Revisiting Tyler, The Creator’s Cherry Bomb
Looking back at the rapper’s third studio album
As we get closer to the release of Tyler, The Creator’s next album this Friday, I’ve found myself revisiting his older albums in anticipation. no musician has been through such an artistic evolution other than Tyler in the past decade. Starting off as an aggressive, edgelord rapper and then blossoming into a soulful, lush artist within the span of the entire 2010’s was a day and night transition. 2015’s Cherry Bomb is the album that signaled this change and would pave the way for his follow-up’s Flower Boy and IGOR to build upon, in terms of Tyler’s style of production and lyricism.
Personally, I enjoyed Cherry Bomb when it first released, it felt uniquely “Tyler” in a sense, an album that only he could make. Others however were indifferent. Critics called the album cluttered, poorly mixed, and unnecessarily abrasive. Even some of my friends who were Tyler fans found the album to be just strange and a step down from his old stuff. I felt like I was in the minority, even now as Cherry Bomb is still considered to be one of Tyler’s weakest albums. However, it was the perfect stepping stone going forward for the rapper’s music.
From a production standpoint, this was at the time, Tyler’s most ambitious project (whereas now it's safe to say IGOR has taken that title). Cherry Bomb blends his aggressive sound with touches of jazz, rock, and oddly enough, experimental music. It mainly balances between a rough abrasive sound and a softer, rhythmic one. That former sound in particular deemed to be “controversial” for some. It was around this time that Tyler made it known he was a fan of the experimental band Death Grips, whose own noisy and abrasive instrumentals influenced a portion of the album. Songs such as “CHERRY BOMB”, “RUN”, and “KEEP DA O’S” fit the mold, they’re so chaotic and overwhelming I almost felt half-deaf when listening to these tracks and really bog down the album.
Where Cherry Bomb shines is when the album opts for a funky, jazz, and at times, rock/rap heavy style. Tyler taps into his inner Pharell Williams on songs like “FIND YOUR WINGS” and “FUCKING YOUNG/PERFECT” with their soulful, 70’s funk production. He turns into a punk rock god on the opener “DEATHCAMP”, complete with blown-out guitar riffs, he offers some grimy rap on “BUFFALO”, “PILOT”, “SMUCKERS” and “BROWN STAINS”. Tyler’s style of weird synths, rhythmic drum patterns, and clever sampling help create his own sonic world unique to him. He even experiments with his vocals by pitching them up on most tracks, usually when he’s trying to sing a hook, while they sound awkward most times they’re a good start for his singing as he would improve on his vocals in his following albums.
The guest list here is also pretty expansive. Legends such as the aforementioned Pharell, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Charlie Wilson appear on various tracks. Tyler also gets lent help from his contemporaries like ScHoolboy Q and Syd, while also introducing his listeners to newcomer Kali Uchis, who would become a frequent collaborator and R&B powerhouse for the years to follow.
Cherry Bomb also signaled a lyrical change for Tyler. His previous albums were filled with violent, offensive, shock rap bars (See Radicals, Tron Cat, and Tina for proof). On this album, he still remains his obnoxious self but it’s dialed back a bit to allow himself to be a bit vulnerable, by vaguely talking about relationships and love, which would become a hallmark of his music to come.
As for his loud side, if you will, he addresses the amount of controversy he dealt with at the time (a seemingly racist Mountain Dew ad, his use of homophobic slurs, etc.) on the song “BUFFALO”. From fans calling him out for wearing less Supreme (“Sick of making niggas cabbage so I took the ‘Preme off
Should’ve bought some stock in it.” ) and becoming his own leader instead of a follower. He trades bars with Kanye and Lil Wayne on “SMUCKERS”, all three rappers use the 5-minute song to detest social media and haters while still remaining on top as Kanye explains: (“Nobody can tell me where I’m headin’. But I feel like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen at my wedding.”).
Tyler takes the time to realize his power as an inspiration to his fans. He’s at a point where he wants to take himself seriously, comparing his life to an airplane as he raps on “PILOT”: (“I don’t wanna crash anymore, I don’t wanna crash anymore I just wanna soar through the space, let the wind hit my face
Til’ there’s nothing left in the gas tank.”). He encourages his fans to do the same and find their own path to happiness throughout “FIND YOUR WINGS”. He’s telling us: stop finding excuses, why are you scared? go out and do what you want to do with your life. Tyler took the plunge to make an album as unique as Cherry Bomb, so what’s stopping you from pursuing your goals?
When the album gets romantic, it’s a hit or miss but again as stated several times before, they all act as stepping stones that Tyler improved upon tremendously, primarily on the heartbreak fuelled IGOR. I’d consider this next group of songs as inspiration for IGOR if you ask me.
“FUCKING YOUNG/PERFECT” is a two-part epic about Tyler falling in love with a girl younger than him. He knows it’s wrong because of the age gap and his race. (“A six-year (Difference) Is a ten year (Sentence) And with the (Pigment) on my skin I don’t want to be another (Statistic)”) Kali Uchis plays the role of the girl who tries to reassure him that it’s okay (“Boy I know, that we could be more than just friends, but you’re scared”). He wants to get away with her in his car on “2SEATER” and get freaky on the perfectly titled “BLOW MY LOAD”.
It’s these songs in particular that house a sound and style that Tyler would enhance on both Flower Boy and IGOR. Cherry Bomb contained subtle nuances and hints as to which direction Tyler would take his music. Listening to the album now, it’s like Tyler was trying to tell us “look, guys, here’s what my music will sound like from now on. I’m done with the kill people, burn shit, fuck school days. It’s time to grow up.”
Overall, Cherry Bomb was an overlooked album that housed some good music. It showcased Tyler’s versatility as a producer while expanding his lyrical content outside of his Odd Future days. While not an amazing album, it did set the stage for his music in the following years. Cherry Bomb was Tyler’s testament to making music that he wanted to make and without it, he probably wouldn’t be the same Grammy-award-winning rapper he is as of today. If you haven’t listened to Cherry Bomb, give it a listen and see for yourself while we wait for CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST.