Former Odd Future member and horrorcore shock rapper Tyler, the Creator’s fourth studio album Flower Boy certainly made a splash upon arrival. In the wake of the lukewarm reception to his previous project, 2015’s Cherry Bomb, Flower Boy sees Tyler’s first attempt to show a different side of himself, contrasting the boisterous and offensive persona he has presented in the past. Tyler’s music has always had multiple layers and is frequently self-referential, and the story of Flower Boy illustrates somewhat of a duel between these two sides of Tyler.
The album’s alternate title includes the words “Scum F*ck” before “Flower Boy”, and this dichotomy is explored through more meaningful and introspective lyrics than Tyler has ever delivered before. The revelation on the “Flower Boy” side of things is Tyler’s apparent confession that he is gay, providing context to his usage of offensive and disparaging words towards the community in his past. Trading in abrasive rap beats for more melodic and R&B-influenced instrumentals, Flower Boy is a captivating journey into Tyler’s inner struggles.
Tyler is the only producer on this album, as usual, continuing to display his impressive musical vision. I could see from the beginning that Tyler was an experimental producer with endless potential, but I didn’t know that he would be capable of creating an entire album that sounds this … nice. It’s the antithesis of everything he used to stand for.
We get some vibrant strings, piano and jazzy soundscapes across this whole project, and Tyler’s new subject matter talking about his feelings for a man and struggling with the concept fits well. The beat of “See You Again” sounds just like falling in love for the first time, and then it’s immediately juxtaposed with the horror-movie score behind “Who Dat Boy” as his old persona creeps back in. The album ends with a completely instrumental track called “Enjoy Right Now, Today” that communicates Tyler’s new outlook on life perfectly without a single word.
The beat switches across the album show off Tyler’s full range as a producer and play more into the themes of dichotomy. The transitions, as well, are absolutely flawless across the board and I would love to listen to an instrumental version of this album. If you weren’t actually watching the tracks switch over, you wouldn’t be able to tell that they did.
Tyler’s lyrics really stand out on this project, whether he is finally learning how to make some catchy hooks on tracks like “Where This Flower Blooms” or showing how mature he has recently become. “Garden Shed” has been described as Tyler’s clearest signposting of coming to terms with his sexuality, and the story he tells on the track is compelling. Tyler mentions that he was expecting his “phase” to eventually end since he was a child, and how he dated multiple women to have something to brag about to his friends and keep up with his rap image despite feeling “barely interested”.
The story of the album is a meandering journey through Tyler’s psyche, as he begins to embrace the feelings he has felt for so long and explores the doubt, boredom and loneliness he felt when he was keeping them to himself. On “911/Mr. Lonely”, Tyler waits for a call that never comes before admitting “I’ve been lonely as f*ck”, ScHoolboy Q advising him to “get some b*tches or something” in the background. Tyler’s wandering mind settling on the fact that he’s so lonely he’s never even had a pet for a few bars is strangely endearing. The running motifs of the album, such as the frequent references to fertility and plants, are another nice lyrical touch.
On another note, “I Ain’t Got Time!” is an absolute banger with a fun flip of a sample from “Groove Is In The Heart” and brings “Yonkers” Tyler back to life. It doesn’t really fit in with the album’s narrative, but how much fun is it to yell “I AIN’T GOT TIIIIME” in Tyler’s trademark growl?
Speaking of the growl, Tyler’s voice still feels a little out of place on these kinds of instrumentals, particularly the ones without prominent percussion like intro track “Foreword”. His more personal lyrics, while very welcome, sound strange coming from the same voice that’s gone wild on heavy rap tracks as well. It feels like there is still every chance in the world that Tyler could be up to his old tricks, playing a joke on all of us about his admissions here. This is why I feel like some of my favourite tracks on this album are actually the ones that resemble Tyler’s past work the most.
While Tyler’s creativity is coming through in full force here, some of the tracks feel a little too empty. Tyler relies on his guests, mostly spacey R&B singers, a lot. The thematic elements that these calmer sections deliver are interesting, but I want to hear a bit more Tyler as what he has to say is frequently very compelling.
This is the biggest artistic statement that Tyler has ever made, and seeing this side of him is very cool. It makes you see his career in a whole new light, almost as if a whole new, more promising artist has been born in front of our eyes. The future should be fascinating.
Favourite Tracks: I Ain’t Got Time!, 911/Mr. Lonely, See You Again, Who Dat Boy, Where This Flower Blooms
Least Favourite Track: Glitter