My Rating: 8.5/10
Commonly does the poet use nature as an inspiration for creating compelling poetry, but seldom do you see the Rapper doing the same – up until the release of Flower Boy by Tyler, the Creator. Although it is to be said that this album is not so much inspired by nature as it is an analogy used to elucidate the complicated world of Tyler. This album is lyrically and musically confused, happy, sad and insecure just like the artist producing it. And that’s why it’s is so great – honest and introspective yet coy and uncertain.
The many great songs on this project seem to be contingent on the recurring amazingly bright musicality of the album. Right from the start you get exactly that in the lyrically dark “Foreword,” song opening with the stanza “How many cars can I buy ’til I run out of drive? How much drive can I have ’til I run out of road?” – posing questions about Tyler’s sustainability as an artist and popular figure. Rex Orange county, an underground British singer has some very nice vocals in the bridge: “and I ain’t seen my friends in a minute, Guessing nothing lasts forever,” paving the recurrent topic of Tyler’s socially isolated lifestyle and in the outro: “and if I drown and don’t come back, Who’s gonna know? (Maybe then I’ll know), And if I crash and don’t come back,” also setting the darkness and pessimism that Tyler seems to be showing throughout the album. The second track, “Where This Flower Blooms,” starts painting the interesting nature analogies along with some almost symphonically dreamy kind of production with pianos, violins, heavy interpolated percussion, and flutes mixed with some nice electronica music. In the bridge he subtly points at his artistic growth “I rock, I roll (What you say?), I bloom, I glow (I glow),” and Frank Ocean’s feature is cool too alluding to the notorious O.J. Simpson case and Tyler’s exposure of the sun (metaphor for the real world) being necessary for him to grow. “See you again,” has to be one of my personal favorite songs because of how creatively Tyler captures the overjoyed feelings of quixotism. He’s dreaming about his lover saying “you exist behind my eyelids, my eyelids, Now I don’t wanna wake up,” and wondering if “you look both ways before crossing my mind.” The chorus recited by Kali Uchis, and sometimes in unison with Tyler is fruity and gleeful, forcing you to move. The lines of an imminently waking-up Tyler from Kali: “Can I get a kiss? And can you make it last forever? I said I’m ’bout to go to war, And I don’t know if I’ma see you again,” are a perfect example of how brilliantly this ephemerally feel-good experience is constructed in the song.
The subsequent track “Pothole,” now loses the dreamy and fruity-like musicality and is more equanimous. The nature analogy again comes to life with “Potholes,” representing hindrances in Tyler’s life and he basically tries to overcome those obstacles whilst driving a car. Jaden Smith’s feature on here was surprisingly bearable after his awful and inconsistent debut album painting the dodging-obstacles scene – “You know, swerve, left turn, steerin’ wheel on ’em, Nigga that’s a pothole, watch out for the pothole.” On “Garden Shed,” we see Tyler’s most vulnerable side. For the most part, the song is quite lyrically skeletal with the jazzy, symphonic instrumental played in the first half implying the coyness and trepidation that Tyler has with the topic of his bisexuality. In the second half, Tyler finally starts spitting – talking about the metaphorical garden shed that he hides his feelings in. He lets us know how sensitive this subject is “like cookin’ batter,” and that the buzz about it might even make him commit suicide by “Steppin’ on that ladder, tryna Grab the rings of Saturn.” The next track “Boredom,” has more beautiful vocals with Orange Rex County and also Anna of the North on the mic again. In unison they beautifully sing “Boredom got a new best friend,” talking about the loneliness of Tyler and in the hook they croon “Find some time, Find some time to do something,” and Tyler starts to get real about the overlooked subject: “So now I’m staring at my ceiling fuckin’ going like I have no idea where I’m going….Need someone, we can loiter in parking lots.” “911/Mr.Lonely,” further reinforces his feelings of social isolation and loneliness. His sexual “thirst levels are infinity and beyond,” and this time Tyler sings in the chorus on top of a poppy instrumental. The 911 metaphor is one of the most interesting from the whole album – he’s expressing his desperation for talking to someone and his patience to listening to their problems exactly like an emergency phone operator.
In terms of concrete story, “November,” and “Glitter,” have a little something, despite lyrically and instrumentally being weaker than the other tracks. “November,” has one of the weakest metaphors in this exceedingly metaphoric album: what he’s trying to say doesn’t poetically deliver as hard-hitting as the prominent floral and driving analogies of the album. The constant “take me back to November,” lines come off as relatively boring. In the last verse Tyler says “at that point I’ll hang up, disappear and just stay back, if you don’t I’ll leave a voicemail with the playback.” The call goes into voicemail, leading to the playback of the song about him confessing his love to his crush. And that song, “Glitter,” was probably the most aurally unlikable song from the entire album. While I love the simile of “feel like glitter,” when we’re talking about a lover or crush, Tyler’s vocals come off as annoyingly glitzy and corny – not how you want to vocally end an album. Nonetheless, I quite liked the concept of the nervous and euphoric explosions going on in Tyler’s head as he’s sending this message to his loved one. The track ends with an automated message of a bad connection and the whole big-deal confession goes to waste from Tyler’s perspective. To me, this kind of “sub-story,” represents the frustrations of Tyler’s life, whether its his social isolation, boredom, or difficulties grasping for a desired love, it doesn’t seem to be going the way he wants it to. The last song is a happy and ambient instrumental supposed to tell us to “Enjoy right now, as Today,” as the name of the title, after all the introspection and emotional roller-coasting that Tyler’s expressed in the album. It’s not the most interesting and impactful closer tack in the world (hence it being an instrumental) but I did appreciate the creativity.
For how desolate and frustrated Tyler seems to be his lyrics, the bright and luscious vocals and musicality almost contradict that, but those elements are just too feel-good and invigorating for me to associate it as a conceptual flaw – its what makes the album sound so amazing. Having more lyrical and instrumental harmony, from a concepual standpoint is the only major critique I have with the album. Like on To Pimp a Butterfly by K.L, there is the totally depressed song “u,” and the contrarily gleeful and self-loving track “i.” His lyrics seemed to be scattered and conflicting with this project, but he is too with his social, sexual, and just general frustrations. The closest analogue in terms of general feel, I can think of is probably Coloring book, by Chance the Rapper. While its certainly not as catchy and musically pristine as that tape, it’s certainly instrumentally brighter and more story-based. And that’s one of the most prominent features of the tape – it’s bright musicality. Kali Uchi, and Rex Orange County, two lesser known vocalists deliver absolutely gorgeous and zesty singing. And matched with that is the intricate, catchy and lush instrumentation of this project as a whole. Despite a few songs – “I Ain’t Got Time,” “Glitter,” or “Droppin’ Seeds,” being misses for me, the album as a whole is great. Tyler takes us across his kaleidoscopic, beautiful, and occasionally sad garden of emotions on this album. While not being systematically presented, his plants are a mesmerizing medley of vigor, and lushness with elements of dryness and gloom as well – that’s because the one who planted them is part Scum Fuck and part Flower Boy. Great album: 8.5/10.