FLOWER BOY by Tyler, the Creator
Genre: West Coast Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “Who Dat Boy (featuring A$AP Rocky),” “Garden Shed,” “I Ain’t Got Time!,” “Droppin’ Seeds (featuring Lil Wayne),” “Enjoy Right Now, Today”
Among those who know me, my passionate hatred for Tyler, the Creator is the stuff of legend. For the years of 2011 and 2012, I would have done anything for Odd Future. A young, generically dissatisfied ball of angst who had just discovered hip hop, I was seduced by the promise of “the new Wu Tang clan” and didn’t look back until a year or two later. And when I did, the cracks in the facade began to show. Earl Sweatshirt, by far the most talented member of the group, seemed to want less and less to do with the rest of them as time went on; this is turn shined a stark and unflattering light on Tyler’s personality traits and leadership capabilities, which were exposed more and more by the increasing amount of intragroup flare ups and arguments. I can step back far enough to appreciate the impact Tyler and Odd Future had on youth culture, hip hop and otherwise, but up until this point Tyler, the Creator has been a juvenile, mercurial, unfunny, whiny, downright mean sack of human garbage. However, FLOWER BOY is good. Not great, and certainly not the game-changer that many are claiming it to be, but competent. I can only hope that the hordes of Supreme-clad teenagers will still spend the 10 minutes required to find the innumerable masses of artists that are and always have been better, instead of smugly resting on their laurels, erroneously believing they were right all along.
Alright, lest it get lost in the weeds of those last few thoughts, once again, I, Thomas Seraydarian III, “like” an album by Tyler, the Creator. I’ve heard many accounts claim that Tyler has come into his own in terms of his sound and has grown as a musician and composer. I agree, by a margin. From what I can tell, Tyler doesn’t embark upon any notable sonic experiments or expeditions, apart from the closer, whose rigid, psychedelic groove is one of my favorite musical moments on the album, although I doubt a large group of people feel similarly. Overall, it’s the same general palette the new, weirder wave of west coast artists have proven to hold dear, with bright, slightly nostalgic, jazz-oriented keyboards reigning supreme. What’s more, the majority of the tracks make use of that by-now-familiar falsetto R&B aesthetic, which Tyler’s been experimenting with in some form or another since at least WOLF. I have never found this particularly palatable and oftentimes believe that it almost entirely derails any energy that’s been accumulating, but it’s a mark to the aforementioned coming into his own that I don’t think FLOWER BOY is ever brought to a grinding halt.
I can’t deny that this time around the merry-go-round feels more mature, rounding out the stilted abrasiveness and lack of cohesion that made his last effort, CHERRY BOMB, entirely worthless. I’m not exactly impressed by other fan favorites such as “Where This Flower Blooms” and “See You Again.” I find Frank Ocean as incongruous of a feature as ever and the skittish shifting between motifs and ideas queasy on the former, and don’t believe that Tyler’s voice is anywhere near as powerful a presence as necessary to sell the latter, but I’ll give him “Garden Shed.” Demonstrating a propensity for being able to control tempo and energy, with a smooth interlocking of different instruments, ideas, and voices (especially that fun distortion towards the tail end) that all effortlessly blend into one another, it is one of the tracks that I’ve both heard an exaggerated amount of praise for and mostly agree.
That being said, I have to admit that my disagreements aren’t as vitriolic as I was hoping they would be. I don’t hate any part of FLOWER BOY, I just can’t understand getting particularly excited about any of it on the same token. Sure, some of the tracks show a functional predilection for nu jazz that’s different than what we’ve previously heard (“Pothole”), but if you’ve been keeping up with the careers of Flying Lotus or Knxwledge I can’t imagine finding this the clarion call for progressive production sensibility. And we’re still stuck with unadulterated filler such as “Boredom,” which serves its title well, offering a lyrically flaccid Tyler and half-assed attempts at hooks from the horrifically named Rex Orange County.
Nevertheless, there are still highlights: “Who Dat Boy,” which was an above-average single hearkening back to the booming menace and deranged anger of yore (but refreshingly absent of the misogyny and homophobia—but more on that later), gains a sizable boost from being appreciated in the context of the rest of the album, offering a meaty, sharp anchor to latch onto lest you get too lost in the neo-soul and synth funk-lite on display. “I Ain’t Got Time!” is another track whose jovial sense of fun is too bright to ignore, shaking up the album’s core sound with a breezy cascade of hand claps and percussion copped from “Introduction” from Bel-Sha-Zaar with Tommy Genapopoluis and The Grecian Knights. And yes, it’s more-or-less a throwaway in the greater scheme of things, but I’ll be damned if “Droppin’ Seeds” doesn’t sound like it came right from THA CARTER III.
And now for the main event . . . the lyrics and themes of FLOWER BOY. Surely you must have heard by now that the big news this time around is that Tyler, the Creator unironically admits his long history of being sexually attracted to men (he only admits to acting upon this with kisses, but who knows). The big shocker was how extreme this revelation runs against the sordid history of the man who once claimed he wasn’t homophobic considering his use of the word “faggot,” stating, “gay just means you’re stupid,” telling Tegan and Sara he’d be happy to give them some “hard dick” upon their complaints in turn. I’ll give Tyler that NME’s accusation of using “faggot and its variants 213 times over the course of GOBLIN” seems to be dramatically incorrect, but considering that he admits that the word hurts people and willfully elects to use it, his intentions can’t exactly be considered clean-cut.
However, even worse than his lyrical homophobia was his misogyny and advocation of violence against women, with prose such as, “Never popped like the pussy on a bitch dyke / Think I give a fuck, I do, I go balls / And I bust in her jaw like (Fuck that disease!) / My urethra, hole that I pee from / Bigger than an obese snack on Aretha” (“Tamale”), “I make this damn Bullwinkle the red moose / Game of duck-duck-duck tape with a dead goose / She running ’round this motherfucking dungeon, her legs loose / Until I accidentally get the saw to her head, oops,” (“Tron Cat”), and “I’ma eat your pussy til you tell me you can’t take it / Screaming ‘Stop It,’ don’t you fake it, wanna tape it” (“Blow My Load”) making it hard to claim he’s been a favorite artist of yours for a while now. As anyone who spends any time with music culture and critique knows, misogyny in hip hop is a contentious field, especially when words such as “bitch” have complex and layered histories in AAVE (African American Vernacular English). However, there is a not-so-fine line to cross from casual uses of words that have context within a specific culture to outright advocation of physical, sexual, and emotional harm to women. Odd Future was slapped with a “horrorcore” label early on that affiliated them with the requisite subgenre of amateur-skewing shock rappers where these themes are present, but since they’ve rejected the label again and again, I think we can safely assume Tyler’s just kind of a piece of shit. Well, at least this time around, it looks like Tyler’s cleaned up his act; from what I can tell, there appears to be no overt misogyny, homophobia, or violence against the victims of both as contained within FLOWER BOY. Instead, Tyler has turned a discerning and detailed eye inwards on himself, and the results are a tangible improvement upon his past work.
So where does that leave us? Well, against all odds, it looks like I’m going to recommend an album from one of my most despised artists of all time. And why? I can’t believe in anything if I don’t believe that people deserve a second chance. I’ve been clamoring for change from Tyler for so long now that I can’t help but applaud him for giving me, not more, but less of the past him that I so hated. I have never found his delivery or voice particularly interesting, and likely never will, but FLOWER BOY is, without a doubt, the current apex of his career. It is not going to change the face of hip hop and I seriously question your taste if you think Tyler is the most influential artist of a generation, but goddammit, Crossfader is nothing if not for its binary recommendation system, so eat yer hearts out.