An album leaking two weeks before its official release doesn’t happen in the age of streaming. A big project may hit the net a few days before its intended drop date, usually a result of physical copies being shipped to stores before hitting the shelves, but many artists and labels have shifted to initial stream-only releases, with physical CDs following in subsequent weeks.
Streaming was the necessary solution for an industry plagued by unauthorized releases, but somewhere, Tyler, The Creator went amiss. As I type this, Tyler's fourth studio album, Flower Boy is currently spreading faster than Janet Jackson’s exposed nipple at the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. The pirates will always have their ways.
The anticipation has been fairly high for Tyler's new LP. He received a warm reception by fans and critics with two solid singles ("Who Dat Boy" and "911/Mr. Lonely") and yet another mesmerizing music video. It appeared Tyler was moving in a slightly different direction but at his musical core, his spirit was felt.
2015's Cherry Bomb, Tyler's previous full-length, didn’t amass widespread admiration, the result of questionable audio engineering that gave the album amplified bass too overwhelming to be enjoyable. A good album felt self-sabotaged, a single creative desire ruined the experience and the album sunk into Davy Jones’ Locker—a place where no one could hear it explode.
Flower Boy isn't just a new album, though. It's a comeback project that, hopefully, can right the wrongs of Cherry Bomb.
Tyler’s albums tend to capture his imagination, showcase his advances as a producer and pay homage to Pharrell and N*E*R*D as a reminder of their influence on his artistry. Over the years, what I’ve wanted the most from a Tyler, The Creator project is a step into reality. No psychiatrist sessions or summer camp adventures, but snapshots of Tyler Okonma's life. Cherry Bomb has these moments, but it's mostly ruined by the unbearable sound quality. Here’s hoping that Flower Boy sheds the pretentious, avant-garde mindset and that Tyler allows the music a chance to be received by all ears.
Then again, this is Tyler, The Creator, where nothing is certain and the unexpected reigns.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
Bitch and fuck are the first words heard, very Tyler. I feel like I’m in the metronome. The way the beat is waving back and forth is like a hypnotist swinging a quarter before my eyes to put me under a spell. Interesting, introspective verse thus far. Rather chill, far from an explosive opening. Tyler is painting pictures, for the most part, asking himself a lot of internal questions. These chords and strings feel like the end of summer, this would depress Phineas and Ferb. "Nothing last forever, nothing sticks." Whoever's singing the hook killed it. Verse two continues this wondering mindset. “How many chains can I wear 'til I’m considered a slave, how many slaves 'til Nate Turner arrives?” I like this bar, a bit weird but I like it. Took a rather lush turn. I don’t think I’ve heard Tyler sound this calm on an album opening, ever. Usually, he wants to leave a mark with something rambunctious and loud. The energy is far from high but that's the charm, a change of scenery. "Foreword" has the disturbing force of a ladybug. Flower Boy is a calm fellow. Really have to look into who is killing this hook. Okay, this is a pretty good song. Setting a very yellow-esque mood. I like this direction already.
2. "Where This Flower Blooms"
Violins? Sharp strings. It’s rather beautiful, like a Disney princess waking up on the first day of summer vacation. Tyler reminiscing. Piano keys dancing. Frank just arrived sounding like he’s been getting vocal training by little mermaids. Very relaxed and warm. That’s a compliment. Tyler and Frank have an odd chemistry—pun intended—but their collaborations are stellar. The beat just built up and exploded into absolute fairy dust. Rainbows just shot into my ears. The beat evaporated and Tyler gave us some cool bars. He’s really taking the personal route. No horrorcore lines or offensive language. These are rather positive lyrics, the kind of music you make once you make it and feel proud of your accomplishments. Beautiful music and introspective raps. Telling black kids they can do it, and to dye their hair blue. Count me in. Liking the flower boy theme. He’s really a Disney prince or maybe he's a princess, I don't want to place him in a box. From eating a roach to becoming a car enthusiast with an affinity for gorgeous chords and butterfly keys. The ending of this feels like getting married in a valley of sunflowers with fairies as bridesmaids and angels as groomsmen.
Deep bass and jazzy keys. Singing Tyler. A Golf Radio skit. He’s really been consistent with the Golf Radio theme… and that’s over.
4. "See You Again"
That happened so fast I wasn’t ready. Tyler singing again. I believe that’s Tyler, vocal pitch alterations have been something he’s been playing with for the last few years. Crazy his career started with deep, demented low pitches and as his sound gets more angelic, he’s started to use a softer, higher tone. It's somewhere between slightly annoying and pleasantly adorable. More lush production. Sounds like a love song you make once you fall in love on a beach pier. Once you get through the vulgarity, Tyler’s songwriter abilities are highly underrated. I would love to see his pen used by other artists, but I know the stigma around him has closed more doors than opened. Kali Uchis! She has a voice that could make a volcano melt. When she sings it's like Aphrodite has been reincarnated. Switch! The beat took us from singing outside her bedroom window with a boombox overhead to thrashing on a trampoline holding hands with your true love! This has a nice bounce. Tyler’s flow is sweet, swift. I feel like it’s a bit loud. The drums dropped off and now it's just keys. A bit of saxophone, I believe. He’s really making music for magic carpet rides with the daughters of sultans. Someone, please get Tyler on the production team for the readaptation of Aladdin.
5. "Who Dat Boy" (ft. A$AP Rocky)
Finally something dark! I love these sharp violin strings. It’s what Frankenstein would want his soundtrack to sound like. Freddie vs. Jason music. Turning up with Chucky and his bride music. Drums are brutal. This is the hardest-hitting beat thus far. We went from magic carpets to committing drive-bys in expensive whips. I know they're good friends, but I would never have thought Tyler and Rocky would be collaborators. So surreal. It works somehow. Rocky has this flow that doesn’t feel like it’s even affected by the beat. This is far from his natural production habitat but he rides it like Wayne on a skateboard. The back-to-back is pretty ill. I don’t love this song but on the album its a good change of pace. Stunt rhymes by T, still so odd this is the guy who told us to kill people, burn shit, fuck school.
A sudden song switch. Tyler talking about his mother’s advice. Funny, she told him to trust Clancy since the beginning. Storytelling T. Production feels like nighttime, driving under street lights. There's a complete lack of light that is setting the mood. Feels N.E.R.D.-esque, but more so something that Pharrell would sing over as opposed to something he would make in 2017. Jaden Smith on the hook, I believe. That's a surprise. “Watch out for the pothole” is an interesting metaphor that only a car enthusiast would make. I like, don’t love it. Man! Tyler stopped eating bacon??? He probably spent all of 2011 tweeting about bacon and waffles. Rhymes about being a loner over being a sheep. Sheesh, the line about drowning alone. That’s wild. A line about being four for four with albums—ha, so he’s still vouching for Cherry Bomb. Fight for your art T. Verse two is a highlight. This verse reminds me of Kanye’s "Welcome To Heartbreak" where he seems enamored by his possessions while everyone else around him is finding satisfaction in marriage and child-raising. Liking the song's sentiments but it isn’t grabbing me how I want it to. It doesn’t feel like the most compelling record that screams for you to reply. Love the breakdown. Production is absolutely gorgeous. Music that makes you want to sunbath with bae. Watch out for the potholes. I might be wrong about this one, good song.
7. "Garden Shed"
This is a good seven-song stretch, I’m ready to argue this is Tyler’s most focused album yet. Sounds like a guitar being strummed. Mood-inducing. Slow. Sounds like he’s about to take us somewhere intimate. Drums and keys and horns. He’s building up this spectacle. OH SHIT. That was a harsh chord. It just got rather messy, like a swirl of emotions. I like how chaotic this is slowly becoming. There’s a certain tone of struggling that's enamoring. A beautiful woman's voice, she cut through the music with such grace. Oh shit, that's Estelle. Come back to us! The way everything is just swirling around gives a Cherry Bomb feeling but it doesn’t lose itself in trying to over experiment. He finally hit us with some bars. Talks about his emotions and feelings. Love song? Or a love lost song? The details in Tyler’s lyricism is flexing the writer muscles. I’m happy he’s finally expressing himself in a way where we can appreciate the way he rhymes. One of the more experimental records. Also, where the hell did he find Estelle?!
Not 100% sure how to feel about the last one. It’s interesting enough to revisit. Okay, a complete change of pace. This is a night and day transition. Singing. Tyler and a woman. I believe this is Tyler, I don’t know how he’s was able to elevate his voice to this pitch but all the roughness has been scrubbed away. He has the weight of a penny floating on a feather. “Boredom got a new best friends,” OHHHH! These drums! Tyler’s arrangement skills have only gotten better. Still not 100% sure if that was him singing but this is him rapping. Confronting his boredom. Shots at his friends but that sounded more petty than malicious. This is going to be the anthem for all the summer vacation kids who have nothing to kill the minutes. One of my favorite beats on the album thus far. Tyler still venting. Commending his ability to build a song about boredom but for it to be this layered. Background vocals lifting my spirit to the ceiling. So much beauty in these layers. Mad backing vocals. Almost like he has a choir of baby angels. Disney needs to hire Tyler to score an animated series about love, friendship and magical animals. He really made a song about being bored sound like an adventure through the gates of Narnia. Even the slow build-up at the end. Repeating the word 'time' before the song “I Ain’t Got Time!” Sequencing.
9. "I Ain’t Got Time!"
Another Golf Radio mini-skit. There’s no narrative for this album as far as I can tell, and no imaginary characters. Okay! This is menacing. NOW THIS IS A BANGER! Tyler back on his aggressive flow with an explosive beat that sounds like a child throwing a tantrum at a circus. Gotta turn up to this one. He’s stunting. Claps and flow. I feel like the fans of rap who like Tyler would love an entire album produced like this. “I been kissing white boys since 2004” OH! This is what the gossip sites are talking about. It’s LIT! Tyler said Vans dropped the ball so he’s in talks with Converse. Rappers and shoe deals might be a forthcoming article. “Pockets look like a thick Yoda,” I’m not sure if this makes sense. He’s going off. Strong flow, strong wordplay. The bassline will inspire punches to the mouth. Getting all the flex out of his system. A chill slow down. Answering a phone call.
10. "911 / Mr. Lonely" (ft. Steve Lacy, Frank Ocean & Anna Of The North)
This song has been in my life all weekend. It’s this weird R&B bliss that you wouldn’t expect Tyler to bring to a single. But he did give us "Fucking Young" last year, a magical song about being infatuated with an underaged woman. I'm convinced that song is an ode to Tyga's past relationship. Pretty sure the content ruined its chances at being bigger. Lemonade/Beyoncé references will be in rap for the rest of forever. Such a cool flow. Tyler made an album without a Pharrell feature but there are moments where you think P is appearing vocally. One of my favorite hooks of 2017, it’s so warm and just wraps you up in a blanket of bliss. Steve Lacy and Anna both deserve trophies for bringing this track to life. Frank with the mermaid vibes, still making the most simple lines impact a song's overall vibe. Might have to see how many times cars are referenced on this album. Absurdly detailed investigation? Almost certain the entire thing has been playing in the car. “I can’t even lie I been lonely as fuck.” Loneliness seems to be a theme of the album. Beat switch and flow switch are both immaculate. “I know you sick of me talking about cars,” maybe a little. If these are Tyler’s true feelings, they are some of his most open lyrics ever. Also, the illustration of how lacking animals is the reason why he’s bad at relationships is hilarious. Goldfish and dogs don't make you a good boyfriend, but I'm in no position to talk. Such a good song. Might go down as one of his best.
11. "Droppin’ Seeds"
The lighter flick! Lil Wayne, ladies and gentlemen! A great Adam and Eve reference to begin the song. Weezy is keeping it on topic and killing it. One of his best features of 2017. This is good. This is really good. He sounds like his old self but Tyler tends to get artists whose fire appears to be exhausted to flame up once more. Oh no, too short. No Tyler verse.
Tyler gave Wayne his own song to snap on, that's tight. Okay! These drums are incredible. A woman’s voice, sounds similar to Syd, a rather sad tone. Tyler sounds great. Talking about returning back to November. WHOA! He’s getting deep. Worried about whether Clancy is fucking him over. The amount of honest doubt is something brand new to hear. “What if my music too weird for the masses and I’m only known for tweets?” WHOA. He’s in his feelings. Worried about ending up back at his former home. I like this! Incredible beat-building. Sounds like Tyler almost had a bad car accident. Maybe these are all thoughts he has while driving. The level of depth in this song alone is some of his purest, most straightforward lyricism. He had a mini-skit of people talking about how they remember November. A breakdown. A repetitive “Take Me Back.” Breakdown is CRAZY! Sounds like he’s stuck in a time vortex. Tyler back to rapping. Speaking about a lost love. Really, really good song.
Okay, there’s definitely a loose story going on. So “Glitter” is meant to represent the voicemail he would leave this unnamed lover at the end of "November." Another vocal adjustment to make his voice sound like the color violet. Not sure if I love the hook, but this verse is a spazz. Flows have been rather pleasant. Feeling like glitter and making a song that sounds like glitter is a quality you have to appreciate about T. Feels very Stevie-esque the way he’s singing the hook. Okay, beat switch. Vocal pitch switch. I love how these songs are layered but it doesn’t feel overwhelming. These little twists keep you on your toes. Cherry Bomb was overwrought with too many ideas. Flower Boy is where ideas are concise and flow well into one another. Sonic bliss. By far the prettiest album I’ve heard all year. I feel like I’m watching roses blossom before my very eyes. The message didn’t go through, Tyler lacks the luck of the Irish.
14. "Enjoy Right Now, Today"
Nice little groove to end on. Feels very Roy Ayers-esque. Warmth. So much warmth. I feel like a soldier marching to battle Keebler elves. Sounds like he sampled a baby in the background. So far just production, but it’s easy to be lost in. Some lush synths and keys. He’s building a foundation for us to drift off. I don’t know how anyone can have a bad day with this playing. Take away the aggressive drum pattern and you would have production fit for Stevie Wonder. Some soulful humming is really adding some wonderful textures. “Enjoy Right Now, Today" sounds like the album cover. A mesh of yellows and oranges just swirling together.
Beautiful. My ears are still ringing due to the radiance. This is by far Tyler’s most magical set of songs. He truly crafted a soundtrack of warmth and bliss through his instrumentation. He wanted to create a palette of golden sounds to pour his heart out over. Seeing him approach his lyrics with a frank honesty and not hiding behind vulgar language and offensive lyrics will keep ears focused on his ability to create scenes that are easy to visualize, with lyricism you can feel.
He’s struggling with loneliness like a mature adult, able to admit his attempts to fill the void of love with materialism, and able to stare into the mirror and wonder if he will be accepted or destroyed by his faults.
For all the stunting and bravado there is an equal balance of meditative thinking and honest unveiling that might make you rethink how you view Tyler, The Creator.
I hope the stories spreading about his sexuality don't overshadow how well-constructed and mature Flower Boy sounds based on my first listen. The Stevie Wonder/Roy Ayers influence takes precedence over Tyler’s chase of Pharrell’s shadow. He’s such a student of his masters that, at times, it feels as if he leans too heavily on their influence, with many records feeling like an homage rather than his original voice shining through.
Flower Boy soaks in the warmth Tyler's been enamored by with gorgeous strings, synths and chords, while lyrically, he's far more calm than hyperactive. There are only a few moments of explosion throughout the album, where it feels as if all his energy had to be channeled.
This is music for sunbathing with mermaids, for magic carpet rides with princesses, for long car rides with only your thoughts keeping you company, and for summer days that you wish wouldn’t end.
Flower Boy is Tyler’s best work since Wolf. He isn't the best rapper but he's giving us a lot in these lyrics. In a career plagued by juvenile antics, Flower Boy is Tyler's most mature project to date.
Having removed the offensive dialogue that has weighed down previous efforts, Tyler is betting on new ears embracing his new music without previous bias. He toned down some of the more daring qualities of Cherry Bomb, allowing the material to gently arrest listeners instead of attempting to blow us away. His content is still rather man-childish, but that’s a part of his charm.
Still caught up in the bliss of summer, struggling with love and acceptance, and a weird love for glitter. Tyler is hip-hop’s Peter Pan, refusing to grow up but understanding that some childishness must be buried with the toys.
Early Favorites: "See You Again," "911/Mr. Lonely," "November"
Early Not-So-Favorites: "Sometimes," "Garden Shed," "Who Dat Boy"
By Yoh, aka Sunflower Yoh, aka @Yoh31