He’s loud, foul mouthed, obnoxious and overwhelming childish. He’s a rebel, a visionary, a genius and passionate creative. You can call Tyler the Creator many things except a follower. That’s why I been cheering for his success since his sophomore album, Goblin. This is a kid that’s my age, born in the same year, who completely disregards how the world perceives him. He's the untamable elephant rampaging through hip-hop. His every method screamed madness, shock value, somehow producing work that was simultaneously alluring and repulsive. Unapologetically different, conform wasn’t in his vocabulary, acceptance wasn’t what he sought, and I found that inspiring. For every F-bomb and offensive lyric, he was preaching dream following and being yourself. He has a vision for his career, his life, and he’s committed to seeing that image come into fruition.
When he announced his new album, Cherry Bomb, my excitement and anticipation was somewhere between Saturn and infinity. He’s not the best rapper, but I’m constantly impressed by his production and concepts. I thought Wolf, his last album, was criminally overlooked. Much more mature than his previous work, instead of rape jokes it was growth that was the shock value. The music spoke louder than the antics, there’s no box big enough to fit his creative range. I never imagined him making a purist rap song like "48" or that he would have Pharrell singing like an angel on "IFHY." He gets better with each album and so I knew the next one would be an undeniable opus. The pre-order came with two songs, "Deathcamp" and "Fucking Young/ Perfect." They were polar opposites, indicating that once again Tyler was leaning left. I liked "Deathcamp," he was channeling his inner-N.E.R.D and paying homage to his greatest influence. In My Mind did more for him than Illmatic and it shows. "Fucking Young" took my excitement to the next level. Tyler singing with pitched vocals while Charlie Wilson does backup, the duo fused into a sound that felt like Stevie Wonder doing a song about Tyga’s rumored relationship. Smooth, catchy, lewd, and seamlessly flowing into the gorgeous "Perfect," it featured Kali Uchis, who sounds like angels during a choir recital. Her voice is soft and sensual, completely stealing the show. If this is what Tyler had in store, I was confident about my prediction.
The album was released at midnight, right before Drake's Coachella set. I ran through it eagerly. After my first full listen, I had only one complaint, and browsing Twitter I saw more and more people voicing a similar displeasure. It was something we rarely talk about, almost never notice; the mix. There’s moments where the vocals are completely under the production and it affects the overall listening experience. There’s little effort to make the songs sound polished, he went complete punk rock/garage band on his biggest album yet. His voice at times is incomprehensible, drowned in bass, songs like "Pilot" and "Run" are straining on the ears. Once again, Tyler pulled a Tyler. It’s like he wants us to feel uncomfortable, force listeners out of our comfort zone. His rebellious nature is commendable, but this time I found it oddly alienating. I'll take shock value songs, I just want to be able to hear them.
After doing some digging, I found his interview with Fader from 2013 after the release of Wolf, he confessed that he liked the rough drafts over mixed records. He likes the bass to hit annoyingly hard, he even foreshadowed that on his next album he would leave some songs rough and from the sounds of it, he’s a man of his word. He wants this album to play at destructive volumes, to beat down the blocks, likely more suited for cars than headphones. It sounds like beautiful chaos, there’s moments where you’ll feel like soaring through clouds ("Find Your Wings") while on others you're simply burning in hell ("Cherry Bomb").
"I prefer rough drafts over a lot of songs that were mixed. But because of sonics and some other stupid shit that they explained, you have to get it mixed. Now I know for next time that for certain songs I’ll leave it at the rough draft, because it hits the way it’s supposed to hit when you turn it up. When you mix it they take out the distorted sub and it just sounds too clean. When you turn it up, the bass is supposed to hit annoyingly hard."
Tyler was dedicated to delivering an album created purely for his own personal pleasure. This is the music he’s always wanted to make. His imagination mused the entire project. Without a label, no one can deny his most outrageous and unorthodox ideas, this is what complete creative freedom sounds like. He has a song featuring his idol Kanye, rapped back and forth with Wayne. Toro Y Moi, Leon Ware, this is another album this year that’s full of collaborations. All his resources went into making this, it’s a bit disheartening that the only issue happens to be an intentional one. There’s plenty of pros, Tyler has a talent for setting moods. He has an ear for features, no placement is done poorly. His love for musicality is apparent, this is by far his best produced work. Despite the mixing, with each listen I enjoy Cherry Bomb more. I'm not playing it at a blistering volume, since the mix varies on each song. I think Tyler has always been an artist that you either love or hate, but with this album, he’s challenging listeners. It’s almost testing how far he can push his limits with fans. There will be fans that will blow out speakers to this album, and others that will disapprovingly delete it immediately.
Consider this post just a warning, Tyler’s album isn’t what you expect. It’s radical, unconventional, and fearless. Maybe that's exactly what you expect. He finally got away from racial slurs and Steve Harvey slander, lyrically safe for soccer moms who don’t mind a little cunnilingus. I could complain that he ruined his opportunity to receive overdue acclaim, but it’s possible that the fans and critics will embrace his avant-garde method. It’s unlikely though - not being able to hear the lyrics even on a soft song like "Blowmyload" isn't exactly a cause to rally around. It’s such a shame, it’s almost like self-sabotage. He talks about wanting a GRAMMY, being on the radio, having a number one album, but his execution says otherwise. A song like "Smuckers" is mixed more clearly, most likely because it has Wayne and Kanye on it, he deserves praise for that. "Fucking Young" sounds crystal clear, the next track, "Keep Da O's," is largely opaque. Tyler is a mad genius, his carelessness is what keeps him from being boring. He dares to be different without worry of consequences. He is here to disturb the peace, piss on normalcy and inspire the next batch of creative kids in the process. Music is freedom, there’s no blueprint for how it must be done. The artist has the final say, and Tyler wants his noise loud. He wants it noise.
I’ll say the album is perfectly titled, a Cherry Bomb is a small exploding firework. It’s no dynamite but it can cause some damage. I don't know what kind of boom Tyler envisioned this album would make, but it’s explosive from beginning to end, and explosions sound anything but clear.
* Art by Alex Murphy.
[By Yoh, aka YOHFWGKTA, aka @Yoh31]