Odd Future leader Tyler, The Creator is one of those artists where, looking back over his career, one could trace a clear trajectory from where he began to where he is now. From the early Odd Future tapes to the shock rap of Goblin to the production improvements on Wolf to the dabbling in neo-soul on tracks like “Find Your Wings” from Cherry Bomb, each album has built on itself in some way or another as Tyler has attempted to perfect his craft and dive deeper into his psyche.
To this point, Tyler’s honest exploration of music and emotion has been fruitful, if inconsistent. His production has often been compared to his idol and collaborator Pharrell, while other influences like Eminem (“Colossus”), and on his last record, Death Grips (“CHERRY BOMB”), are obvious sometimes to the point of mimicry. And his personal soul-searching has often been bogged down by distractions and thematic crutches such as using a fictional therapist and other characters for three albums to help him with his feelings.
But all the imperfections and risk-taking of Tyler’s past efforts bloom into fruition now on Flower Boy, his most beautiful and open record to date. While connections will still be made to the Neptunes, particularly on tracks like instrumental closer “Enjoy Right Now, Today” with its flat, punchy drums and even an appearance by Pharrell, Tyler’s production and arrangement has never sounded this good. From beginning to end, he capitalizes on the neo-soul and jazzy elements he’s flirted with previously to create a smooth, conceptual, even cinematic album.
The piano interludes, subdued jazz chords, and string arrangements highlighted on tracks like “Where This Flower Blooms” create an atmosphere for Tyler to daydream in his McLaren, while the sinister first minute of absolute banger “Who Dat Boy” creates a tension akin to the themes from Jaws or Psycho. The features on the album make this album stronger as well. While Tyler has obviously worked on his singing chops since previous efforts, he still prefers to call on talented friends like Frank Ocean, Rex Orange County, and Kali Uchis to deliver gorgeously dreamy hooks, most notably on “Where This Flower Blooms”, “See You Again”, and “911/Mr. Lonely”.
While on the subject of features, Lil Wayne’s verse on “Droppin’ Seeds” is one of his best in years, employing “flowery” puns and innuendos over an excellent jazz track. In fact, flowers and gardens are some of the main themes of Flower Boy (obviously). And these themes are symbols used, as many have pointed out already, to talk about Tyler’s apparent “coming out”. He hints not so subtly at this throughout the album. On “Garden Shed”, Tyler confesses “Garden shed for the garçons / Them feelings that I was guardin’ / Heavy on my mind.” And again on “I Ain’t Got Time”, “I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004.” And those are just a few of the most obvious points.
Much has been made of Tyler’s sexuality, and it’s been talked about probably way too much. But what this revelation does is create a new lens with which to look through the history of Tyler’s career. Many had criticized Tyler of alleged homophobia (among other things) with his rampant use of slurs like “faggot” (a word that doesn’t show up on this album once). But with this new set of songs, it’s almost as if a total re-evaluation of Tyler’s music is necessary as we’ve gotten a clearer view of who he is and where his emotions are.
What we did already know about Tyler’s emotions is that he has struggled with loneliness and longing for companionship. And again on Flower Boy, these feelings take center stage as he claims “boredom got a new best friend”. And on the depressing (but brilliant) “911/Mr. Lonely”, Tyler is at his most broken as he calls himself out for obsessing about his car: “I know you sick of me talkin ‘bout cars / But what the fuck else do you want from me? / That is the only thing keepin’ me company.” He also comments on his past records where he developed fictional characters, saying “I say the loudest in the room is prolly the loneliest one in the room / Attention seeker, public speaker / Oh my god, that boy there is so fuckin’ lonely / Writin’ songs about these people who do not exist / He’s such a fuckin’ phony.” Tyler has moved past needing a fictional therapist to help him express his deepest emotions and is able to do it effectively through his own reflection, his own ranting, and his expressive production savvy.
The close of the album finds our lone wolf more optimistic about the present and future with songs like “November”, a symbol of the good times on which a guest speaker shares, “My November is right now.” The following track “Glitter” is a love song which contrasts the previously used “Mirror mirror on the wall / Who the loneliest of them all” by changing “loneliest” to “brightest”, an obvious change in tone brought about by dropping the weight of the loneliness and stress holding him down before.
And finally, the album ends with the hopeful instrumental jam “Enjoy Right Now, Today”, which holds a special future-focused optimism when combined with the track one title, a technique Tyler has used on all his albums (“Inglorious” and “Bastard”, “Lone” and “Wolf”, etc.) So with a little wordplay, it reads “Enjoy Right Now, Today Foreword”. With an album as well thought out and arranged as Flower Boy playing on repeat, “right now” is absolutely enjoyable.