Through painful isolation, maturation and self-reflection, Flower Boy, the latest album from Tyler, the Creator, gives the world its first real look at Tyler, the person.
When Tyler, the Creator first introduced himself to the world back in 2009 as a rambunctious yet ultra-creative 18-year-old with a masterful grip on self-promotion (I mean, who calls themselves ‘the Creator’?), it was hard to determine how much of his unrestrained persona was natural and how much of it was magnified to fit in with his Odd Future brand.
Through three studio albums, Tyler has both empowered his fans and made them laugh with his provocative and at times, extremely disturbing lyrics. His latest offering, Flower Boy, deviates from that significantly and sees the rapper swap his youthful persona for a new maturity, and deliver his most insightful and raw project to date. Gone is the relentless discussion of taboo topics, and in its place Tyler offers a glimpse into the mind of one of the most intriguing hip-hop talents of this generation.
The growing pains associated with Tyler’s own maturation form the backbone of the album, with the 26-year-old struggling between the idea of hanging onto his carefree past or forging ahead into a blossoming future. For an artist who has built his entire career around being the personification of what many consider Generation Y to be, this is a big decision.
On the track November Tyler raps “Take me back to November” repeatedly on the hook before defining his November as the summer of 2006, when he was 15 years old, and skating with his friends all day. He then asks others to define their own version of November, with several disenchanted voices rejoicing in their own past highlights.
Tyler immerses himself in nostalgia multiple times throughout the project, backed by yearnful, synth heavy beats. Like many, the rapper clearly finds comfort in his memories of friends from his hometown of Ladera Heights, California. But he also admits that behind his boisterous character, he experiences moments of alienation and contemplation.
For an artist known for his extravagant public persona, this is offers up a rather powerful image of isolation and loneliness, which Tyler addresses in tracks like See You Again and 911/ Mr Lonely. In the latter, Tyler implores people to call him and further cuts the foundations of his raucous persona, rapping “I’m the loneliest man alive, but I keep dancing to throw ’em off” and “They say the loneliest in the room is weak, that’s what they assume, but I disagree. I say the loudest in the room is prolly the loneliest in the room (that’s me).”
In stark contrast, Tyler expresses optimism for the future and begins to embrace his new-found maturation on the title track Where This Flower Blooms. He likens his growth to a blossoming tree, rapping “Flower boy T, n***a that’s me, rooted from the bottom, bloomed into a tree.”
He also concedes on “Foreword” that as much as he may want to live in the past, it is impossible to do so. Guest artist Rex Orange County sings “I’m gone and I’m finished, and I ain’t seen my friends in a minute. Guessing nothing lasts forever, yeah nothing lasts forever”.
For fans yearning to hear Tyler on traditional form, Flower Boy does offer up a morsel in Who Dat Boy. The leadoff single on the album places Tyler’s warped view of the world over a menacing beat with plenty of bass. Although the song may feel out of place on a project about growing up and growing old, it’s ‘the Creator’ on classic form complete with twisted humour.
Other standout tracks include Garden Shed and Enjoy, Right Now Today.
In terms of production, the beats contain amicable synths that give off a rather celestial vibe. Each track blends together well and the entire project feels rounded and well polished.
The album has a plethora of guest appearances, including long-time friend and former Odd Future member Frank Ocean, Rappers Lil’ Wayne, A$AP Rocky and ScHoolboy Q lend themselves to the project while Pharrell Williams, Jaden Smith and Kali Uchis provide additional vocals.
Flower Boy feels like Tyler’s most concise and focused album to date, clocking in at 46 minutes. He had a vision to deliver a more sophisticated, personal album and has unequivocally achieved that. The juxtaposition between two sections in Tyler’s life formed the backdrop for an insightful project that may leave fellow young Gen-Yers contemplating their own path into ‘proper’ adulthood.
Whether or not this change is permanent or simply an experimental album remains to be seen. Deviating so drastically from the sound that made him an internet phenomenon back in 2009 may alienate some fans, but this album was for Tyler, the person, and not Tyler, the Creator.
Story by Kyle Standfield. Feature image by Mehan Jayasurliya (Flickr Creative Commons)