Love Resonates Throughout Tyler, The Creator’s ‘Flower Boy’ Album (Review)

Words by Elijah Watson. Illustration by Sam Liacos.

In the final moments of Scum Fuck Flower Boy, Tyler, the Creator’s recently-released fourth album, listeners hear the rapper pull up to some undisclosed location after driving for some time. After hearing him express feelings of confidence, doubt, isolation, loneliness and, most notably, love, we finally get to this moment–Tyler closing his car door and presumably meeting the romantic interest he’s been trying to get in touch with throughout the album.

Love is a theme that resonates throughout Flower Boy both for the self and others. One moment Tyler is telling us his secret for maintaining beautiful and glowing black skin (Chanel, coconut oil, and a drop top for best results); the next, how he’s “been kissing white boys since 2004.” There’s an openness present in this album unlike its predecessors.

When we first learned of Tyler, the Creator, he was an enigma. He rolled his eyes backwards; he rapped about murder, necrophilia, rape, and a handful of other themes that led to some categorizing his music as horrorcore; and he ate a cockroach. Love was the last thing anybody was associating with the Odd Future founder; even songs such as “Sarah,” “She,” and “Analog” with its common themes of love and intimacy, were distorted by perversion and violence.

Then, Tyler got older. The subversiveness that accompanied Tyler’s music was slowly disappearing, with the artist offering an earnestness that was bare in its expression. On Wolf he imagined how a phone call to his father would go on “Answer”; and he explored the intense range of emotions one feels while in love on “IFHY”; and he talks about seeing his grandmother slowly succumb to death in the album’s last song “Lone.” And although at times Cherry Bomb was messy, the album still showcased Tyler’s growth as an artist and, more importantly, a person.

All of that has culminated into Scum Fuck Flower Boy, a beautifully executed album that is Tyler’s best work thus far. There’s an underlying poignancy throughout the release as Tyler grapples with fame and how it’s transformed his life–for better or worse. This is him offering his most emotionally mature self, a 26-year-old who’s grown up in the public eye for the last several years from rabble-rousing provocateur to multidisciplinary creative.

In that journey Tyler has also become more comfortable writing about love earnestly. In Flower Boy we see, arguably for the first time, Tyler speaking to the challenges of nurturing and sustaining love not only for himself but for potential partners. He’s grounded, a plant slowly transforming into the sunflower it’s destined to become. But that transformation doesn’t come easy. Just as much as we hear of his successes are his insecurities and worries as he’s come to accept himself.

On “Garden Shed” Tyler raps:

They couldn’t read the signs
I didn’t wanna talk and tell ’em my location
And they ain’t wanna walk
Truth is, since a youth kid, thought it was a phase
Thought it’d be like the phrase; “poof,” gone
But, it’s still goin’ on

The lyrics (as well as the track’s title) implies that Tyler is providing a commentary on his sexuality. Later on in the album Tyler goes on to rap “Next line will have ’em like ‘Woah’/I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004” on “I Ain’t Got Time.” Tyler makes these declarations nonchalantly; there’s no performative guise or anything that distorts the statements. Here, he’s direct but playful, the brevity and tone in which he addresses his sexual orientation liberating in a sense–that he’s not constricted nor defined by this. That freedom is present throughout Flower Boy where Tyler confesses so much about himself in such a personal way, that you almost feel like you’re riding passenger seat in his car as he tells you the good, bad, happy, and sad of his life with a sincerity that feels conversational.

The importance of Flower Boy is seeing Tyler evolving and loving himself, and treating his concerns, wants, and worries with a relatable realism that he’s shown in varying degrees on prior projects but unlike this one. He’s blossoming into the person he knows he wants to be and is capable of being, and maybe at some point he’ll find someone to share that with but until then, he’s found joy in loving himself. And that’s what matters most.

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