“When you're having fun, fun / Time flies, time flies, time flies / When you're having fun (time flies) / Out the window (it goes, goes, goes)” —Rex Orange County and Corinne Bailey, “Boredom”
Good things come when you take your time. Or, to start with the obvious metaphor: flowers do not blossom in a day.
In the case of Tyler, The Creator, he did not fully blossom until July 21, 2017, with the release of his fourth studio album, Flower Boy. From the singles to the leak, to the media storm surrounding his potential coming out, the album quickly assumed a role much larger than itself. On Flower Boy, Tyler was in bloom, but his single flower is not where the story or the blooming ends.
The typical narrative surrounding Flower Boy is that Tyler, The Creator matured and crafted an album’s length repentance. Perhaps true, this survey is painfully narrow in the larger scope of the record. “Onlookers have wondered aloud when Tyler would ‘grow up,’ and while ‘mature’ still feels imprecise when describing the rapper-producer, there is certainly an evolution taking place,” Sheldon Pearce wrote for Pitchfork. Close, but, to borrow his language, “imprecise” when we arrive at the idea of evolution. Flower Boy is not simply an album about redemption and growth, it is an album about—and the active creation of—space.
Like the rest of his catalog, Flower Boy is geared towards the socially maligned, but unlike previous efforts that thrashed about demanding space, this album takes every stride forward to create space for the disparaged. Tyler quite literally uses this album to tell “Black kids they can be who they are,” running back the lyric 10 times over during live shows to emphasize the point. We can, on some level, attribute Tyler’s past anger to a lack of answers, and with Flower Boy, strapped in amongst gorgeous production and catharsis, he unearths solutions by his damn self by way of confession.
In fact, Tyler tells us as much during his hour-long conversation with Jerrod Carmichael: “I was like, 'Alright, write down every feeling,'” he said. “That's how a lot of these songs happened, just me kind of asking these quest—answering these questions like so.” By speaking in answers, Tyler gave us—gave me—his voice in moments where we otherwise could not find words. Moments of self-discovery that would have left us speechless or without refuge have the space to bloom because Flower Boy cleared the space. This extends to artists as well, with Jaden Smith, BROCKHAMPTON, and Kevin Abstract all sprouting from Flower Boy’s field.
In that breath, Flower Boy is triumphant and endless in its approach. This is why the production is so wistful and wandering, kept up by the whimsy of strings and the schema of a Disney score. Flower Boy is grandiose from a distance, always coming over the horizon, be it the concluding keys on “Where This Flower Blooms” or the call-and-response structure of the instrumental layers on “See You Again.” Even Tyler’s signature roiling percussion gives way to expansive motifs that at their most creeping (“Who Dat Boy”) never lose their underpinning magic.
Each verse on the record is brisk, existing long enough to plant and cultivate a seed of relation. As Tyler’s voice peters off, we slot ourselves into his narratives. That’s not to say his writing is non-specific, but rather, Tyler, The Creator excels at relating his specificity to universal wants. This is why “November” is so evocative and multiple; how else could he have known about all of our Novembers? This is why the album ends with a saturated and wonderfully textured instrumental. Final track “Enjoy Right Now, Today” is a spry and funky instrumental, built on the supple laughter of a child and an equally bouncy synth line. The creation of space demands an element of presentness, hence the title.
Looking again at his tell-all with Carmichael, we see that the line between interpretation and intention wears ever thinner. “What annoys me is people will come up and film me or say, 'Can I get a photo?' and I’m like ‘No,’ so they like, ‘Fuck you then’ and leave,” Tyler explained. “I’m down to have a conversation, like fuck it, let's put the phone down, let’s talk. People be at shows like [waving phone], and I’m like, 'I’m fucking five feet in front of you. I’m right here in real life,' but they would rather enjoy that moment two weeks from now rather than enjoy it right now, today.”
Presentness continues to permeate the album with tracks like “I Ain’t Got Time” and “911 / Mr. Lonely,” which present a spectrum of in-the-moment living at its most raucous and most rank with existential pressure. Sure, Tyler, The Creator is lonely as fuck, but now more than ever he's equipped to live through his feelings and take them as a blessing. “I'm not depressed at all,” he assured Carmichael. “A lot of people mix up depression with self-awareness. Someone was like, ‘Dude this album is depressing,’ and I was nah, I never said I was depressed. I'm lonely, but I'm having the most fun of my goddamn life.”
Which brings us again to the album’s emotional apex: “November.” The cut ends with a flurry of voice memos from Tyler’s friends and old Odd Future cohorts, all describing their Novembers in an earnest tone. Their chorus keeps the track from becoming mawkish. Aside from being the most thoughtfully evocative track on Flower Boy, “November” also acts as a blueprint for Tyler, The Creator’s underlying call to action. He has given us space, and also showcased what using and reveling in that space should look like—all of this handily packaged into one song. How kind of him.
Fans and DJBooth scribes alike have latched onto the idea of their November as a coping technique and a potent muse. As an artist raised by the internet, Tyler, The Creator understands the value of sentiment and virality, and effortlessly merged the two with his “November” blueprint. The kicker, the element that takes “November” one step beyond a dance challenge or hashtag? The innocence and sincerity of it all. Paging through endless posts about Novembers, we find common themes of love, blithe happiness, sunny days, warming up through harsh winters, and the like. Everything about this November-space Tyler cultivated is genteel and tender, and necessary.
Since the release of Flower Boy, Tyler has had his own fresh string of Novembers, practicing what he preaches. In May, Tyler traipsed about northern Italy just days before releasing “OKRA,” a nasty Flower Boy throwaway boasting all the quality of an album cut. In June, he took it one step further with a string of remixes (“Peach Fuzz” and “Gelato”), stepping outside of the Flower Boy soundscape entirely. Sure, Tyler created space for freedom of expression, but that doesn’t mean he can’t relish in that same freedom, especially when his version of relishing leads to hard-hitting verses and iconic photographs of him holding soup.
One year later, while he’s living it up in a stream of endless Novembers, we can never give enough credit to Tyler, The Creator because the creation of space is taxing, even if it is altogether selfless. For the first six months following Flower Boy’s release, Tyler barely did any illuminating interviews surrounding the project. The music and meanings were in the hands of the fans, and as Tyler craftily de-centered himself, he let the world of the album run free for those who needed somewhere welcome to escape to.
Where the flower bloomed, space was left for more flowers to be planted. A year later, and for years to come, that space will be Tyler, The Creator’s greatest gift to his fans.