Tyler the Creator is a bit of an enigma. Maybe its due to him being almost as renowned for his image and tweets, which are often vile and hysterical in equal measure yet give little away about the person beneath, as he is for his music. Maybe its as his albums have been arguably enjoyable on a surface level but lacking substance; where other Odd Future members such as Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean utilise dark self-laceration and meditative introspection respectively, Tyler possesses more brash bravado but less genuine artistic spirit. Maybe its because Tyler’s constant instinct to troll his listeners and fans have lead to a facelessness regarding the man behind it all. Whatever the cause, this new album, unofficially named Scum Fuck Flower Boy. and the press campaign leading up to its release appeared to dictate a whole new direction for Tyler, with a big factor in this shift of perspective being talk of him supposedly coming out of the closet on this record.
Discussion of Tyler’s sexuality will therefore be inextricably linked to critical interpretation of this album as a look behind the veil of his haphazardly crafted image, yet it is arguably only a minor player in the narrative the record lays out. The intense focus on his sexual orientation threatens to overshadow how much more accomplished and different Flower Boy is compared to Tyler’s previous efforts, and while it is briefly mentioned on ‘Garden Shed’ it really does not matter whether Tyler likes men, women or fucking vegetables, as this is a stellar effort regardless of his preference. FB is a far more sad, vulnerable album than its predecessors, and while Tyler’s traditional trolling remains present here, they are assuaged by the newfound emotional honesty and rawness that caught me completely off guard and are major players from the get go.
The title represents the two different tones that this album reconciles fantastically, as the softer, flower boy side of Tyler provides the harsh, scum fuck moments with an impact they didn’t have on previous releases, demonstrating Tyler’s fresh maturity without sacrificing his childishness. This flower boy aspect opens up the album – ‘Where the Flower Blooms’ sees Tyler rapping about his personal rise to fame and maintaining his integrity through the change that surrounds him. Set over a warm piano that frequently evaporates and a Frank Ocean feature, (who after 3 years of hiding seems to be popping up on major releases everywhere in 2017) the track sets up the thematic duality of the album nicely. On ‘See You Again’ Tyler smoothly raps about his lost loves with some gorgeous backing vocals from Kali Uchis and a surprisingly melodic singing voice from the man himself. It is remarkable how frequently lush and striking the instrumentals on FB, with the sunbleached guitars and spacious keyboards of standout ‘Garden Shed’ making it a hazy dream of a track and 911/Mr. Lonely’s frank discussion of Tyler’s existential loneliness at odds with the slick R&B inspired beat.
However, the dark, demented Tyler is never far away, with the sheer aggression of his flow on the bassy ‘Who Dat Boy’ obliterating the tranquil, angelic sound the album had built up so far. The intense ‘I Ain’t Got Time’ is full of bass kicks and clattering percussion reminiscent of the new Vince Staples album, with Tyler constantly switching up his flow to give the track a breathless, hurried quality. The beautiful production is given an extra aggressive dimension by Tyler’s rapid-fire flow, and he remains hilarious with lines like “I left the condom in the grass so fuck off” and “next line I have them like woah, been kissing white boys since 2004,” anticipating the backlash that his lyrics would create.
FB is undoubtedly Tyler’s most focused album yet, with Tyler finally finding consistency alongside the experimentation of Cherry Bomb and attitude of Goblin and Wolf. His maturity when rapping about his worries of being “the loneliest man alive” who is “only remembered for my tweets” is genuinely poignant and his uniquely vulgar streak becomes even more of a weapon when paired with the nostalgic tone. At the end of it all, Tyler will say whatever he wants and do whatever he wants which is something worth valuing in any artist, especially now he appears to be more accomplished at conveying how he feels than ever.