Tyler, The Creator: Cherry Bomb

Cherry Bomb is the first time in a long time that we’ve gotten to see Tyler grow up at all, but is it too much to ask for this 24-year-old man to mature a little faster?

Tyler, The Creator

Cherry Bomb

Label: Odd Future
US Release Date: 2015-04-13
UK Release Date: 2015-04-13

Everyone has an opinion of rap crew OFWGKTA ("Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All", usually shortened to Odd Future), or, more accurately, had an opinion of them. At this point, Odd Future’s members and supporting players have grown progressively distant from each other with each album release, tour, and media scheme. As the ringleader, Tyler, the Creator is responsible for most of the love and the hate that the group has gotten over time, but now that the crew’s initial heat has finally chilled, analyzing his artistic tendencies has become less complicated. His latest album Cherry Bomb suggests that the rapper is still dedicated to the brand, even as its edge has dulled significantly, but is that a good thing? Even Tyler himself seems to have mixed feelings on the issue.

Cherry Bomb shows Tyler’s desire to progress as a producer and a songwriter, but as a rapper and lyricist, his growth is curiously stunted. The off-beat conceptual narratives that graced his early releases Bastard, Goblin and Wolf are replaced by disconnected thematic throughlines and an unfortunate amount of half-baked and incoherent flight imagery. He of course still insists on using homophobic slurs and making sexually graphic songs like “Blow My Load”, which isn’t so much funny or ironic as it is just obnoxious. To be fair, Tyler coyly acknowledges his perpetual immaturity on “Fucking You / Perfect”, a song about his attraction to a younger, ostensibly underage girl (“a six year difference is a ten year sentence”), but admission makes it and his other adolescent antics no less painful to listen to in 2015. Contrast this with the more insightful sentiments on songs like “Pilot”, in which Tyler describes the limits of ambition when outside factors work against him (“I’m in first class but I feel like coach”), and it becomes clear that even he can’t keep up with his erratic personality. As always, Tyler’s schtick comes off less multi-faceted and more aggressively confused, where he unfortunately feels the need to balance the serious and introspective with played-out dick jokes. He’s not pushing boundaries so much as he’s just fucking around.

Childish missteps aside, Cherry Bomb is still Tyler’s most vital and adventurous release in some time. Strictly from a musical standpoint, the album revels in everything from Death Grips-level headbangers (“Cherry Bomb”) to soulful, jazzy slow jams (“Find Your Wings”). As an obsessive Pharrell Williams fan, Tyler does a startlingly perfect imitation of N.E.R.D on “Deathcamp” (notice the influence of the smooth elegance of the Neptunes throughout the album, as well), and for someone who once decried the use of samples in rap music wholesale, Tyler does great work with them on the stark and groovy “Buffalo”. Even his unique style of bare-bones drum machine and synthesizer sounds gets an upgrade on the dynamic “The Brown Stains of Darkeese Latifah Part 6–12 (Remix)”. Granted, this uptick in Tyler’s confidence as a producer results in a downturn in his confidence as a rapper; he finds unique ways to obscure his voice throughout Cherry Bomb -- loud guitars, showers of distortion, overblown drum sounds. Still, with his lyricism where it currently is -- that is, not far from where it was when he was 18 -- it’s hard to count this as a negative.

If Cherry Bomb is representative of anything, it’s that a lot has changed since the OFWGKTA heyday, whether Tyler wants to admit it or not. Just look at “Smuckers”, which joins the forces of Tyler, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne, three of the most divisive figures in popular rap music, resulting in Tyler’s most absurdly huge collaboration yet. The popular depiction of Odd Future as a bunch of everyman kids who lucked out in the music industry has faded; they’re in the big leagues now, but not everybody is shifting with the tides.

The Odd Future label no longer retains any categorical meaning. The celebratory and explosive Cherry Bomb is far from the muted emotionality of Earl Sweatshirt’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, though Earl seems to have more than surpassed the introspective tendencies that Tyler commanded on his previous releases. Everyone has moved on, more or less, from that tumultuous period of raucous, adolescent music -- even Tyler himself, seems partially disinterested in where he’s ended up. Musically, Cherry Bomb finds Tyler taking a step in the right direction by ever-so-slightly removing himself from the world of his early albums and mixtapes, but it’s only a half-measure. For someone as ambitious as he is, Tyler spends a lot of time milking his persona for all its worth before fully cashing in. He’s one of the few still committed to the Odd Future brand, like the one guy left in town after high school when everyone else has moved on.

Cherry Bomb is the first time in a long time that we’ve gotten to see Tyler grow up at all, but is it too much to ask for this 24-year-old man to mature a little faster?


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