Flower Boy is more than just Tyler, the Creator’s most cohesive and musically coherent album yet – it’s an intimate insight to the life of an artist, an incredibly personal portrait of a modern day renaissance man. It’s beautiful, it’s melancholic, at times confronting, but deeply engaging from start to finish. There are few hip hop artists as willing to address and as open in their approach of topics such as sexuality, mental health, and identity as Tyler is – but then again, Tyler has never been your average rapper. With those influences in jazz, funk, and soul more pronounced than ever before, Flower Boy finds itself not only breaking new ground thematically, but stylistically as well. In every single way, Flower Boy is the mature and polished project that we’ve all been waiting for.
As soon as those raspy bars weave their way into album opener Foreword, it’s clear that Tyler’s changed a lot since 2015’s Cherry Bomb. He’s always had his introspective moments, but rarely like this. Those rhetorical questions that open the album – “How many cars can I buy ’til I run out of drive? / How much drive can I have ’til I run out of road?” – he’s asking himself those questions more than he is of any audience or listener. Forget the headlines – Flower Boy is about more than just Tyler’s sexual identity, but his identity in general. Whether it’s musings on fame, revelations regarding his sexuality, or reflections on love and loneliness, questions about identity aren’t just peppered throughout Flower Boy, but pushed to the forefront. It’s not the first time that Tyler’s had something to say, but it’s the first time that he’s delivered a consistent and coherent voice from start to finish.
Lyrically too, it’s so obvious that Tyler has dynamically matured and progressed as an artist. There’s always those fun, classic Odd Future style tracks here like Who Dat Boy and I Ain’t Got Time!, but where Tyler really excels here is in his balance of immaturity and introspection. Every bar is as laced with double entendre and wordplay as it is with self-reflection and retrospective commentary – Flower Boy paints pictures in its lyricism as well as its instrumentation, with frequent nature metaphors and plant symbolism on tracks like Where This Flower Blooms, Garden Shed, and Droppin’ Seeds always alluding to deeper meanings beneath the surface.
It’s not just in lyrics and themes that Tyler’s fundamentally evolved – despite it’s eclectic and erratic nature, Flower Boy features Tyler’s most lush and intricate instrumentation yet, somehow both steady and unstable at the same time. Solely produced by Tyler, this is his songwriting at it’s best. All of his varied musical influences seem to come together seamlessly – be it jazz, soul, funk, hip hop, electronica, all those inspirations form beautiful compositions that feel part vintage synth-funk, part artsy avant-rap, and part low key neo soul. Role models like Pharrell Williams and Roy Ayers still linger in Tyler’s sound, but Flower Boy appropriates and transforms rather than simply imitating.
Flower Boy is one of those albums that’s all highlights. Foreword sees Tyler reflect on fame over a backdrop of unnerving electronic percussion and jazzy guitars, while Boredom is an endlessly catchy, synthy jam both joyous and melancholic in its insights on loneliness and artistic stagnation. Singer-songwriter Rex Orange County drops in for hook vocals on both of these tracks, equally soulful as he is woozy, but he’s just one of so many fantastic collaborators on this album. Jaden Smith provides a nice contrast to Tyler’s laidback flow and jazz fusion laden instrumentation on Pothole, whereas Estelle takes centre stage on the momentous and grand Garden Shed, contrasting Tyler’s frantic flows as he ponders the consequences of coming out. A$AP Rocky and Tyler exchange bars on the frantic Who Dat Boy, but it’s Lil Wayne that really shines, evoking his late 2000s peak persona for a fantastic verse on the interlude Droppin’ Seeds.
I Ain’t Got Time! is classic Tyler at his most crazy and eclectic. There’s little you can do but sing along and snap your fingers to the album’s wildest track – it’s the least introspective track here by far, but it’s straight bars, a nice break to the sappier pair of tracks that come beforehand. But it’s 911 / Mr. Lonely that undoubtedly feels like Flower Boy’s best moment. With its frequent beat change-ups and an ensemble cast featuring Steve Lacy, Frank Ocean, and Anna of the North, this track is a clear centrepiece for the album. Tyler glides over the verses with bars equal parts ridiculous as they are personal, while Steve Lacy seizes control for a endlessly funky and effortlessly catchy hook. This is bound to get stuck in your head, no doubt. It’s a shame that the album’s penultimate moments feel a bit forgettable in comparison – November and Glitter are evocative, intensely personal tracks, but they seem to fade away as the album come to a close. It’s odd that Tyler chooses to end with an instrumental, but Enjoy Right Now, Today actually works beautifully as a jazzy and joyous resolution to ride out the last three minutes to.
Flower Boy is something far more personal and far more mature than anyone ever really thought we’d get from Tyler. It’s not often that an artist evolves so dramatically and so quickly as Tyler has, but the result has been spectacular. There are few musicians in general, let alone in hip hop, as daring and revealing as Tyler is on Flower Boy, his powerful retrospective reconciling hip hop machismo with a willingness to explore personal identity. Thematically, lyrically, stylistically; Flower Boy blooms in every single way.