Writer: Kyle Wheelock
The last two or three years have been extra kind to the music world. Since 2015, many (in my opinion) great albums of all genres have been released to the world: To Pimp a Butterfly, Rodeo, Blonde. You get the idea, we’ve been blessed as far as music goes. With the 60th annual Grammy Awards just around the corner, I think it’s time to make a case for what I believe should win rap album of the year: Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy.
I discovered Tyler back in 2010 when Odd Future dropped their Radical mixtape. Back then, Tyler was a 19 year old wilding online with his friends, putting out music that was rough, dark (both lyrically and instrumentally), and contrarian to what was hot back then. Odd Future as a whole was known for being abrasive, immature, vulgar, and for a while Tyler was no exception.
His first two solo projects, Bastard (2009) and Goblin (2011) were no exceptions. When Goblin came out, I was an edgy 14 year old and I thought it was one of the most badass things I had heard, and I held that stance for years. But no one can (or should) stay an angsty teen forever, and as the years went on, I matured and Tyler’s older work started to fall out of favor for me, I’ll still go back and listen to Radical or Goblin on occasion, but they don’t hit me the way they did when I was starting high school. But, as I grew, so did Tyler.
With the subsequent releases of Wolf (2013) and Cherry Bomb (2015), Tyler refined his sound and his style. His songs got more concise, themes became consistent from song to song, and, especially on Cherry Bomb, his lyrics matured and became more personal. Less talk about dead bodies and slurs, more about fast cars, touring, and going outside. Tyler’s music has been a snapshot of who he is at a point in time, and as he matures so does his music. Enter 2017’s Flower Boy.
Initially, I was on the fence when the first single for Flower Boy, “Who Dat Boy” dropped over the summer. On one hand, the track showcased Tyler’s ever improving production skills and creativity, with a drum pattern that still bumps to this day and dark synth beat that sounds like it came out of a Halloween soundtrack. Yet, on the other, I wasn’t super impressed with the lyrics; Tyler displayed his ability to really rap more than he has before, but the braggadocious bars about his new car, his clothes, and his jewelry came off as super impersonal to me. It was the opposite of what Tyler was known for up to that point and I didn’t know what to think, other than that an album had to be coming. And then, “911” happened.
Tyler released, “Who Dat Boy” as a music video, and at the end of it there was a snippet of another song, one that was a silky smooth blend of Jazz and R&B. Tyler has played with this sound before on Wolf and Cherry Bomb, but this was different. When I first heard, “911”, it reminded me a lot of New Edition’s, “Telephone Man” sonically, but lyrically it was a personal admission of loneliness and nostalgia for a time when his friends acted like friends. It was a full on 180 from, “Who Dat Boy”, and I loved it. I reserved my judgements and waited for an album announcement but when, “Boredom” hit, I was already sold. Much like, “911”, “Boredom” had more R&B tones that showed what direction Tyler was going with and I was in awe of the N.E.R.D. like drums and the beautiful chords that blended together to make one of my favorite songs of 2017.
Lyrically and sonically, Flower Boy is leagues above Goblin, and more well executed than Wolf and Cherry Bomb. Containing 13 tracks and 1 interlude, Flower Boy is (in my opinion) Tyler’s best work, the instrumentation Tyler has on here is just so soulful and mature sounding, everything is polished and mixed incredibly well. Tracks like, “See You Again”, “Garden Shed”, and “Boredom” really show how focused Tyler was when he got to work on how everything would sound. Every track is so layered and complex, each sound feels deliberately placed, and as a whole the execution is flawless.
I could gush about the way this album sounds, but even then that’s only half the story. Like I mentioned earlier, the lyrics on, “Who Dat Boy” didn’t hit me lyrically like Tyler’s previous works, it was missing the intimacy that I expected from him. But, with, “911”, and, “Boredom”, my interest was captured again. I had to sit down and really listen to these lyrics over and over again to catch all the subtleties in them. Where as Cherry Bomb was a giant flex about his cars and business ventures, Flower Boy is an admission of what sounds like depression, loneliness, and even sexual confusion.
The very first verse on this album sets the tone for the whole thing: “How many cars can I buy ’til I run out of drive?/ How much drive can I have ’til I run out of road?/ How much road can they pave ’til I run out of land?/ How much land can there be until I run in the ocean?”. For the first time, Tyler is displaying his fears and insecurities without any extra fluff. He talks about being forgotten and becoming irrelevant, being alone, his sexuality, and he even touches on police brutality with a few lines here and there.
With the exception of, “Who Dat Boy” and, “I Ain’t Got Time!”, every track on here features Tyler in the zone and rapping with a purpose, he knows what he wants to talk about on each song and does so better than he has before. All the over the top confidence that was present in Cherry Bomb is analyzed and broken down to self-doubt on Flower Boy, with tracks like, “Pothole”, “November”, and “911/Mr. Lonely” giving us personal looks into how Tyler feels. “November” does this the best throughout the entire song, but this excerpt from, “911/Mr. Lonely” works just as well: “Crashed the McLaren, bought me a Tesla/ I know you sick of me talkin’ ’bout cars (skrrt)/ But what the f*** else do you want from me?/ That is the only thing keepin’ me company/ Purchase some things until I’m annoyed/ These items is fillin’ the void”.
There are so many more gems that showcase Tyler’s feelings and skills present in these 13 tracks, too many to stuff in one article. With its flawless instrument arrangements, introspective lyrics, and fantastic guest features, Flower Boy as a whole is not only Tyler, the Creator’s best album to date, but is also (again, in my honest opinion) the best album of 2017. Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. was great in its own right for a completely different list of reasons, but it didn’t hit me the way Flower Boy did. The Grammy’s are next Sunday and I hope to see Tyler walk away with every award he was nominated for because this album deserves them, and many more that it didn’t receive. And, even if he doesn’t, that won’t take away from the fact that Flower Boy is an all around amazing album and one of the best (if not the best) of 2017.
TL;DR: Flower Boy is absolutely amazing and beautiful, definitely listen to it
HIGHLIGHTS: “Foreward”, “See You Again”, “Garden Shed”, “Boredom”, “911/Mr. Lonely”, “November”