This past summer Tyler, The Creator debuted his fourth studio album, “Flower Boy” (There’s an alternative title to the record, but for the sake of a family audience, we’ll let you google that yourself). The recording, a bold stylistic move for the artist, has helped tremendously to cement his upward rise in the music industry. With neo-soul and alt-R&B sounds shaped around his idiosyncratic flows, “Flower Boy” feels like a defining album for the hip-hop artist.
“Foreword” starts off the album. “How many cars can I buy till I run out of drive? / How much drive can I have, until I run out of road? / How much road can they pave, until I run out of land? / How much land can it be until I run in the ocean?” Here, Tyler seems to be asking how far he can go as a musician. In the middle of a meteoric rise to fame, he’s pondering inevitable questions about what it means to be famous and worshiped by leagues of anonymous fans. Eventually, almost every popular figure falls from grace, no longer adored by critics and fans, and Tyler is wondering when his party might be over.
When some enormous synths enter the picture during the middle of the song, it shows us just how sophisticated Tyler’s arrangements have become. His flow takes on a whole different feel as the background atmosphere shifts around him, while also setting the stage for the sound of the album, which grows its sound off a base level of R&B and soul influences. The effect is stimulating and unprecedented in the rap scene.
There’s an all-star list of collaborators on the album, including Tyler’s longtime friend Frank Ocean and newcomer Rex Orange County, the 19-year old sensation from England. Ocean, who appears on two songs, seems to have had a noticeable influence on Tyler’s new sound. Ocean’s 2016 album “Blonde” was a breakthrough in the possibilities of genre-bending sound, and Tyler definitely incorporates similar elements into his recording. Artistically, you can feel the influence of collage and impressionistic art. Sonically, this is a canvas that’s intentionally painted with each element that emerges and falls away in the music’s landscape. “Flower Boy” marks Tyler’s emergence as a true pioneer in music, finding a way to both make a bold statement and also exude his overflowing personality in many ways.
One of the best songs from the album might be “See You Again (Ft. Kali Uchis),” which finds Tyler inhabiting some very sweet, flowery territory. He’s surprisingly comfortable in the space, though, dropping such lines as “20/20, 20/20 vision / Cupid hit me, cupid hit me with precision / I wonder if you look both ways / When you cross my mind.” Tyler’s romantic side emerges throughout the song, and it’s a delicate, beautiful vision indeed. Light synths that pulse underneath the singalong verses make for something quite remarkable, and fun, from the artist.
The same goes for “Pothole,” which uses synth expertly to craft a soundscape that Tyler can rap on top of, which could also be said for another standout track “Garden Shed.” The effect is stimulating, invigorating, and has provided us with Tyler’s best album yet, definitely one of the highlights of 2017.