Album Review: Tyler, the Creator—“Flower Boy”

By Alex Pompilii, Featured Photo via Rap Direct

After a two year hiatus, Odd Future co-founder Tyler, the Creator has returned with his most personal album to date. Flower Boy (alternatively titled Scum Fuck Flower Boy) is Tyler’s fourth album, following 2015’s Cherry Bomb. With his latest release, the rapper has taken a huge artistic leap forward, handling Flower Boy’s entire production himself in addition to designing an alternative album cover. The album garnered controversy before release as Tyler uses a homophobic slur and has been accused of “queer-baiting” in the past (hinting at a potential same sex-relationship to draw in viewers, when actually being straight). However, some view Flower Boy as Tyler actually coming out as bisexual or gay. In “Ain’t Got Time” he states he’s been “kissing white boys since 2004” and on “Garden Shed” he questions if it was all just a phase before concluding that it’s “still going on”. Unfortunately, this controversy over Tyler’s sexuality has upstaged his image and the album itself; the artistry of Tyler is a tricky one to unravel but there is much more to unfold than who he fancies. Overall, Flower Boy reveals a more emotional side to Tyler, the Creator, in which the man attempts to find himself amongst the 14 tracks of the album.   

The piece begins with a reflective “Foreword”; Tyler understands that he’s different and apologizes to the girls he’s led on. He gets political, mentioning Black Lives Matter and police brutality. It is a very emotional opening that leaves the listener at awe and sort of surprised that this is the same Tyler of Cherry Bomb, the former Edge Lord himself. Immediately this sets the tone for the rest of the tracks. Tyler isn’t cracking a joke or throwing in a slur after talking about real problems; he is passionate about these issues and is speaking directly from his soul. Next up is “Where this Flower Blooms”, featuring ex-Odd Future member Frank Ocean. The duo deliver, tackling racism in America (“Went from statistic to millionaire / CNN doubted ‘cause my skin is dark”), empowerment for people of colour (“Tell these black kids they can be who they are”), and spilling on skin care routines (“Look, I smell like Chanel / I never mall gup with my manicured nails / I coconut oil the skin”). The pair formerly collaborated on one of Tyler’s most controversial songs, “She” from 2011’s Goblin, a voyeuristic track in which the rapper pursues a sleeping woman, with Ocean telling her that Tyler’s at her window. The messages conveyed in “Where this Flower Blooms” seem a lot more genuine, a lot more socially relevant, while “She” feels more like an inside joke between the two artists. The production between “Where This Flower Blooms” and “She” (as well as their respective albums; Flower Boy and Goblin) is a shocking improvement. Probably intentional, but Tyler’s production has always been on the poor side—Cherry Bomb sounded like DIY music a teenager makes in his parents’ basement while they’re asleep. For Flower Boy, Tyler cleans himself up and it pays off. In fact, this is his most radio-worthy album yet.

“See You Again” is a dreamy song about a crush, accented by accompanying vocals from Kali Uchis. Tyler and Uchis had another single with a similar theme, “FUCKING YOUNG / PERFECT”, which was a bit more self-doubting and dark on Tyler’s part, with him denying Uchis since she’s too young for him. “See You Again” appears to be a lighter relationship for the duo without the Lolita undertones. Additionally, the union of instrumentals with Uchis’ sultry voice introduces a 1970s vibe to Flower Boy. Up next is “Who Dat Boy”, a track reminiscent of the old Tyler we’re used to hearing and one of my favourite tracks off the album. Stylistically it has edge, a great beat, and is pretty damn catchy.

After this, Tyler’s tracks get more emotional again; “Boredom” and “911/Mr. Lonely” are intermixed with the most-talked about “Garden Shed” and “I Ain’t Got Time!”. These two songs discuss Tyler’s loneliness; he calls himself “the loneliest man alive” and how the person who seems the most confident is really the most depressed. After this rare emotional sequence, old Tyler returns briefly in “Droppin’ Seeds”, probably the most controversial track. Although it follows the garden theme of Flower Boy, its lyrics may offend some listeners (“My bitch got an apple bottom and she swallows my seeds”). As reported by Angus Walker for Music Times in 2015, a feminist group in Australia called Collective Shout campaigned against Tyler’s upcoming show at their local venue on the basis of his lyrics. They argued that his music promoted violence against women, notably “FUCK IT” (“How can I be a misogynist? / I love titties and ass”) and “Blow” (“You know you’re already dead / Ironic ‘cause your lipstick is red, of course / I stuff you in the trunk, drunk / ‘Cause all I really wanna do is fuck and snort blow”). The campaign went viral with a change.org petition featuring a shocking 26,000 signatures. The venue refused to cancel the gig, but protesters were outside on the night of the show and took to Twitter to voice their complaints. The rapper’s lewd language on Flower Boy doesn’t surprise me but listeners may be taken aback by this track in the midst of his emotional “new” Tyler songs. Alternatively, Tyler fans who enjoy his dark sense of humour and edgier lyrics may find this track to be their new favourite.

For the second and third final tracks, Tyler uses “November” and “Glitter”; one drenched with regret, the other with utmost confidence. I was a bit underwhelmed in these choices, stylistically, to be the last on the album. Lyrically, I was expecting a full closure to the record. “Glitter” contains lines like “I never been the darkest one ‘cause my self-esteem is tall”, suggesting that Tyler is thinking a bit more highly of himself compared to his depressive confession on “911/Mr. Lonely”. In general, Tyler, the Creator has shown tremendous growth as an artist, especially when comparing Flower Boy to 2011’s Goblin which contains his most disputatious work. However, I was glad that Flower Boy did contain doses of the old Tyler among the more heartfelt side of him. I look forward to seeing Tyler’s progress as a person and can’t even imagine what surprises he has in store for his next album.

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