Tyler, The Creator’s most shocking revelation on ‘Flower Boy’: he grew up
Ever since Odd Future first hurtled onto the scene, I’ve thought of their biggest member, Tyler, The Creator, as something like this generation’s Biz Markie: a new Clown Prince of Hip-Hop.
Tyler had a tendency of approaching his music with an oddball sense of humor that was similar to Biz Markie’s, with perhaps an added dash of shock value.
But on “Flower Boy,” Tyler, The Creator’s most recent record, he did something that I was beginning to think he’d never do: grow up.
On previous records from the rapper, he has always shown a lot of potential.
Skilled with both rapping and his own production ability, Tyler always released some great songs, but it seemed that the prospect of releasing a good album as a whole was something that was beyond his reach. Besides the singles, his songs were often plagued with either a horribly juvenile sense of humor or just plain bad mixing (or, in the case of his messy 2015 album, “Cherry Bomb,” both).
Finally, though, fans of Tyler no longer have to keep waiting for his next record to be his good one, because that next record is “Flower Boy.”
“Flower Boy” continues a trend in hip-hop in 2017, where well-known rappers have been growing increasingly introspective. Kendrick Lamar fought with his anxiety on “DAMN.,” while Jay-Z battled his sins on “4:44.” Here, Tyler, The Creator is struggling with love and loneliness and what to do with them.
As you may have heard, if you’ve been reading the news about this record before its release, the track on which Tyler struggles the most blatantly with his identity is called “Garden Shed,” in which he appears to come out as either gay or bisexual.
He describes himself as hiding in the titular garden shed, saying “That is the love I was in … Garden shed for the garçons/ Them feelings that I was gaurdin’.”
For anyone who has followed Tyler, The Creator’s career for a while, this revelation is likely to come as a bit of a surprise. Tyler has frequently come under fire for the use of homophobic language, using the “f-word” to describe people he doesn’t like and using “gay” as a synonym for “stupid.”
Yet, with the way that he raps on “Garden Shed,” this sounds like it’s coming straight from the heart. Tyler’s voice, combined with the soulful, jazzy instrumentals, make this track intensely emotional. It’s easy to believe that these are feelings that Tyler has been struggling with for a while.
However, it isn’t his sexuality that Tyler is struggling with the most on “Flower Boy.” Instead, it’s loneliness.
The theme of being alone shows up early in the album, appearing prevalently in the song “See You Again,” in which Tyler tells his beloved “I can only see your face when I close my eyes.” The placement of the word “only” is interesting there, as it could imply that his lover’s face is the only thing he sees when his eyes are closed, but it could just as easily suggest that it’s the only time he can see it. With Tyler describing his feelings as “chasing” the beloved, it seems likely to me that he really means the latter.
Later on, in the heartbreaking but amazingly catchy “911 / Mr. Lonely,” Tyler revisits the idea of loneliness, telling the listener that his name is Lonely, and that his phone number is 911, implying that he seems to be worried about his own mental health. He once again addresses his missing lover, saying “My partner is a shadow. / I need love, do you got some I can borrow?”
But, while most of the album is more emotional than we’ve heard from Tyler, with jazzier instrumentation than he’s ever used before, there are still a few moments of the old Tyler, especially on the track “Who Dat Boy?” featuring A$AP Rocky.
To say that this song goes hard is an understatement. Tyler’s voice sounds maniacal, while Rocky’s flow stalks the menacing beat. Moments like these make for a fun way to break up the softer, emotional side of this new Tyler.
“Flower Boy” is a giant leap forward in terms of quality from Tyler. His rapping and lyricism are better, thanks to a new focus on realness over shock value. The instrumentation is engaging, and no longer difficult to deal with as it often was on “Cherry Bomb.”
In short, “Flower Boy” is the album I was hoping Tyler would release all along.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6119 or on Twitter @PatKernan.
Album: ‘Flower Boy’
Artist: Tyler, The Creator
Label: Odd Future, Columbia
Best Track: ‘911 / Mr. Lonely’
Worst Track: ‘Glitter’ (which is home to some of the most off-key singing of the year)