After years of wallowing in transgressive lyricism and Pharrell-lite production, Flower Boy finally sees Tyler, the Creator shed his juvenile Odd Future persona to reflect on his faults with a newfound sincerity.
The Odd Future diaspora was a long time coming, marked by warning signs in the form of feuds, factions, and solo albums. From the hip hop collective’s ashes rose a cohort of seasoned musicians who slowly shed their edgelord trappings in favor of becoming “serious” artists. Some did this with ease—teenage prodigy Earl Sweatshirt literally grew up, opting to funnel his densely packed cadences through candid explorations of insecurity rather than smug horrorcore; The Internet never shared their cohort’s proclivity for controversy as they moved forward, simultaneously launching the solo careers of Syd, Steve Lacy, and Matt Martians; likewise, Frank Ocean always had a mature and expressive approach to songwriting, allowing for a smooth transition into stardom as his ambition grew from self-released Tumblr mixtape to multimedia concept album.
The majority of the album can be viewed through this lens. “Foreword” goes on to thank the girls Tyler so often disparages in his lyrics for “trying their hardest to keep [his] head on straightÛ, while on “Where This Flower Blooms” he says to “tell these black kids they could be who they areÛ. Both tracks feature career-best production from Tyler, with sweeping string orchestrations seamlessly interwoven with vintage soul keys and palm muted wah guitars. “I Ain’t Got Time!” contains the much buzzed-about lyric, “I been kissin’ white boys since 2004Û, and “Garden Shed” employs less than subtle metaphor to depict Tyler’s struggle coming to terms with his sexuality.
But to get hung up on speculation and tabloid fodder does a disservice to the album Tyler has painstakingly crafted. Clearly, this is not easy subject matter for him to talk about—his guttural, vocal fry flow is even more clenched than usual—but Tyler has nonetheless made an album of honest confessions and sincere self-reflection. Even the singles turn the lens inward as he tries to reconcile our perception of Tyler with his intentions as the Creator. On “911 / Mr. LonelyÛ, he raps, “I say the loudest in the room is prolly the loneliest one in the room / Writin’ songs about these people who do not exist, he’s such a fuckin’ phonyÛ. Although he has yet to ever really atone for the [hateful rhetoric] he has used in the past, it’s worth nothing that he seems to be making a concerted effort to move forward. He couches these self-critical thoughts in cohesive, layered productions; Pharrell’s influence is still clearly present, complemented by traces of Stevie Wonder and Roy Ayers, but Tyler develops his own sound more than ever before. Bastards subversive solo piano chord progressions are paired with abrasive Goblin-era synths, slinky Steve Lacy guitar and Dilla-esque 808 beats. Tyler has always had a diverse range of sonic influences, but more than ever before, he brings them together on Flower Boy to form an individual sound.