How does one go about dropping a major rap album in the crater left by Jay-Z’s recent master-work, 4:44? If you’re Tyler The Creator, you drop a whole other animal entirely, but one that’s similarly brief (at 46 minutes), but with a lot to unpack. Flower Boy is Tyler The Creator’s fourth album and, just to get right to it, a project that will probably mark a pivotal moment in his career, as it’s sure to have people checking for him who weren’t before.
This is not a rap album – not really. In fact, I don’t think it’s Tyler’s rapping on this project that even matters in its overall score. But in case you forgot (like I did) that Tyler the Creator is also a producer, Flower Boy is a bold-faced reminder for that ass. With his usual offensive fare pushed to the side on this project (gone for good?), it’s plain to see that Tyler, The Creator is a student of music before he’s a rapper or a producer.
It’s easy to give Tyler the Creator a hard time about his cavalier attitude toward throwing homophobic slurs liberally onto his past records or for his other misogynistic and violent lyrics, but at a certain point, you’ve got to also give people the opportunity to grow up. I understand people should be held accountable for what they put out into the world, but for what it’s worth – all of us didn’t have a microphone in front of us at our most irresponsible stages of life (thankfully). Tyler’s apparent decision to leave out the more offensive content seems to convey a need to be taken seriously – both for his artistry and the things he’s decided to reveal on tracks like the stunning “Garden Shed” featuring Estelle, where Tyler seems to be discussing hiding aspects of his life from people and sleeping with women just to brag to his buddies about it. He even refers back to the song as “track 7” on “November” as if saying to the audience “No, I’m serious about this – listen again”, but all we can do is speculate until Tyler decides to come out with it for certain – should he choose to do so. What’s important here, though, is that, gay, bi or straight, Tyler gave us an incredible album to mark whatever metamorphosis he’s going through – and it was good.
Tyler performs a dreamy-eyed duet with Kali Uchis on “See You Again” where Tyler croons the humorous, but oddly beautiful line: “I wonder if you looked both ways before you crossed my mind”. Jaden Smith is remarkably un-annoying on “Pothole”, one of the few straight up rap songs on the album that actually ends up being really good, due in part to the smoothest of Roy Ayers samples. Tyler has stated that the song “I Ain’t Got Time” was actually one he offered to both Kanye West and Nicki Minaj, but both declined. While it’s not my favorite song here, I’m glad he was able to add it, as the energy on it serves to mix things up a bit. “Enjoy Right Now, Today” is an almost completely instrumental closer to the album that really showcases Tyler’s gift as a producer, as the song seems to span decades in music all at once.
Flower Boy is the kind of album that allows you to put your critic’s brain at ease for the most part, considering how seamless the production is throughout. Even the slightly off-kilter vocals offered up by Tyler on most of the songs aren’t technically “bad” when you take them in as just another part of the picture he’s painting. One minor complaint I have is that I would have either liked to hear the WOLF Radio sketches explored more or omitted entirely. The album has sort of a patchwork quality to it that lends to the radio theme and the idea was more or less squandered by never being fully fleshed out. I’m also not sure what Li’l Wayne’s purpose was on the album, if not to drop enough tired sex metaphors on “Droppin’ Seeds” (sigh) to give the album its required dose of offensive without tipping the scale (actually, I think he and A$AP Rocky covered that on “Who Dat Boy”). The one-minute track just seems like a waste, both financially (assuming, of course, that Wayne…or Birdman…OK, someone got paid for the Wayne verse) and artistically (because “meh”). however, while the track isn’t particularly good or necessary, it doesn’t hurt the overall flow or concept in any significant way.
To get the obvious comparisons out of the way, Flower Boy is a mix of influences, from N.E.R.D. to Andre 3000’s The Love Below. To me, this is Tyler’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in terms of it being a grand statement in production, but with a clear, honest message about vulnerability, depression, and sexuality that ultimately uplifts instead of dragging down the energy or truly bumming out the listener. In terms of talent and creativity, Tyler The Creator is pretty much cleared to do what he’s been doing this whole time – which is whatever the fuck he pleases.