Written by Edward Langley
It’s been six years since Odd Future (OFWGKTA) exploded onto the world’s music scene and the image of Tyler the Creator swallowing a cockroach was etched into the mind of young people forever. A lot has changed in those six years, and it’s unclear whether Odd Future even still exists as a group. Although we shouldn’t be holding our breath for the OF Tape Vol. 3 to be released any time soon, the flame is still burning as bright as ever in the members’ individual pursuits.
The ‘hype’ may have long died down, but we can now say with certainty that the LA alt-rap collective proved their critics wrong. Odd Future started off being labelled as a joke- they were just tomfoolery and hijinks with the occasional viral video. It was said they would never last beyond 2011, a mere blip in the timeline of hip hop that would be forgotten as soon as Watch the Throne came out. But with the blessing of hindsight we can see that Tyler and his merry men were more than just pranksters out to frighten ‘old white people’ and wreak havoc on late night talk shows- Odd Future was and still remains a hub of creativity. Tyler alone has had a 3 season TV show, fashion line, book and countless other accomplishments under his belt. He may have been the ringleader, but it was actually a couple of the other members of the group who grew to outshine him; Earl Sweatshirt is the the most talented young lyricist today. That’s not just my opinion, he’s Kendrick Lamar’s favourite rapper and Chance the Rapper tweeted last year he’s “been wanting to be in a rap duo with Earl for many years”. Then of course, there’s Frank Ocean… So yeah, you could say they made an impact.
Scum Fuck Flower Boy is Tyler’s fifth album, and for those who haven’t tuned into his antics for the past few years (you’ve been missing out) the darker ‘shock’ rap that haunted Goblin (2011) has largely been scrapped. Since Wolf (2013) he has settled for a much more mature, jazzier, dreamy and soul-tinged approach to music. There’s barely any of the Slim Shady-esque violence on Flower Boy, instead a focus on chord progressions and exploring colourful new sounds that forges a kaleidoscopic end product. Like most of his other albums it is entirely self-produced, and Tyler has put on his most creative cap for the production, demonstrating his ability to explore and express his inner psyche. Whilst not known for being the most accomplished lyricist, Tyler’s strong suit is in his instrumentals. In fact he has said in the past that he is ‘bored’ of rapping and more interested in jazz. With every new album the sonic improvement has been noticeable, being notched up each time and it really shows when you compare the production on Flower Boy to Goblin where some of his older beats sound far more amateur in comparison.
It would be an injustice to say it’s only good compared to some of his earlier work though, Flower Boy could possibly be the best album of 2017 so far. This album stands pretty high above Tyler’s contemporaries’ recent output, which have also been reaching new heights since Frank Ocean set the bar astronomically high last year with his dual offering of Blonde and Endless. There’s no doubting that this year has been good for hip hop so far, but most of the awaited albums have somewhat fallen short of the expectations in some way: All AmeriKKKan Bada$$ was a politically charged and strong record from Joey Badass but it ultimately lacked in replay value; Damn was brilliant lyrical nourishment and had great instrumentals but couldn’t really match up to To Pimp A Butterfly; 4:44 is Jay Z’s best album in years (decades?) and although it’s a treat to hear Hov sounding so natural and laid-back on some killer beats, you can’t shake the feeling that him and Beyonce are essentially the Bill and Hillary Clinton of music.
Flower Boy on the other hand is a sweet, succinct piece of art from a misunderstood genius who should never have been overlooked. Far from playing to the offensive, rebellious, rabble-rousing image that resulted in Tyler being banned from the UK by Theresa May in 2015 (he said of the incident he was being treated “like a terrorist”), his latest offering is a warm, deep voyage through psychedelic terrain as weird and nectary vocals drizzle over Tyler’s rapping like honey. From 30 seconds into Foreword it is obvious that Flower Boy is going to be a musical journey, and by the piano outro of the second track Where This Flower Blooms you can tell that this is Tyler’s masterpiece. There are so many great songs on this album, but at no point does Tyler trade his wackiness or humour for something more commercially acceptable. A highlight of the album See You Again alternates between a catchy hook (“Can I get a kiss? And can you make it last forever?”) and Tyler rhyming over a bouncy instrumental (“You don’t understand me, what the fuck do you mean?”).
Garden Shed is another excellent track, with a segment of vocals sounding like they were inspired by Cocteau Twins and then a smooth transition into what is the centrepiece of the album- Boredom. The second single from the album, Boredom could easily be Tyler’s best so far. The inspiring lyrics urge the youth of today to “find some time to do something” while Tyler warns kids against the evils of laziness and depression brought from sitting around all day alone on your phone.
Little-known artist Rex Orange County (from Haslemere) is recruited for two impressive spots on the album, and as usual it is a pleasure to see Frank Ocean and his Midas touch fingerprints on this project. It is a fact to say that Tyler and Frank make beautiful music together, their experiments in the lab have resulted in gems such as the recent Biking from Blonded radio. Frank has returned the favour on two tracks including the first single from the album 911/Mr Lonely, which sees Tyler shout out Elon Musk and then go on to contemplate why there are so many cars in his garage when there’s no one to enjoy them with, a more honest and subdued side to the often energetic joker.
The back end of the album is as strong as the first. November is a nostalgic sounding piece that sees Tyler bear his insecurities: “What if ‘Who Dat Boy’ is rhetorical and this shit is over?” and his fears: “What if my accountant ain’t payin’ my taxes? Fillin’ his pockets and IRS show up asking me questions I couldn’t answer ’cause I was too busy tryna make classics” before segueing into the penultimate track, Glitter. This song’s title describes its sound, and it is the biggest grower of the album that sees a pitched-up Tyler attempting to leave a voicemail, with the gorgeously melancholic ending of the song apparently being Tyler’s favourite bit of the album.
There are only two songs that don’t really fit the mould of the album, and they are also the weakest in my opinion. Who Dat Boy and I Ain’t Got Time are comparatively hype songs that sound out of place in this record- one that is not just more personal and emotional than Tyler’s earlier work, but also much more bright, positive and vibrant. Nevertheless, these aren’t actually bad songs at all and it wouldn’t really be a Tyler album without some bangers.
Flower Boy may not be perfect, but this is Tyler the Creator- he’s probably not ever going to drop the next My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. That’s absolutely fine though because he basically made Frank Ocean a name who has already slam-dunked Kanye’s magnum opus… Twice… In two days… This album may not be a gift to the Supreme-donning crowd that made Tyler famous to begin with and although it is a shame not to see Earl Sweatshirt stepping in for a verse, Flower Boy will undoubtedly go down in jazz-rap history with Wolf (2013) as one of Tyler’s best albums.
Favourite tracks: Where This Flower Blooms, See You Again, Garden Shed, Boredom, 911/Mr Lonely, November, Glitter