Two years have passed since “Cherry Bomb,” the third full-length album from California-born rapper Tyler Okonma, had come tumbling its way into his ever-expanding discography. Filled to the brim with lush synths, bold chord progressions and a shocking amount of variety, it was easily one of the most ambitious, colorful projects Tyler, The Creator had released to date. It marked a real turning point for the former frontman of Odd Future, who back in his prime had been making waves in the mainstream media with his crude, over-the-top behavior and controversial remarks.
Despite the clear talent that it displayed, his previous album had one major issue that most critics were not shy in pointing out: the mixing. In almost every song it felt rushed, with Tyler’s vocals taking a backseat to the loud, abrasive beats that sounded more like they were fighting with him than helping him along. Not only that, but “Cherry Bomb” felt like a scattershot of random ideas. Although some songs dealt with similar themes, none of them truly felt connected. In “Flower Boy,” Tyler appears to be taking note of that criticism, releasing arguably his most tightly produced and cleverly arranged album to date. Reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s “Blonde,” “Flower Boy” has a similar skeletal structure, with beats gliding along and blending into one another in inventive ways. Tyler creates a moody, dreamlike world in “Flower Boy,” as he invites the listener to take a deeper look inside his mind than ever before.
Songs like “Who Dat Boy” and “I Ain’t Got Time” give off the side of him that old fans are familiar with, a dark, twisted alter ego that powered its way through his earlier work. On the other hand, slower tracks like “Boredom” and “When This Flower Blooms” bring to light a more mature, musically-inclined side, a polished version of what “Cherry Bomb” had shown only flashes of.
As far as lyrical content goes, Tyler has improved his writing by leaps and bounds. The opener “Foreword” sets the tone with some surprisingly witty wordplay, as the California rapper laments about his obsession with material objects. Cars, clothes and his mansion are things that he constantly refers to throughout “Flower Boy,’’ especially cars, but never once does it seem like he is trying to show off. Instead, he stresses that he is only using these things to “fill the void,” and that he is not as happy as it seems from the outside.
While blogs and tabloids want to make a huge deal out of Tyler supposedly coming out of the closet on the song “Garden Shed,” the more interesting part of “Flower Boy” is the clear unhappiness and discontent that Tyler shows with his life. It is Tyler at his most desperate, frantically looking for somebody to connect with on a personal level. By finally opening up, he has created the most authentic, soulful album of his career.
Photo provided by Jordan Uhl via Flickr