The latest album from Odd Future founder and controversial rapper Tyler, the Creator finds the artist at a crossroads. The collective with which he rose to fame has dissolved, its many members splintering off and maturing as solo artists – Earl Sweatshirt has been digging into a rabbithole of increasingly gloomy loner rap, and Frank Ocean has blossomed into an alt-R&B megastar with his boundary-pushing blond.
Scum Fuck Flower Boy, to give the record its full title, represents another such evolution. This is easily Tyler’s best record yet, one that finds him casting off the controversy and the bravado to create a revealing, honest and very personal album. It represents a significant step up in production quality, and brings a new soul/funk influence to the table, with a clear debt owed to Stevie Wonder.
Flower Boy is smoother, funkier, and prettier than anything Tyler has created in the past, but it still sounds unmistakably like the same artist. The album very effectively fuses warmer sounds with the sour and spiky synthesizers that are Tyler’s trademark, creating a psychedelic cocktail of introspective hip-hop that is both dreamy and visceral.
The record comes on the back of some unignorable revelations about Tyler’s sexuality, which have already been heavily dissected by a ravenous music blogosphere. While it would be nice to live in a world where a high profile rapper coming out was not news at all, the casual homophobia contained within Tyler’s previous records, as well as comments he has made in the past, make that pretty much an impossibility.
In retrospect, it’s easy to see how a lot of those comments were the result of fear, shame or confusion – the kind that is pouring out of almost every track on Flower Boy. On ‘Garden Shed’, Tyler talks about ‘feelings I was guarding / heavy on my mind’ which his friends couldn’t understand, or which he thought were a ‘phase’ that would go away.
The lyrics on Flower Boy might betray a lot of personal turmoil, then, but their delivery is full of confidence. Tyler’s flows and writing on this record are a big step up from his previous work, with some particular highlights to be found on the exuberant ‘Who Dat Boy’ and ‘I Aint Got Time!’. There are still some spots where the delivery is a bit awkward, stretching a syllable too far or fitting too much into a line. But by and large the lyricism on show here is a huge improvement.
In every aspect, in fact, Flower Boy is a major improvement for Tyler. I honestly didn’t think that he had an album of this quality in him, but I find myself very pleasantly surprised not just by the music, but by the newfound humility and vulnerability of its creator. This is the sound of an artist finding his voice both sonically and personally, and it feels, in many ways, like the beginning of a new chapter.