Review: Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy

There are many things you can say about rapper Tyler, The Creator, but you certainly can’t call him a slouch when it comes to anything he does. In the two years since the release of his last album Cherry Bomb, he’s just been keeping at his various endeavors from fashion to tours to other entertainment, and more. Now it’s 2017, and it looks to be another big year for the Odd Future mastermind. In addition to having recently appeared on a new Frank Ocean tune a few months back, he’s also kept himself busy with two brand new television projects: a live-action Viceland show set to premiere next week, and an Adult Swim animated series set for sometime later this summer. It’s about as good a time as any for Tyler to put out a new release, and so here we are with his fourth full-length studio album, Flower Boy… or Scum Fuck Flower Boy depending on who you choose to listen to.

The album opener “Foreword” gives us an overview of what to expect from this new release, presenting the listener with an ominous heart monitor-esque beat akin to a darker version of Kanye West’s “Say You Will” as the lyrics gloss over a multitude of topics: his love of cars, feelings of intense depression and boredom, imagery of flowers and plants, etc. This sets the stage for Flower Boy as an incredibly moody and introspective release, starting with the 2nd track “Where This Flower Blooms”. The flower imagery comes into play to describe Tyler’s growth from an underground curiosity to one of the biggest and most successful names in the industry (“Flower boy t/nigga that’s me rooted from the bottom bloomed into a tree”). “Pothole” similarly delves into themes of overcoming obstacles in life, utilizing the imagery of a pothole to describe backstabbing friends who get in the way of potential success, even calling back to the opening song’s allusion to watching cartoons in a mansion alone.

“Boredom” taps into Tyler’s feelings of isolation as he begs for any of his friends to give him a call so he can get out of the house and do something to not feel alone. There’s some rather blunt and honest lines in this particular track (“is it me cause I’m not solved/I’m bored, bored and getting desperate as hell/and I hope someone will message me with some plans”). These are elaborated on further with the double track “911/Mr. Lonely,” with the first half showing Tyler begging for someone to call him like it’s an emergency (hence the title), and the second half displaying his desperation for any kind of attention. He acknowledges the frequent references to sports cars across his entire discography as a coping mechanism for dealing with loneliness. In addition, the opening lines of “Mr. Lonely” present a rather interesting recurring motif within the album:

They say the loudest in the room is weak
That’s what they assume but I disagree
I say the loudest in the room
is prolyl the loneliest one in the room, that’s me

Tyler is commenting on how his bombastic over-the-top persona is a coping mechanism for his feelings of anxiety and depression. While the album is very soulful and meditative, there are a couple of bangers on the release in the forms of “Who Dat Boy” and “I Ain’t Got Time”. The former is appropriately menacing and creepy, with Tyler and guest A$ap Rocky rapping about how badass they are with some pretty clever lines throughout, especially some of the humorous Spanish wordplay in the last few bars. The phrase “Who Dat Boy” crops up in what is possibly the album’s moodiest track, “November”: a song in which he worries greatly about stagnating and becoming irrelevant, being remembered only for outlandish Twitter antics than any production/music work. There is also another highly interesting allusion between the two tracks, as both make a rather prominent reference to Summertime ’06, the debut album from rapper Vince Staples. Tyler uses “November” as a stand-in for the last time he felt truly happy, saying:

Tell me, what’s yo November
Is it a person?
Mine was the summer
’06, I remember

Vince has described the meaning behind the title of his debut album thusly: “Summer of 2006, the beginning of the end of everything I though I knew. Youth was stolen from my city that summer, and I’m left alone to tell the story.” He could very well be using the allusion in conjunction with November to describe the last time he was ever happy or satisfied with life. The track also makes reference to track 7, “Garden Shed”, which has been a massive source of discussion for the music press for being seen as an explicit attempt for Tyler, The Creator to possibly come out as gay. There’s been much debate on this topic, and while I’m not the most comfortable making a definitive judgement call here, I will say that given Tyler’s constant persona of being in an unhealthy emotional/mental state (combined with the album’s themes of growth and maturity), I accept it’s possible that this could be what he’s trying to get across.

While the lyrics are strong as always, presenting over-arching motifs and references while getting you into a really moody headspace, the production is equally strong. Flower Boy veers back into the soul/R&B influences that make up the bulk of his discography that were somewhat tuned down on Cherry Bomb (with plenty of soulful keys and great R&B vocals from guests like Frank Ocean, Jaden Smith, and even Estelle), and they sound absolutely fantastic and better than ever. There’s quite a few neat touches sprinkled throughout, with probably the most interesting touch being in “Garden Shed”. The beat incorporates quite a bit of guitar work in a way which evokes, oddly, the aesthetics of ‘90s alternative rock, with the clean chorus-laden chords and the distortion-heavy flanger effects near the end. It adds a cool twist to his style, evoking the idea of intense detachment and apathy through completely different means. The aforementioned “Who Dat Boy” and “I Ain’t Got Time” are appropriately over-the-top rap bangers, with the latter having a Latin-flavored clustering of percussion and horns akin to mariachi/ the image of a Spanish bullfight. On top of all this, the album avoids the main pitfall of Cherry Bomb by actually having Tyler audible in the mix instead of buried massively underneath the beats.

Overall, Flower Boy is an absolutely fantastic album, presenting a great collection of somber and emotionally melancholic rap tunes that present a rather emotionally honest and depressing image of Tyler, The Creator. While I will admit that my personal taste veers towards Wolf still being my favorite album of his, this new release is a big step up from Cherry Bomb and is easily the tightest and most thematically cohesive record that he’s put out to date. Do not skip out on this one.

Verdict: Buy it. Tyler may not have time for these niggas, but you all have (or should make) time for this album.

Flower Boy is available from Odd Future Records/Columbia Records on CD, digital download (iTunes, Google Play, etc.), and streaming services.

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