Written By: Andrew Sedo
Defining someone’s character is extremely difficult. When a trusted friend or despised enemy does something unexpected it often changes our ideas of past acts and also colors how we view them in future events. Tyler, The Creator’s latest release (often promoted as, Skum Fuck) Flower Boy is such an audible character crisis.
Now 26, it has been almost a decade since he shot to cult stardom with his sparsely superb cockroach-choreography in the video for “Yonkers”. Tyler and his young cohort of unique artists, called Odd Future (or Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) filled a void in hip-hop as rappers moved away from Wu Tang style descriptions of graphic violence to less sensationalized versions of life on the margins of society. It was in this niche that Tyler and friends took hold as a form of angst based rap music. Homophobic, and violently misogynistic lyrics persisted even as the collective gained popularity and member Frank Ocean, openly bi and critically lauded, took off. This culminated with Tyler being barred from touring in certain countries and widespread opposition to his major label releases, which largely underperformed.
However, none of that seemed to impede Tyler, and his specific brand of brash individualism, ironically based on the natural coolness of being an outsider, but also largely in thanks to harmful words of anger and violence towards certain marginalized groups. Most troubling was Tyler’s prolific use of a specific hateful homophobic slur that defied reason and, especially as he grew both sonically and literally, seemed to become a fetish or a crutch for a lyrically starved MC. The absence of this term from Flower Boy is what creates the listener’s inherent character crisis. It seems Tyler has either realized the error of his ways and turned a corner towards acceptance of his role as a cultural influencer, or seen the effects of his speech on his commercial appeal. It seems logical that many Odd Future (OF) fans will feel strangely listening to Flower Boy.
Tyler has abandoned the jarring minimal production and triggering lyrics that drive parents crazy and blared from dorm room windows. The result is a groovy testament to the virtues and pitfalls of loneliness and life in a materialistic world. On “911/ Mr. Lonely” he patents peak loner braggadocio as he gives a shout out to Elon Musk before declaring “5 car garage / full tank of the gas / but that don’t mean nothing / … without you in the passenger” before concluding much more clearly, “I’m the loneliest man alive.” Fans of old school OF music will find solace in the bombastic challenge “Who Dat Boy?”, which manages to toe the line between outright aggression and proactive chest-puffing self defense. Likewise, “I Ain’t Got Time” is a relatable, yet buoyant, wave goodbye from someone who seems to have made it past most the toxic influences in his life. It also features the album’s most important lyric as he says “The next line gonna have em like, whoa / I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004” which at best rehabilitates some his past transgressions from destructive total tone deafness to an inherently deep rooted struggle with repressed sexuality.
Upon closer inspection, references to Tyler’s shifting definitions of attraction appear all over Flower Boy as he alludes to driving around with a “River Phoenix look alike” and searching for a “95 Leo” (in an apparent nod to the hotness of Titanic era Dicaprio). On it’s face, Flower Boy is an enjoyably experimental summer album where production and players come together to create a current sound for a collective that appeared to be stuck in a repressive rut. Throughout it all, Tyler’s signature snarl comes through. You can tell every track is a Tyler, The Creator original, a testament to his influence over a decidedly brief period. Flower Boy is more than a piece of music.
Deeper inspection reveals a sense of conscious growth. The title would suggest that Tyler is making an effort to become a new person, to truly embrace the ideals of his brand, whilst simultaneously acknowledging the errors of his past. Thusly, Flower Boy is an essential element of Tyler’s musical and cultural character. It’s a complete departure from his past as he moves from the blind rage of youth to the expressive loneliness of intelligent self awareness. Expectations are skeptically sky high for Tyler’s true nature to come, even more, to the forefront of his talent.