Musical collectives have always held a certain fascination for me. The ways we influence each other magnified among a closed circuit of talented humans, how could it not produce the occasional bolt of lightening?
Case in point, the career of Tyler, the Creator. In his time on the scene he’s maintained an uncompromising persona that has a different name for each day of the week. Between Tyler, Ace, Wolf, and whatever other names he doles out on the latest we as listeners are always forced to listen critically. “Flower Boy” continues Tyler’s now established habit of of narrative albums, which some suggest weave into each other with varying degrees of chronological importance. Simultaneously transparent and confusing, Tyler’s darkly playful lyrics hint at hidden references and a cast of characters with near-Shakespearean complexity. However, despite the high barrier to entry I propose that the elaborate worlds Tyler constructs are the best way to take it all in. Bottom line: go down the rabbit hole or don’t bother.
Press play and we’re immediately met with ‘Foreward,’ a methodical, rhythmic entry point to “Flower Boy” where we find Tyler reflecting on fame. Remarking on the temporary nature of fame is a mundane theme in itself but what makes ‘Foreward’ unique is the lyrical precision and dark turns of phrase with which he reflects. Ethereal strings move us over to ‘Where This Flower Blooms’ and when the beat drops it’s impossible not to nod along. It just feels…good.
Skipping over an effective but forgettable interlude we pick up with ‘See You Again.’ Arguably the sweetest track on the album, Tyler raps poetic to an woman who haunts his thoughts, “I wonder if you look both ways when you crossed my mind.” Immediately after ‘See You Again’ we’re plunged into the cold water of ‘Who Dat Boy’ (ft. A$AP Rocky) which has a bombastic almost soundtrack-like quality and gives a casual nod to the outside world with a reference to Vince Staples’ “Summer ’06.”
Dropping another level into the rabbit hole we arrive at ‘Pothole,’ a smoother, more conversational track with Tyler expressing dreams for a bigger life while settling for the immediate and continue with the mellow feeling on ‘Garden Shed,’ a track almost retrospective at its core. With orchestral vibes and a sublime feature from Estelle, it plays out into ‘Boredom,’ and shake up whatever calm ‘Pothole’ and ‘Garden Shed’ may have built up. Showcasing a thick, funky beat the track fits neatly into the rest of the album thanks to Tyler’s consistent flow. Here the interplay of vocals, melody, instrumentals and straight bars is infectious.
‘I Ain’t Got Time’ begins the final act of the album, pulling from dance hall heritage and Missy Elliot’s “Under Construction” swagger. It’s then the electric feel of ‘I Ain’t Got Time’ that makes the mellow, sweet beat on ‘911/Mr. Lonely’ a bit of a surprise. With a chopped up retro vibe dominating the first half of the track, the second half moves into a more characteristically hard hitting flow. Using ‘Droppin’ Seeds’ as a vehicle to move into ‘November’, Tyler ruminates on both doubt and optimism and voices his fears of essentially fading to black. Transitioning into the final two tracks is a quieter Tyler with a meandering, lazy lead in coloring ‘Glitter’ and instrumentals elevating both ‘Glitter’ and ‘Enjoy Right Now, Today.’
To sum up this sonic trip, Tyler the Creator has produced a body of work that is as revealing as it is dense. Casually listening to “Flower Boy” is a dream however critically listening is a rougher road. The complexity of the content and lyrics is given room to breath with glorious instrumentals and well-selected features that fit seamlessly into the larger whole. My head hurts, I need some sunshine and I can’t wait for the next trip.