On his latest album Tyler, the Creator showcases a ridiculous amount of talent as a rapper, lyricist and producer. This is easily one of the finest hip hop albums of the year.
For better or worse Tyler, the Creator has always been an individual. Even as a member of the polarising rap collective Odd Future he exhibited an extraordinary amount of potential, with an ice cold flow and addictive personality. However, since Tyler released his debut mixtape, Bastard, eight years ago he has never quite achieved this potential. While his albums have explored a variety of genres, including jazz rap, neo-soul and hardcore hip hop, Tyler has previously failed to marshal these sounds or fuse them together in a meaningful or coherent way. Any merits these beats had were overshadowed by the controversial (or downright offensive) lyrics Tyler would deliver over them. Before long, Tyler seemed to be locked in a constant battle with the music press, firing shots at his critics and generally partaking in a great deal of online trolling. If Tyler eventually found something important to say, it was unlikely that the wider world would listen. Until now.
‘Flower Boy’ is undoubtedly one of the finest hip hop albums of 2017. It’s a concise, 46-minute record which boasts fantastic wordplay, lush vocal performances and, most importantly, a real sense of maturity. For the first time, Tyler has offered his audience a window into his personal life. Listening to this record is very much like reading the man’s diary, where tales of long lost love and haunting regrets are scattered across the pages. These songs will excite the curiosity of Tyler’s fan base, but they also have the power to touch the listener, in the most sincere and genuine way. Take the song ‘Garden Shed’, where Tyler remembers a youthful encounter in – you guessed it- a garden shed. With the heartfelt refrain, ‘You don’t have to hide/ I can smell it in your eyes/ That there’s something more to say’, Tyler touches upon the kind of emotion he has previously tended to hide away. Equally powerful is the song ‘November’, where Tyler reminisces on a happier time of his life and challenges the listener to remember their past. Needless to say, it’s endearing stuff from hip hop’s greatest troll.
On this record, it is inherently clear that Tyler has grown into a sophisticated and lyrically dextrous rapper. However, it is in the role of producer, where he truly earns his stripes. Every track on ‘Flower Boy’ was written and produced by Tyler himself, an increasingly rare occurrence for the younger generation of rappers. Tyler has always been an accomplished keyboard player, but on this record he takes his talents to another level. Simply put, the use of synthesisers on this album is astonishing. Throughout the run time, sharp synths slice through the mix, while others pulsate heavenly in the background. Tyler’s production style is so lavish, vibrant and colourful that nearly every track here is an instantly accessible chunk of ear candy. Meanwhile, there are enough sonic details buried beneath the hooks and choruses to reward multiple listens and some quiet contemplation of this man’s auditory talents.
Understandably, Tyler, the Creator falls short of reaching musical perfection on ‘Flower Boy.’ While the album should be praised for its dynamic and unpredictable nature, some of the shorter interlude tracks feel more like unfinished ideas than musical statements. Furthermore, the ending proves to be slightly underwhelming with the syrupy ballad, ‘Glitter’, and a closing instrumental track which fails to provide closure on some of the adult themes discussed on the record. Regardless of these minor flaws, Tyler has crafted a laughably inventive and fantastically enjoyable hip hop record.
It’s a shame that the music press can only find the time to discuss Tyler’s sexuality. Because, on ‘Flower Boy’ at least, there’s serious method behind this man’s madness.
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