“I wonder if you look both ways when you cross my mind”.
Dear ‘Odd Future’ fans,
I’m sorry. This isn’t 2012 anymore. I totally get that 2016 was the year of “realising stuff” but 2017 is the year of accepting them, coming to terms with them and moving on. Of course you can’t just assume that the group would have remained the same , they’re now as tentative as ever, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing and for years the media have gotten the idea of them way wrong, beyond it. As a collective, they may not still have the Jackass-skate-rap energy but it has been replaced by a softer lounge vibe, a dreamier guitar distortion which may show a new direction for Tyler, and maybe also for hip-hop. Tyler, the Creator is totally out of the woods (and the closet, lol.) on this endless feedback cycle between him and the music media.
I mean…where do I begin? Honestly, can we just bare in mind that this came from the same guy that ate a cockroach and rapped the lyrics “R*ped a pregnant b@*$% and told my friends I had a threesome”. !? Are we for real, right now!? His maturity when rapping about his worries of being “the loneliest man alive” who is “only remembered for my tweets” is genuinely poignant and his uniquely vulgar streak becomes even more of a weapon when paired with the nostalgic tone. At the end of it all, Tyler will say whatever he wants and do whatever he wants which is something worth valuing in any artist.
The initial title itself (Scum Fuck) Flower Boy, represents the two different tones that this album reconciles fantastically, as the softer, flower boy side of Tyler provides the harsh, scum fuck moments with an impact they didn’t have on previous releases, demonstrating Tyler’s fresh maturity without sacrificing his childishness, as well as his sonic self-discovery, a bit of a sequel of the previous sporadic album ‘Cherry Bomb’. His artistic trajectory has, since his beginnings, been gradually moving upwards, outwards and on wards, getting stronger with each release, by far being his most accomplished and satisfying album. As Pitchfork put it, we get the angst of a missed connection, the pain of unrequited love and navigating youthful ennui.
Music criticism dies when we stop criticising music. This seems a somewhat obvious statement, but unfortunately it is a necessary one. Despite this luscious sonic façade, at the core of the album lie Tyler’s darker sentiments of loneliness and unrequited love. With Flower Boy, critics have been quick to jump to personal attacks, denying Tyler’s ‘coming-out’, refusing to accept him as part of queer culture and dismissing the album’s messages. Such critics, however, are missing out: Flower Boy is wholly exceptional. The beauty in which Tyler talks about his sexuality in this album might have came as a shock to most of his listeners, but then it made a lot of sense. “I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004,” he raps on “I Ain’t Got Time,” as he ponders his trajectory to fame: “How I got this far? Boy, I can’t believe it/That I got this car, so I take the scenic/Passenger a white boy, look like River Phoenix.” he invokes another 90’s teen heartthrob, revealing he’s currently looking for a ‘95 Leo. Aren’t we all?
The album begins with a beeping sound and Tyler shooting off a series of rhetorical questions on ‘Foreword’. If this is the true introduction to the album, then it seems as if this will be an album that questions not only past decisions, but future ones as well. English singer Rex Orange County lends a hand in the uncertain mood of the track. It’s a lush soundscape that fits both of their voices well. This leads into a collaboration between Odd Future affiliated Frank Ocean on ‘Where This Flower Blooms’. These two have always had a certain rapport on tracks and this one is no different. Backed almost entirely by piano and lights drums, the deep baritone of Tyler’s voice and clean half sung, half rapped hook from Frank mesh nicely.
Flower Boy reaches a particular high point with “911/Mr Lonely” with it’s restlessness, thematically especially, skirting between various motifs and movements. It begins with what sounds like a lark, tongue-in-cheek riff on the sort of pleading R&B love songs that serve as decades spanning through-line for that genre. However, Tyler’s music has always been indulgent; even his earliest Odd Future bangers seemed to deconstruct the way rap anthems sounded, And ‘Scum Fuck Flower Boy’, with a couple of exceptions. “Who Dat Boy?” ropes in A$AP Rocky for a giddy I’m-the-shit anthem. “Droppin’ Seeds” is basically just a Lil Wayne interlude. “I Ain’t Got Time!” is probably the album’s most revealing song and also probably its best; it samples Bel Sha Zaar’s “Introduction,” the same instructional belly-dancing record that Deee-Lite sampled on the “Groove Is In The Heart” intro, to off-kilter anthem results.
But those songs are the exceptions. Most of the time, Tyler is deep in the plastic-soul zone that he’s been exploring more and more on the last few albums. ‘Scum Fuck’ Flower Boy is heavy on slow-rolling synth-bass and twinkly piano. Neo-soul figureheads like Estelle and Corinne Bailey Rae coo sweetly in the background. Tyler’s scattershot grizzled-baritone rapping is as strong and expressive as ever.
There are no lyrics at all on Flower Boy’s closing track, “Enjoy Right Now, Today” – it’s just a casual, lilting jam, like Tyler’s on a small stage, bidding you farewell and goodnight. Tracks like that suggest we could be on the cusp of a moment of lounges hip-hop albums, acts, and tours, with a hip-hop stage filled by a few more musicians playing a few more instruments. Alongside the rapper-producer partnerships we celebrate now might be similar relationships between lyricists and individual musicians, collab records in the vein of Ray Charles and Milt Jackson’s. The production speaks in a language of it’s own which leaves us nothing but mesmerised and us wanting more, listening to everything he has to say with an open mind- especially given his media silence these past couple of years. Thusly, Flower Boy is an essential element of Tyler’s musical and cultural character. It’s a complete departure from his past as he moves from the blind rage of youth to the expressive loneliness of intelligent self awareness. Expectations are sceptically sky high for Tyler’s true nature to come, even more, to the forefront of his talent.