Tyler, The Creator Flower Boy Columbia
“We didn’t get your message, either because you were not speaking or because of a bad connection,” goes the voicemail-style outro to Flower Boy’s penultimate track, Glitter. It’s Tyler, The Creator’s favourite bit of his fourth studio album (so he’s said), and it’s a line which could sum up the way the rapper/producer/entrepreneur’s art has been received over the years. A renowned troll and provocateur with talent behind the controversy, it’s been difficult to know when to take the Ladera Heights skate rat seriously.
Much has been made over Flower Boy as Tyler’s ‘coming out’ album, with lyrics like: “Next line will have ’em like ‘Woah’/ I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004” and allusions to his journey of coming to terms with his sexuality. While his earlier work often traded in crass shock-tactics and braggadocious references to money, Flower Boy largely sees Tyler look into the mirror with a more mature perspective. Foreward, which credits 19-year-old Surrey artist Rex Orange County and members of krautrock pioneers Can as writers, sees the once staunchly DIY artist questioning whether wealth will hinder his creativity: “How many cars can I buy ‘til I run out of drive?”
Like the tangerine orange-splashed cover art, musically Flower Boy feels like the brightest Technicolor incarnation of Tyler we’ve ever seen. His production has often had an amateur feel, but Flower Boy, with all its noodly jazz piano chords, qualifies as sophisticated neo-soul. Yet for all the album’s velvety-smooth production, it’s never clear whether we’re seeing the real Tyler. On 911 – Mr. Lonely (which flits dramatically between melancholy and cheerful beatwork): “I’m the loneliest man alive/ But I keep on dancin’ to throw ’em off”.
Despite what teenage boys might have you believe, Tyler’s appeal has never been in his use of controversy; it’s the multiple layers that keep us guessing, trying to get into his headspace. Flower Boy has arrived in the age of wokeness and Tyler has swapped antics for introspection, though still with the same button-pushing that hooked a whole generation of kids.