“Flower Boy” growing up
Owen Lane | Thursday, August 31, 2017
Tyler, The Creator is an inspiring case study in maturation. Everyone can think back to something they said or thought at 14 years old and feel their face suddenly become hot. Looking back on yourself from six years ago can be an odd source of pride and wonder. Growing up can be kind of cool apparently. A long goodbye from adolescence has become a tired stereotype that nearly all millennials resent. “Flower Boy” moves away from Tyler’s nostalgia to celebrate the feeling that he’s finally arrived at some sort of adulthood. God knows he had a long journey.
“Flower Boy” has validated longstanding claims about Tyler, The Creator’s genius as a producer. His ever-inventive Pharrell Williams–inspired production has become gorgeous. On the opening track “Forward,” the synths both cradle a perfectly soulful vocal from teenage Englishman Rex Orange County and devolves into beeps and screeches as the song fizzles out into the stunning Frank Ocean guest track “Where This Flower Blooms.” It is easy to overlook the song’s wonderful lyricism beneath the surprisingly danceable medley of jazz piano, faux-horn synths, electric guitar and bass-heavy percussion. Tyler delivers solid bars about his rise to fame while Frank Ocean sings about driving in his car with “OJ shinin’ on me/Simp-sun shinin’ on me.”
For a musician that allegedly alienated himself from much of the music community with his offensive use of gay slurs and other inflammatory material, Tyler put together a surprisingly diverse list of guest features that bolster an already excellent record. Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis transforms “See You Again” into a poppy love track worthy of the Beatles, Estelle(!) shows up on “Garden Shed,” Norwegian indie singer Anna From the North croons gorgeously on “Boredom” and even Lil Wayne drops in for his own memorable one minute track on “Droppin’ weeds.” These guest performances meld together elegantly in the portrait that Tyler is painting on “Flower Boy.”
Loyal Tyler fans, fear not because the confessional nature of “Flower Boy” does not preclude Tyler from throwing together an immaculate banger. In fact, Tyler gives us two. “I Ain’t Got Time” is by far the fastest song on the whole album, with some of Tyler’s best bars to boot. “Who Dat Boy” is the banger I wish I could hear at every party this semester but know that I will not. A$AP Rocky crushes his verse out of the park with the swagger that only the PMF can bring to a song. However, Tyler does not let himself get dominated, countering flawlessly at every turn.
“Garden Shed” is not only the most complicated piece of production on the album, but it also contains the clearest example of a moment on “Flower Boy” when Tyler reveals something about his sexuality. However, to refer to “Garden Shed” as the album’s crux or centerpiece would diminish both the breadth of the album’s lyrical ambition and the sheer number of times Tyler makes suggestive references to homosexuality. In the meadow of “Flower Boy,” you can’t throw a donut without hitting an oblique reference to Tyler being attracted to men.
“911/Mr. Lonely” is an immensely enjoyable track that is both extremely personal within the context of the album and serves as an anthem of a generation. On the track, the previously never-serious Tyler, The Creator laments how his obnoxious, jocular behavior is unavoidable and alienates him from friends. Tyler expresses an irony-free desire to simply receive a friendly phone call. Tyler’s message on “911” is not at all cryptic to a generation that grew up with smartphones and struggles to express friendship and affection without any underlying irony.
“Flower Boy” caught me by surprise. Not only is the record’s sonic palate large, but it is also a deceptively detailed and well-crafted album. The album rewards with each repeated listen — a new appreciation for the funny noises, witty wordplay and neat sonic tricks that are scattered all over its sunny soundscape. In the past, Tyler’s hollow jazz-synth production sounded like an expletive ridden demand to get out of his face. His music smacked of immaturity, and not in the charming, childish way that is apparent on “Flower Boy.” At least in circumstance, this record is strikingly similar to Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” A critically acclaimed producer-rapper coming off the worst album of his career returns to the music scene with a bombshell; a theatrical reflection on fame, wealth and his personal life. “Flower Boy” is not quite the masterpiece that Yeezy’s 2010 record was, and it also appears to be far more optimistic in its conclusions about the future.
The tentative optimism of “Flower Boy” is contagious, especially to Tyler’s generation. I have no patience for those who think Tyler’s possible outing on this record was a publicity stunt. After all, we can consider art to be nothing more than a pure expression of what is beautiful and true. A record this good could never come from so ugly a lie. Tyler is speaking the truth, and it is beautiful.
Artist: Tyler the Creator
Album: “Flower Boy”
Label: Columbia Records
Favorite Track: “911/Mr. Lonely”
If you like: Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt, The Neptunes
Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5