In the swirling sea of political strife and societal indifference that is 2017, emotional overload can become something of a close friend. Sometimes, it’s as easy a fix as finding a happy place; a quiet day on the beach with your significant other or maybe that one time you tried on a friend’s outfit. Since the remastered Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy was released two weeks ago, though, the glory days of our early teenage years when video games gleamed off of bowls of Fruity Pebbles have come roaring back Hefty pieces of candy-colored comfort.
Of course, more often than not, it isn’t that simple. Clouds of anxiety and doubt can rain on even the happiest parade and distort the movies in our minds. While listening to Tyler, The Creator plainly lay out his insecurities across his new album, Scum Fuck Flower Boy, these are the thoughts that ran through my mind.
At first, I thought his resilience against all odds displayed on the saccharine “Pothole” would make it the centerpiece of the album. Tyler confides in his mother’s advice on hiring Christian Clancy as his manager and takes stock in all that he’s made, even if he’s got no one to share it with. There’s no Dr. TC or Wolf/Sam/Salem split and few juvenile embellishments here; this is Tyler acknowledging that he’s content to drive through his anxieties but can see the rest stop tempting him in the distance.
Six songs later, he’s a little less optimistic. On “November,” Tyler completely unspools about the state of his career up to this point. He’s 26, Black and successful, but a voice in his head still tells him he hasn’t made any classics. He worries that his accountant got sloppy with his taxes and that it will cause him to go bankrupt; a fate that could condemn he and his mother to the old apartment building they escaped from in California’s Ladera Heights. He feels like he’s now more known for his shock-jocky tweets than for his sun-drenched synth and breakbeat production.
In a recent interview with Dazed, Tyler even tried his hardest to act like he doesn't mind being overlooked in the world of fashion:
“I’m always left out of stuff,” he continues, “like everyone is doing pop-up shops now; I was doing that in 2011. I’d never get a mention for it or anything. When everyone was putting cats on tie dye shirts in 2013, I was doing that in 2011. No one was saying anything, then, I bet you’re gonna start seeing – I mean it’s already happening – kids wearing these flooded pants. That has been a look, but I’ll never, ever be respected in that world for it. It’s not my ego, you could just look and be like, ‘Oh!’ and I’ll just never, ever be looked at as (an originator) and it’s a bummer.”
All of these fears and anxieties are swirling around a happy place he calls November, where Hawaiian shirts in cold weather bridge with the summer of ‘06 and Mr. Lonely feels much less alone, even for a little while. Scum Fuck Flower Boy is about as straightforward and earnest as Tyler has ever been on record, and his desperate plea for someone to “take me back to November” reveals the existential dread that comes with seeing your inner child shrouded in smoke. Audio from friends remembering their respective Novembers helps to part those clouds. I can already tell what Domo Genesis’ is.
Tyler is far from the only West Coast rapper whose storm clouds began forming during the summertime of ‘06, though. “This could be forever, baby; I’ve never seen you wetter baby / Than when the tears fall soakin’ up your sweater, baby,” Vince Staples coos on the title track to Summertime ‘06. The first half of Vince’s double album is packed with lurid tales of addiction, racism and Norf Side reppin’, but it ends with a love song almost as melancholic as the shimmering synths of Clams Casino’s production. Whatever gave Vince his thick skin is what caused him to hurt quite possibly the love of his life. Masked feelings covering a cracked heart beyond repair have left him adrift in the world.
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The love lost on “Summertime” is the jump off point for every bad deed carried out on Summertime ‘06 and his sense of atonement lingers throughout Big Fish Theory. Vince gets money against all odds on “Big Fish” but pines for a lover in raindrops on the windowsill on “Alyssa Interlude”: “Sometimes, people disappear / Think that was my biggest fear / I should’ve protected you.” He’s dancing on Benzes and willing Tamikas and Shenequas into the Oval Office out of penance and necessity. Vince’s November may be chillier than Tyler’s, but it was still born from happiness.
Happiness is more than just endorphins feeding your brain; happiness can be the anchor that colors your whole worldview. I compare different live shows by saying, “I haven’t had this much fun since EarlWolf at Irving Plaza,” or bringing up memories of shooting zombies with my sister to cheer her up after a rough day at school. These tiny Novembers can be what makes a day off from work feel like a two-week vacation or turn a bad situation upside down faster than a XXL Freshman taking a knee during a cypher.
Stylistically, Tyler’s sunny rap/synth-soul fusion and Vince’s pulsing minimalism couldn’t be more different. Even their personalities seemed to be at odds when they appeared together on Real Late with Peter Rosenberg in 2015. But when their chemistry clicked during a moment of Ray J fan theories, it became just another November to add to their growing collections.
Two years later, Vince is preaching the Black man’s plight over techno beats, dropping dry wit on the interview circuit and bought his mom a house. Tyler has fully grown into his own rap flower child and is selling out music festivals and fashion shows the world over.
To calm my nerves as life keeps moving, I've spent many summer nights entering Tekken tournaments and running games of 21, but even at my most anxious, I quickly remind myself that my November is only a short drive away.
Yours is, too.