a revitalized and appealing track list on this album. Despite throwing himself into fashion designing and building up his Golf media brand, Tyler hasn’t lost his ear for vocal delivery or melodic construction. Much of Flower Boy plays like a soundtrack, drawing on emotions of loneliness and self-doubt, albeit with a level of gratification. No longer is Tyler wondering why his derelict father is nowhere to be found, nor is he wrestling with the Drake-esque problems of amassing too much fame. Instead, Tyler builds an approachable and relatable series of tracks pertaining to love and self-reflection while maintaining his fondness for references to his interest in cars and sweets.
The intro track “Forward” marks one of Tyler’s most notable points of growth: his consideration of race. Rarely did Tyler make a point of sympathizing with black oppression through his music, instead opting to make tracks he enjoyed that lacked any discernable notion of race. Tyler’s persona even subverted these themes, as he became the racially ambiguous Wolf Haley whose personal background seldom impacted his role in Tyler’s tracks. On “Forward” Tyler asks a series of existential questions which include, “How many raps can I write ‘til I can get me a chain? / How many chains can I wear ‘til I’m considered a slave? / How many slaves can it be ‘til Nat Turner arrives? / How many riots can it be until them black lives matter?”
Tyler continues to rap, however sparingly, about interaction with police, a topic he’s touched on in the past on tracks like “Radicals” albeit without the racial connotation. Rapping “Fuck cops” on “Radicals” was less of a call for black unity or freedom from oppression than it was a riotous and youth driven catchphrase that drew empathy from misguided listeners. Even on his previous album Cherry Bomb and its title track, the visuals of a lynch mob chasing down a white-faced Tyler subverted the overtly political message of black oppression. Plainly questioning the police and Black Lives Matter from racial standpoint is new ground for Tyler, and while he quickly returns to his personal struggles on the album, taking the time to include a socially relevant stance in his usually hedonistic music signals a level of maturity yet unseen.
Despite Tyler occasionally incorporating this lyrical levity, with encouraging bars like, Tell these black kids they can be who they are/ Dye your hair blue, shit I’ll do it too” on “Where This Flower Blooms,” he still enjoys divulging his fantasies of his ideal life similar to how he envisioned a picturesque summer camp story throughout Wolf.
Musically, Tyler has somehow managed to ascend from his already capable production to create another cohesive project filled with layered tracks and smooth transitions. The fade from synths, pianos and strings on “Garden Shed” into the guitar intro of “Boredom” is immediately unassuming, but makes for one of the album’s most pleasant moments. Tyler also maintained his penchant for collaborations, with each featured artist adapting to Tyler’s eccentricities. Estelle’s ethereal expressions on “Garden Shed” sparkle along with the shimmering production, just as the soothing hook of “911” contrasts well with the bouncier and repetitive main section. Even the sped up vocals of “Glitter” would have at one point led to discordant track production, but Tyler tapers the vocal distortions to match shifts in tempo throughout the cut.
Ultimately, some three years after revealing to Larry King that he hates rapping, Tyler, The Creator has reaffirmed to fans that his creative and rap friendly wheels are still spinning. Although Tyler is not as much of a wild card as he once was, listeners can still rejoice that he hasn’t completely swapped out his musical equipment for Adobe Illustrator.