Tyler, the Creator has never been one to abide by other people’s expectations. Since Tyler and his fellow Odd Future members broke out of California, he’s always lived in a self-imposed Neverland. It’s a world that rejected all known moralities, taboos and social obligations. A world in which Tyler and his friends were free to do whatever they wanted, whether that was start one of the biggest hip hop brands of the 21st century, or just skate around and try and piss as many people off as possible (the two often overlapped).
As a collective, Odd Future gave each of its members a chance to define themselves away from the spotlight. To the outside world they were offensive, but to each other they were hilarious. Their constant collaboration and various often short-lived projects such as EarlWolf or MellowHype created a shared sound and bound the members together. Like Wu Tang Clan or the Dungeon Family before them, Odd Future developed their own mythology, their own visual language and their own jokes, the difference is this time the internet was watching. Hordes of kids across the world adopted Odd Future’s style, donning Wolf Gang T Shirts, pastel shorts and knee-high tube socks and taking to the streets of their suburban towns to cause mild havoc. At a time when youth culture was fractured, and the closest thing it had to a generation defining act was the Arctic Monkeys, Odd Future united the kids.
Tyler, the Creator was at the forefront of it all. The group’s de facto leader, he bore the brunt of the public and press’ backlash. He was singled out for homophobic, and misogynist lyrics, banned from entering the UK and turned into the kind of comic book villain many hip hop artists work their entire careers to become; a role he was more than happy to play. All of this only served to invigorate his fan base further, the majority of whom are roughly the same age as Tyler and found communion in his anti-everything ethos. For all his production skills and rap talent, it’s here that Tyler’s true genius reveals itself.
Over the years Tyler’s outsider status has evolved and become more nuanced. With each album he’s put out, he’s revealed a new aspect of his character, his music moving away from confrontation for confrontation’s sake and embracing the early introspection that caused tracks like ‘Yonkers’ to blow up in the first place. In short, he’s grown up and so has his audience. Speaking personally for a moment the sheer stupidity of tracks like ‘Burger’ was hilarious when I was 18, but now it just seems embarrassing. Nowhere is this clearer than on Flower Boy, his recently released fourth full-length album. Only four days old it’s already been hailed as his best work by large swathes of his audience, more accomplished and refined than the relative flops of Cherry Bomb or Wolf.
Part of this shift is just Tyler getting older, while his new album is by no means conventional or safe it’s definitely more mature. The rowdiest track on the list is either ‘Who Dat Boy’ or ‘I Ain’t Got Time’, the latter of which has been the subject of much discussion thanks to a lyric in which Tyler appears to come out as bisexual or gay. However, an undeniable part of Tyler’s evolution has been Odd Future’s demise. While the group’s label still functions as a home for most of its former artist’s music, the collective is as loose as ever. Two of its biggest breakouts, Frank Ocean and Syd Tha Kid, have officially left and even Tyler is more likely to associate himself with his new GOLF Media project than the Odd Future of old. It’s easy to imagine how the group’s decline could force Tyler to re-examine his approach to music. Without the rest of Odd Future sniggering in the background, those old jokes just weren’t that funny anymore.
On his new album, Tyler is heartbroken and more vulnerable than he’s ever been. His production is softer, and his lyrics are more confessional. Listen to the opening bars of the album’s centre piece ‘Garden Shed’, and you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a King Krule track, while his collaborations with Rex Orange County, ‘Foreword’ and ‘Boredom’ float blissfully along, wrapped in up luscious instrumentals and day dreamy hooks.
Hints of Flower Boy’s sound have been present throughout Tyler’s career, from the lush expanse of ‘Analog’ to the howling melancholy of ‘Perfect’, but they were anomalies. Until Flower Boy, Tyler’s moments of catharsis have often been dressed up in vulgarity. Lines about stalking and masturbation cushioning Tyler’s talk of crushes and depression.
On Flower Boy, the distractions are gone, ‘911/ Mr Lonely’ is a stark admission of his fears around coming out, ‘Glitter’ revels in the joy of being in love and ‘November’ sees Tyler question his whole career to date, wondering if his relevancy is over, an almost unheard-of move for a rapper of Tyler’s stature. If there’s one thing Tyler, the Creator has done throughout his career it’s reject other people’s assumptions about him and his music. On Flower Boy he’s perfected the art.