We often ask ourselves what makes a man, but what makes a boy? On Tyler, The Creator’s new album, entitled Flower Boy (but marketed as Scum Fuck Flower Boy up until its release), the word “boy” comes up again and again, while the rapper spins tales of infatuation, anxiety, confusion and self-revelation.
“I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004,” he raps on "I Ain’t Got Time," as he ponders his trajectory to fame: “How I got this far? Boy, I can't believe it/That I got this car, so I take the scenic/Passenger a white boy, look like River Phoenix.” On the album’s lead single, “Who Dat Boy,” he invokes another ‘90s teen heartthrob, revealing he’s “currently looking for a ‘95 Leo.”
Elsewhere on the record, he refers to different types of boys: himself, his friends, faceless haters, the objects of his desires. While the full extent of Tyler’s sexual identity is still more or less unconfirmed, Flower Boy swiftly becomes about more than the is-he-isn’t-he rumor mill - it’s a rumination on what it means to be truthful from someone who has more often than not shrouded his talent and emotions in controversial trolling. Almost a decade after founding the hip-hop shock jock collective Odd Future, Tyler is still only 26, and Flower Boy seems to be his first real attempt to escape his prolonged adolescence.
In fact, the album’s original title may still be its most apt. Here, Tyler strives to demonstrate his duality—there’s the usual brash, loud persona he’s presented all along, while a softer, more transparent entity begins to blossom from track to track. An early indicator that Tyler has begun to turn over a new leaf is “See You Again,” which can only be described as a straightforward, no-frills love song. Wide-eyed and slack-jawed, Tyler conjures up images of his perfect lover, while guest singer Kali Uchis sweetly sings a lolling hook: “Can I get a kiss?/And can you make it last forever?” Is this the same kid who burst out on the scene eating cockroaches, simulating suicide and was unceremoniously banned from the UK for his homophobic lyrics? And yet, “See You Again” is wholly sincere, Tyler’s bars buoyed by a leisurely keyboard riff and shuffling drum beats.
In contrast, “Who Dat Boy,” which features a blistering verse from A$AP Rocky, falls more in line with the Tyler we’re used to, with his borderline-psychotic, guttural flow and aggressive delivery.
“I Ain’t Got Time,” the closest thing Flower Boy has to a party track, finds a balance between the scum fuck and the flower boy; sonically in step with the rest of the album, it still showcases Tyler’s typically ultra caustic rhymes (“You're a house nigga, so you don't know/How that shit go, with my big lips and my big nose/And my big dick and my short hair”) while musically keeping the pace set by the record’s more introspective moments.
However, the biggest piece of the puzzle, and Flower Boy’s highlight, is “Garden Shed,” the very song that, upon leaking a few weeks before the album’s release, seems to be as blatant a description of Tyler’s personal life as we’re probably ever going to get.
“Garden Shed” is a smooth and lilting R&B track dappled with brutish swathes of fuzzy noise, as if the song itself was in a state of ambivalence. Perhaps by design, it’s also the closest the album gets to mimicking a Frank Ocean track, with featured singer Estelle delivering lush, harmonized vocals around minimal and meandering guitars and synths (although Ocean has his own poignant guest turn on another Flower Boy track, the pop-oriented “911/Mr. Lonely”).
Lyrically, Tyler digs fairly deep, coming to terms with his identity (“Truth is, since a youth kid, thought it was a phase/Thought it'd be like the phrase; ‘poof,’ gone”), his casual relationship with women, and the depression and isolation that comes with pretending to be something you’re not.
Although emotionally raw, “Garden Shed” never comes off as trite or gimmicky on Tyler’s part, but rather as something between a confession and a therapy session. As Estelle’s motherly tones gently urge him to leave his “cocoon,” Tyler eschews shock and awe and settles for something with much more artistic cachet: truth.
The apex of his musical output thus far, Flower Boy is Tyler’s chronicle of a conflicted artist still grappling with what it means to be an adult. By the end of the album, you’re rooting for him, and enthralled with his new approach at making music. If he continues to explore these nascent facets of himself, Flower Boy could prove to be a true creative turning point for Tyler, The Creator, a record that takes an rightfully popular artist and transforms him into something brilliant.
For more of our reviews, read how Lana Del Rey finds hope in a dark American era on her latest album 'Lust For Life' right here.