What is Tyler, the Creator? It may almost be easier to pin down what he isn't. A hip-hop artist and leader of the collective Odd Future, fashion designer, TV show maker and an all-around provocateur, the 26-year-old renaissance man from Ladera Heights defies classification, which is exactly what he wants. When it comes to the bars he creates, Tyler has been just as impossible to describe. Ever since his debut mixtape 'Bastard', Tyler's lyrics have polarized due to graphic depictions of sexual violence, vulgarity and overall general mayhem which actually led to the artist being banned in the United Kingdom. This year, however, Tyler revealed a radically different side of himself with the lush, orchestral release of 'Flower Boy'. With his heart laid bare for many of the 14 tracks, Tyler disarms his audience with insights about finding yourself in your mid-20s, loving those who don't reciprocate and succumbing to the nostalgia of memory. Where horror-core imagery often shocked on previous albums, Tyler opts to gather listeners with relatable topics of ennui and loneliness. After the opening "Foreword", listeners are thrust into the teen years of Tyler with "Where This Flower Blooms". The track reflects on his days and nights sleeping on his grandma's floor, having Rent-A-Center employees coming to repossess furniture and working for meager tips at Starbucks. The track then shifts to the present where Tyler's current fame and status afford him material comforts but still leave him feeling hollow. Tyler spends a lot of this album looking back on the past as an inaccessible part of who we are. Despite the humbleness of his beginnings, there is a wistful quality to Tyler's remembrances on tracks like "November". Tyler spends time reminiscing about days spent skateboarding with the Odd Future crew, chilly, grey winter days in LA rocking Hawaiian shirts and people who are no longer part of his life, Tyler raps about driving back to a temporal space known as November. "Take me back, take me back to November..." Tyler repeats longingly in an almost Proust-like manner. On top of being more nuanced in its lyrical content, 'Flower Boy' is the most focused effort Tyler, the Creator has put out to date. Tyler trades in the frenzied energy of his previous releases for a more languid, R&B-influenced pace in the vein of Odd Future member, collaborator and friend Frank Ocean, who is also featured on multiple 'Flower Boy' tracks. With such a drastic shift in sound, Tyler, the Creator's 'Flower Boy' is an album for people who have hated Tyler's previous work. Rooted in a visceral pathos and beautiful musical arrangements, Tyler has made his most honest work to date. It's no shock that it's also his best album thus far. 'Flower Boy' is one of those "can't-miss" albums of 2017. Ask around for it at your local HPB.
Proclaiming himself as Flower Boy T with that gravelly voice and irascible disposition befitting a proprietor of a rust-belt collision shop, Tyler, The Creator thrives on his paradoxical character and daily life throughout his self-produced fourth solo album. Despite the coarseness of its alternate title, Scum Fuck Flower Boy, this is easily the least vulgar Tyler release. It's also the most radiant one, akin to a modern-day N.E.R.D. album -- marching-band drums, curlicue strings and synthesizers, candy-coated melodies galore -- filled with purpose, lacking in aimless frivolity. This is a major creative advancement, no slapdash repository of provocations and whims. Going by the preceding lead double A-side, the album's essence was impossible to forecast. There was little indication from the pairing of the bare-knuckled blast "Who Dat Boy" with "911/Mr. Lonely," where a longing Tyler, over a supreme dazed groove, sees adoring fans and fast cars -- the latter self-effacingly acknowledged elsewhere as a recurring album theme -- as inadequate fill-ins for one-on-one time. The album contains another hard-hitting track in the form of "I Ain't Got Time!," with the rhymes ranging from routine threats to singular declarations ("Next line will have 'em like 'Whoa'/I been kissing white boys since 2004"), but its makeup is typified more by "911" and the similarly lively "Find Your Wings," off the preceding Cherry Bomb. Even with combination bleacher-stomping/trunk-rattling drums and an F-bomb, "See You Again" is a positively kaleidoscopic love song, tricked out with laser zaps, xylophones, strings, horns, and sugary lines like "I'd give up my bakery to have a piece of your pie." On "Pothole," a low-profile standout, Tyler approaches driving as a metaphor for life, laments his solitude and vehicular escapism, but then proudly asserts his lone-wolf status over the sheep: "I'd rather drown in a pool by myself than fuck with they fleece." While most of these songs are rife with anxiety and isolation, the open-hearted lyricism and wide-scoped productions, put together by an artist in peak form, make them immensely engrossing. Frank Ocean, Pharrell Williams, Kali Uchis, Syd, and Estelle are among 11 supporting cast members, not one of whom is inessential to the whole. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi