Tyler, The Creator finds newfound seriousness on 'Flower Boy'

NOSELL

NOSELL
Columbia Records

 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017 - 5:57pm

What’s coming of age really about, anyway? Is it when you finally actualize that vision of “cool” you’ve had since you were 13? Is it supposed to happen right when you turn old enough to rent a car? Or maybe it’s when you realize that the only person thinking critically about your life is you.

It’s no secret that most of the conversations surrounding Tyler, the Creator’s latest effort, Flower Boy (unofficially Scum Fuck Flower Boy, which is obviously way cooler), have been around his apparent “coming out.” As in, he likes guys.

Despite Tyler’s long history of homophobia, he's hinted (or even been quite explicit about) his orientation for a while now. Over two years ago, Ernest Baker wrote a classic profile on Tyler for Rolling Stone magazine where he might have been the first to ask the question, but Tyler’s public demeanor is so hilariously blunt that it's often hard to take him seriously.

Tyler wants us to take him seriously now. No more Hopsin-esque album cuts that feel like deadpan parodies of (sigh) New Rap, or bullshit “I’m a rapper that doesn’t listen to rap music” music. Instead of hiding behind absurdist humor or his Cool New Friends (see: “Smuckers”), Tyler fleshes out a lot of his musical influences into something he can call uniquely his own, while also growing the courage to say “serious things,” well, seriously.

Flower Boy is also masterfully sequenced. Some of Tyler’s earlier projects were so scattered that it almost exaggerated runtime, where this album just seems to melt away, like the car rides and afternoons that surely inspired it. “Where This Flower Blooms” sees Frank ghost in and out with a classically unbothered hook before you even know it. Tyler raps about various skin-care treatments and smelling like Chanel. He’s also found a way to integrate acoustic elements without sounding like some sort of Mac Demarco tribute.

On “Sometimes…,” a gorgeous interlude placed on the album solely to set the “Route 66” mise-en-scène, a “Golf Radio” broadcaster angrily asks for a song request; quite tellingly, “the song about me” comes from the voice of a boy. What follows is probably the song that Tyler has been gunning for his entire career. “See You Again” has the bounce of Neptunes-era Pharrell, mixed with arrangements from Late Registration-era ‘Ye, and finally, the same keyboard setting Tyler has been using since his bedroom production days on Bastard. Kali Uchis sounds like the vocalist Tyler has been searching for since “Treehome 95,” and really, she’s tailored for the flowery soundscapes of the album.

The song is also probably the first time we hear Tyler seriously flow behind the mic; I can think of one Harlem Pretty Boy who’s probably responsible for this. That “Glitter” twists and turns so uncontrollably, and yet Tyler matches it beat for beat, is definitely a sign that he’s been working on his pen game.

Speaking of Rocky, the latter half of “Glitter” even has Tyler screwing his own voice down as if this were some sort of UGK record. It’s hard to listen without seeing him dance in specifically green high water pants and whatever shoe he’s been working on. It’s the perfect Tyler song.

Wolf and Cherry Bomb also had these spurts of brilliance, but were diluted by Tyler’s willingness to piss on his own albums. Flower Boy is the first time he really indulges in his natural talents and quits trying to recreate N.E.R.D’s In Search Of… intro. The only bad patch of the album is a track that Tyler actually thought would be a good lead single; “Who Dat Boy” is another song about Tyler not shopping at the mall, with wonky percussion that was probably played with his fists. It’s a waste of a Rocky feature, as I’m sure they had at least 10 tracks together that would have been a better fit.

“November” has a synth line that almost slithers from start to finish, etching an outline for Tyler to release his manic thoughts all at once. “What if Clancy f****** me over? / What if 'Who Dat Boy' is rhetorical and this shit is over? / What if I'm hustling backwards? What if my accountant ain't payin' my taxes? / Fillin' his pockets and IRS show up asking me questions.”

The track is a tribute to those times where every hour is the “magic hour” — those times you get nostalgic for when your favorite song from 8th grade pops up on shuffle. “Take me back...” goes the bridge. Has he ever been this reflective on record?

And has Tyler ever made a song as close to a mission statement as “Boredom,” a call to arms for kids to go outside, or maybe even stay inside if it helps them find a talent? “Find some time to do something” is maybe a little blunt, but you imagine this is what he was going for when he made Cherry Bomb’s “Find Your Wings.”

Underneath all of the early homophobic material, cockroach-eating and Pharrell stan-ery, Tyler’s career-spanning message has actually been about as positively grand as it gets: That you can become whatever the f*** you want (and that’s probably how he’d want me to word it, too). Where Cherry Bomb saw Tyler become antagonizing, rapping about time management while speeding to brunch with Kanye, Flower Boy has him using his rearview for healthy introspection without compromising direction.

Yes, commitment on the road to self-actualization is maybe the greatest pleasure in life, but it sounds like Tyler just doesn’t want to drive by himself anymore: “Yeah, I got a sold out show / Crowd wild out, but don’t matter ‘cause you not front row.” More importantly, it sounds like he has a specific guy in mind, and knows exactly which people that make him happiest.