Tyler The Creator- Flower Boy
Flower Boy is an extremely impressive and surprising release from Tyler, the Creator, ranking amongst the best albums released this year, hip-hop or otherwise. Early in the 2010’s he gained popularity and generated conversation from the shock-value contained in his music and for being the most well-known member of hip-hop collective Odd Future. Despite always having been a talented producer and songwriter, in the past Tyler, the Creator generated a lot of notoriety that overshadowed the actually quality of his music. Fortunately, with Flower Boy Tyler has capitalized on his talent and delivers an excellently executed musical experience that isn’t dragged down by immature or otherwise heavy-handed lyricism. In fact, this album does just the opposite of previous releases, offering superbly refined production and introspective subject matter.
The thematic material that grounds Flower Boy include wealth, sexuality, and dealing with emotions like love and depression. The opener, “Foreward” sets the tone early with a bridge that begs the question, “And if I fall and don't come back / Who's gonna know?” The lyrics relate to a concrete question that’s present throughout the album, with Tyler musing on the uncertainty of the presence you leave behind for the world, or more personally, your friends and family. This track is also a nice showcase for the attention to detail Tyler shows as a producer, rhyming over a beat that gets slowly spruced up with subtle guitar chords and a fantastic synth-led bridge that carries the song to its dreamy outro.
As a rapper, Tyler sounds much better than he ever has on previous projects, flowing smoothly and rattling off plenty of quotable lines on each track. As a songwriter he’s great too, providing earworm melodies on tracks like “See You Again,” “Boredom,” and “911 / Mr. Lonely.” One critique that could be leveled is on Tyler’s voice, which doesn’t offer much flexibility, but he’s brought plenty of fantastic features on board such as Kali Uchis, Frank Ocean, and the relatively unknown Rex Orange County to add diversity and supply lovely hooks.
Another feature who works surprisingly well is Jaden Smith on “Pothole,” arguably the most relaxed track to be found here, production-wise. Clarification is necessary, because even though there are many calming moments sonically, there’s almost always a depressed or gloomy atmosphere that lurks below the surface throughout the album. Production-wise, the album sounds very clean and well put together, and working with the charming melodies that weave their way in and out with the tracks, it could be easy for a listener to believe that the music is very carefree and happy overall. The lyrics say otherwise though with Tyler rapping “All my friends talk about their hoes and tenderonies / All I can show 'em is a couple cars and more things – Everyone’s a sheep, me, a lone wolf / Nobody gon' make a peep 'cause everyone wants some wool - Man I'd rather drown in a pool by myself than fuck with their fleece.” The lyrics are impressive, intermingling feelings of emptiness and defiance that also doubles for isolation. The continued play on the wolf-sheep analogy is also an example of the way Tyler has stepped his wordplay up.
One thing that absolutely defines Flower Boy is the variety in songs. The track listing has wonderful pacing, featuring relaxed songs like “Pothole” and “Droppin’ Seeds,” poppy material like “See You Again” and “911 / Mr. Lonely,” and then bangers like “Who Dat Boy” and “I Ain’t Got Time.” It’s hard to believe that any fan of hip hop who gives the album a fair chance couldn’t find at least a handful of tracks that match what they’re looking for. Also, there’s a clear cinematic arc to the album, something that’s become more and more popular within the genre ever since Kendrick Lamar re-popularized the concept album in hip-hop with 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city.
Looking further at that cinematic quality, I want to direct attention to the final three tracks, which is an excellent run to close the album off. We start with “November,” which acts as the emotional climax for the album. There’s anxiety in the way Tyler breathlessly contemplates if he can trust those around him and even considers if his legacy will be based around previous antics rather than his music, wondering “ What if my music too weird for the masses? And I'm only known for tweets more than beats or / All my day ones turn to three, fours cause of track seven?” For reference, track seven, “Garden Shed,” is a track many friends have speculated as acting as a “coming out” of sorts for Tyler. The track is packed with reflective talking points and that’s saying nothing of the beat, which shifts to match Tyler’s delivery as the track progresses. Overall, the song is one of Tyler’s most darkly passionate and executed in a way for listeners to insert themselves into the track’s nostalgia.
Using a short phone call skit, “November” smoothly transitions to another favorite, the penultimate “Glitter.” While “November” chronicles Tyler’s struggle to accept an abandoned lover, “Glitter” shows us his feeling when that love is motivated. The two songs provide a dichotomy of sorts that is telling of the album as a whole. For every melancholy subject that is mused over, there’s beauty in the production or the proceeding track and the contrasting moods serve to better empower one another. The root of Flower Boy is that you can’t have acceptance without rejection and Tyler spends equal parts relishing in the highs and lows of life. Finally, “Enjoy Right Now, Today” is an instrumental that’s hard to ignore as a credit-rolling moment for the ride of an album that Flower Boy proves to be. Overall, it’s hard to find anything wrong with the album and it leaves one to wonder where Tyler can go next with the 180° that this album proved to be.
Best Tracks: “See You Again” / “Boredom” / “November” / “Glitter”
Best Production: “Foreword” / “Who Dat Boy” / “Glitter” / “Enjoy Right Now, Today”