Listening to a Tyler, the Creator album is like enjoying a Van Gogh painting. Each note is a richly textured, perfectly placed brush stroke that, when combined with its companions, creates a vivid image. Just like with a Van Gogh, every time the listener returns to a Tyler album, they will gain new insights. Maybe on one repeat listen, the listener will notice a fluttering synth trill; on another, they develop a new emotional attachment to a song. In many respects, Tyler, the Creator’s “Starry Night” — his magnum opus — is his 2019 album IGOR. IGOR, Tyler’s 21st century spin on old-school R&B, was responsible for cementing Tyler’s transition in the public eye from an amateurish shock-jock to a serious artist, after laying the groundwork with Flower Boy.
So how do you follow IGOR?
How does an artist continue a career when the public has already decided their peak? Tyler’s answer to this seemingly inescapable question is a move remarkably in character for him; release an album straight out of left field.
CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is Tyler’s victory lap. Thanks to Tyler’s newfound superstardom, material wealth, such as Rolls Royces and fancy European travel, is now obtainable. This opulence comes out delightfully in the production of the album as everything from the intricately layered instrumentals to the Wes Anderson-esque aesthetic exudes extravagance. Features from hip-hop legends like Pharrell Williams and DJ Drama only affirm Tyler’s success during the album’s 53-minute runtime.
Rapping about material wealth is nothing new in the world of hip-hop, but listeners of CALL ME may find deeper meaning buried beneath the album’s gold-plated surface. Although Tyler is the man who has everything, his success is undercut by a potential lover deep in a relationship with a close friend. CALL ME is not nearly as conceptual as IGOR but does allude to a narrative thread. The album reaches a climax deep in the tracklisting on “WILSHIRE,” in which Tyler breathlessly narrates over an eight-minute backbeat rhythm about his anguish. Fans may recognize this plot as nearly the inverse to IGOR, in which Tyler’s lover leaves him for another person. Although the roles may have been reversed, the result is the same; Tyler is left alone in a lavish mansion.
Looking through Tyler, the Creator’s catalog, one naturally sees a divide between “old” and “new” Tyler. Back when he was known as the frontman of hip-hop collective Odd Future, Tyler crafted songs that were abrasive and meant to offend. But much of Tyler’s newer work is far more emotionally vulnerable and approachable. CALL ME may be the perfect bridge between the two halves of Tyler. Its faster tempo and carefree production are reminiscent of older Tyler, the Creator albums like Wolf and Cherry Bomb, while the overall aesthetic direction of the album feels more in line with Flower Boy and IGOR.
CALL ME also represents a return to an old staple of Tyler’s discography – his heavy rapping over some downright dirty beats. On IGOR, Tyler assumed a more directorial role. While he had many memorable moments, much of the scant rapping on IGOR was delegated to the album’s many features. However, CALL ME is distinctly Tyler’s album, written, directed and performed. The return of Tyler’s distinctive sonorous voice is long overdue, and tracks such as “LEMONHEAD,” “LUMBERJACK” and “JUGGERNAUT” set themselves out as some of the hardest in Tyler’s discography.
Although CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST may be Tyler’s celebration, his story is far from over. Now that he’s made it to the top, Tyler has made it clear he will not give up the throne without a good fight. With his exuberant public persona, wildly successful fashion line Golf le Fleur* and his various TV projects, Tyler’s influence has reached more people than ever before. Although Vincent Van Gogh is known for making the world more colorful, he was famously awarded that honor posthumously. Through his many creative projects and celebrity status, Tyler Okonma is ensuring he can enjoy his time in the limelight. And if the past is any indication, as long as Tyler, the Creator has the mic, he will use it to make some damn good art.
Daily Arts writer Kai Bartol can be reached at email@example.com.