Label: Columbia Records
Released: July 21
Flower Boy is the definitive statement in an evolving conversation Tyler, The Creator has been having since he burst onto the scene as a petulant teenager. In many ways, it's also the end to that conversation in part to his strengthened musical skill set, and part to his maturation as a man.
Serving as his fourth studio album, the anxiety and excitement that come with personal evolution run through the 14-track project. Tyler's art has always been inherently selfish: He makes what he wants, when he wants. But for a guy who has made a career of extravagant, self-pleasing showmanship, an invitation to truly learn more about the mastermind feels like an offering to the people.
No longer the industry outcast, Tyler trades in provocative antics for a discussion of himself, revealing honest feelings that were always hinted at, but never stated outright. "Foreward," the album opener, expands like a staircase, lines posed as a series of questions that reveal a newfound (or, at least, newly presented) awareness of self, the world he lives in, and his fears.
Forgoing the alternate personas that have appeared on past projects, Tyler instead places his allegiance on metaphor throughout. Coupling that with his history of trolling and open contradiction it makes it difficult to determine how serious he is at times, especially when it comes to the conversation of his sexuality. "Garden Shed," which many feel reveal his sexual fluidity, is believed to serve as a symbol for coming out of the closet, with verses like, "Garden shed, garden shed, garden shed, garden shed for the garden / That is where I was hidin' / That was real love I was in / Ain't no reason to pretend." He follows that with lines that depict an inner conflict and fear. If he is indeed using this song to come out, it places an interesting light on a lot of his past. Something Tyler doesn't seem interested in addressing, with the last line of the song stating, "It will not fuckin' matter."
Despite this potential act of bravery, Tyler comes off fearful, anxious and pretty fucking lonely throughout the album. Songs like "911 / Mr. Lonely," "Boredom" and "November" find Tyler wrestling with the conflict of success, insecurities from his upbringing, fear of falling off musically, mismanaging his finances, and even losing his life. But he does this all over flavorful beats.
Tyler has created beautiful music moments before, with each delivery noticeably better than his last. But on this album, although clearly a student of the Neptunes, he departs from any attempts to stay in their orbit. Outside of "Who Dat Boy"—a nod to work of yesterday—he creates a series of colorful and elaborate, yet always relaxed, sonic landscapes. When arranged together, they result in a flamboyant, expansive world that only he could or would fabricate. In that world, he invites a star-studded list of collaborators including Lil Wayne, Rex Orange County, Kali Uchis—all of whom he utilizes as supporting cast members, adding to the project's texture but never altering the terrain. Entirely self-produced, Tyler assembles each track with intent, employing laser focus and forfeiting prior temptations to nod and wink to the audience.
Flower Boy is his most cohesive and concise work, but it's as sonically rich if not more than his past projects, and surely the most earnest. As a reward for his artistic growth, Flower Boy's inviting themes, and his heightened celebrity, it debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 charts and a nomination for Best Rap Album at the upcoming Grammy Awards. Not only is this one of the best albums of 2017, it's the best body of work Tyler, The Creator has put out in his life. —Brandon ‘Jinx’ Jenkins