Before Flower Boy, I was not a Tyler, the Creator fan, and that seems to be the case for many folks who loved Flower Boy from my understanding. The aggressive persona showcased in his music seems to have turned a lot of people off to him initially. My personal experience with Tyler before this year was extremely limited as I essentially knew him as the scary dude who rapped on that scary song “Yonkers” with the scary music video. I was a junior in high school when I first saw that video, and my first impression did not compel me to explore beyond that single. Little did I know that I was missing out on tons of fantastic music from one of the most creative young artists in the game. Since listening to Flower Boy, I’ve checked out Tyler’s earlier releases and developed a healthy appreciation for them; aggressive persona and all.
Foreshadowed by Tyler’s delicate and sensitive verse on Frank Ocean’s “Biking” this year, Flower Boy directly addresses and curbs the aggression that many associated with Tyler prior to the album and softens him to his audience. The Tyler we see on Flower Boy does not carelessly toss around homophobic slurs or fantasize about violence as he has done in the past. This Tyler smells like Chanel, has manicured nails, and even alludes to romantic relationships between him and other men. Tyler implies that these qualities and experiences are essential to his nature and growth to this point in his life. Flower Boy is not a sign that Tyler has had a fundamental change of heart between Cherry Bomb and now– the softer Tyler has apparently existed all along behind the mask of cynicism and hostility of his earlier releases.
In light of these revelations, the hyper masculinity observed on Tyler’s past works begins to seem almost satirical. Perhaps, Tyler’s use of slurs and focus on violence in the past was in fact a nuanced critique rather than an endorsement of those things. Whether that absolves Tyler of the problematic implications of things he has said is up for discussion, but it certainly provides new perspective for listeners to grapple with those statements.
Tyler’s softening on Flower Boy extends to the production as well. Here, string ensembles and electric piano drive the compositions over which Tyler sings and raps rather than the electronic and often cacophonous sonic landscape of Tyler’s first three albums. Of course, there are moments of overly bassy 808s and dissonance on the album– particularly on “Who Dat Boy (feat. A$AP Rocky)” and “I Ain’t Got Time!”– and I’m not sure the album would feel like a true Tyler album to his fans without those moments. However, the overall sonic aesthetic gravitates toward richer, more beautiful sounds to highlight the gentler Tyler that Flower Boy introduces us to. I would even call various moments in the album relaxing, which is not a word I would use to describe the vast majority of the music on Goblin, Wolf, or Cherry Bomb. In spite of all this, Flower Boy does not fail to retain the distinct and unique qualities of Tyler’s production that earned him his loyal following. It all feels extraordinarily creative, varied, and complex. As a relatively new Tyler fan, I may not be qualified to say so, but I think this is Tyler’s most compelling and groundbreaking work yet.
Flower Boy is clearly the product of some seriously introspective and dedicated work on Tyler’s part, but the collaborators on the album are the cherry on top that makes this a masterpiece. Featuring established titans like Tyler’s good friend Frank Ocean, Lil Wayne, A$AP Rocky, Estelle, and Pharrell, there’s plenty of star power on the album that confirms Tyler’s status as one of the top artists around right now at the young age of 26 years old. Tyler’s success as both an artist and mogul has far exceeded that of most 20 somethings, and he positions himself as something of a professional mentor at this stage in his career through the inclusion of young upcoming artists on the album like 23-year-old Kali Uchis in addition to Rex Orange County, Jaden Smith, and Steve Lacy, all of whom are under 20 years old. In particular, the vocal contributions of Rex Orange County, Estelle, and Kali Uchis tie the work together by providing melodic consistency that Tyler’s admittedly charming but unpolished singing voice cannot. Many minds and talents came together on Flower Boy to express something deeply personal for Tyler.
Flower Boy was something unexpected and exciting for me this year. If you had told me at 16 years old that the scary dude on “Yonkers” would release something that I simply could not stop listening to in 6 years, I would have said that you were crazy. But that’s precisely what happened this year. All I needed was something a little less intimidating and a little more inviting to introduce me to the genius of someone who I consider to be one of the most creative and exciting artists making music right now. I’m officially a fan, and I can’t wait to see what Tyler does next.
Favorite Track: “Glitter”
Favorite Lyric: “Tell these black kids they could be who they are
Dye your hair blue, shit, I’ll do it too
Look, I smell like Chanel
I never mall grip with my manicured nails
I coconut oil the skin
I keep the top low ’cause the follicles thinnin’
But other than that, man, it feels like I’m winning
Went from statistic to millionaire
CNN doubted ’cause my skin is dark
But they forget when I get in my car” (“Where This Flower Blooms feat. Frank Ocean”)
Time(s) of the year it could commonly be found in my headphones: July- August, November- December