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By Keegan Priest
Album: Flower Boy
Artist: Tyler, The Creator
Released: July 23, 2017
Genre: Experimental Hip-Hop, Jazz-Rap, Alternative R&B, Neo-Soul
Rating: A (92%)
Following the days of the release of Flower Boy, many pop culture publications and news sources began to obsess over the themes of homosexuality exposed throughout the piece. Some lyrics in specific songs seemed to indicate references to coming out or being dissatisfied with the love of women and caused the hip-hop community to lay confused. Tyler, the Creator, aged 26, spent the last decade rapping homophobic slurs along with his high school-created hip-hop collective Odd Future (with notable artists such as Earl Sweatshirt, Syd, Frank Ocean) that held a rebellious ‘alternative rap’ teen culture throughout the early 2010’s and so on. Notorious for his teenage-boy like lyrics and his erratic social media behavior, Tyler’s artistic reputation and his music were rarely taken seriously or considered legitimate. Tyler was sort of the Louis C.K. of rap music. He said outrageous things and was just as spontaneous and uneasy as a persona. Once the news of the possible homosexual themes on the album came into the hands of the public, there was a definitive split. Some believed Tyler was messing around and he couldn’t be trusted, some in the LGBT community refused to accept Tyler because of his use of certain words in the past, and some loved Tyler for making something so personal and releasing it out into the world.
The title Flower Boy describes the album perfectly when in context to the rest of Tyler’s discography. Flower Boy feels like Tyler, the Creators’ correction course, his make-up test. Throughout this album, Tyler develops a level of maturity not present before in any of his work. Though there still lays a childish rasp in his voice, he learns to push aside obscenity and to value vulnerability. He learns to create something personal and unsatisfyingly beautiful. He finally was able to bloom, like a flower, as an artist. He finally grasped hold of his strengths and learned to ignore his weaknesses.
Tyler opens up the album with hard-hitting, clever rhymes. But he loses the aggression that was there before. His delivery is still deep and raspy, yet he delivers his flow with a poetic delivery. The empty, rhythmic production Tyler raps over, suits the bluntness of his lyrics. “How many raps can I write ’til I get me a chain? // How many chains can I wear ’til I’m considered a slave?.” Introduced in the track Foreword, Tyler, the Creator uses materialistic things like cars and expensive jewelry in juxtaposition to fulfill the emptiness he feels. He satirically talks about expensive things like it is an orthodox rap song, but instead uses it differently. Emptiness and loneliness is a major theme throughout Flower Boy, and Tyler expresses it by talking about materialistic things as if they are the only thing in his life occupying him. He buys and buys to fill the emptiness. “I know you sick of me talkin’ ’bout cars // But what else do you want from me? // That is the only thing keeping’ me company // Purchase some things until I’m annoyed // These items is filling’ the void // Been fillin’ it for so long // I don’t even know if it’s stuff I enjoy.” Tyler learns to address his vulnerabilities in a way he hadn’t any other time in his discography. He sheds the skin of his immaturity and learns to use his music as an artistic expression rather than a gimmick.
Maybe this loneliness originated from the newfound realization of his sexuality, and the romantic dissatisfaction he feels with women. Subtly implied throughout various tracks on the album, Tyler introduces ideas that left the community in awe. First in Forward; then in I Ain’t got time with the line, “Next line will have ’em like “Woah” //
I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004”; and finally, and most prominently in Garden Shed, which some speculate is a track about “a flower blooming, coming out of the garden shed”, in reference to his possible homosexuality. Even though this track may not explicitly reference homosexuality, in context to the broader themes of the album, it is more than reasonable to conclude the message. This made Flower Boy an ever more meaningful project. In a genre and even a culture notoriously against the LGBT communities, Tyler, similar to the likes of Kevin Abstract of BROCKHAMPTON, started to function as a positive figure for a more progressive community and for LGBT black youth to be okay with themselves in a place that doesn’t appear to want them. Written in Where This Flower Blooms, Tyler raps, “Tell these black kids they could be who they are // Dye your hair blue, shoot, I’ll do it too”. Hip-hop needs a Tyler, the Creator there to be a representative and a role model for an oppressed minority within the culture.
Though Flower Boy may be Tyler’s best written, and most important project lyrically, it also has some of Tyler’s best composed work with a beauty no one expected from him. With a heavy influence from post contemporary jazz music, 70’s and 80’s funk, modern hip-hop and electronic, Tyler learns to have an instrumental to tell it’s own story and convey it’s own emotion, rather than a background for him to aggressively yell over. Jazz synths, dirty drums, electronic string sections fill the project, with accompaniments from various vocal performers and instrumentalists. In an interview casted by Tyler himself on his YouTube channel, he talks about the role of chords throughout the instrumentation of the album. He uses unorthodox progressions that probably shouldn’t work, but end up doing so. Not that he hadn’t been doing this before; his previous release, Cherry Bomb had a similar sound. Not until Flower Boy did Tyler bloom as a composer, making himself a definable sound. The album is concluded with a 4-minute instrumental track, with Tyler flaunting his new ability to create unusually gorgeous instrumentals with lavish strings playing both pizzicato and allegro, and complex high-hat-less drum patterns that crunch behind well-coordinated synth chord progressions. Though the beat seems a little too repetitive at times, it was a cute way to end the album. Flower Boy does a good job concluding itself without actually saying anything at all.
The role of Flower Boy in Tyler, the Creator’s discography may redefine how people look at him as an artist. This project shows that Tyler has instead of using the genre of hip-hop as a gimmick or a game, he learns to use it as a form of expression and an art form. The floral theme of the album represents this idea; Tyler is the flower who used to be a specific way, but as he came out the garden shed, he was able to blossom. Tyler was the flower. He may have spoiled his artistic integrity for the past decade, but if anyone has the potential to reimage himself, it’s Tyler, the Creator.