An untold benefit to running a music website for nearly a decade is that you get to track the progress of some more intriguing artists across posts spanning years. That’s never more true than with Tyler, The Creator, chief Odd Future mischief-maker and undeniable content king. The baritone-voiced rapper started his solo career as every parent’s worst nightmare with the chillingly deadpan ‘Yonkers’, but has since taken a number of left turns. From the grab-bag of classic beats and sudden tempo changes on Wolf through to the N.E.R.D stylings of Cherry Bomb, Tyler’s proven himself to be consistently able to ramp up his production and rapping style and devolve it into a mess just as quickly. It’s part of the anarchist mentality that brought his group of now very-successful misfits to the spotlight in the first place, but on his latest outing, it seems like studio Tyler has caught up with the one that always gives such brilliant, incisive interviews. With obvious outsize ability as a producer and rapper, to listen to Tyler thus far has been to encounter an artist rebelling against his various competing elements of self. It is the resolution of these, or at least the appearance of it, which makes Flower Boy, his latest, such a unexpectedly surprising joy to listen to. Probably not in the least for its Creator himself.
From the outset, Tyler was always the most entrepreneurial of his crew, creating merchandising madness that saw kids on the other side of the world lining up to dress like him and jumping on the broadcast bandwagon early, with his own show streamed alongside irreverent short films of him making waffles. Taken together, these show an artist with a relentless font of ideas and seemingly limitless avenues in which to place them. But it’s on Flower Boy that they really come good musically. ‘See You Again’ is not only the prettiest thing the man has released, with swimming synths, glockenspiels and a rolling hip-hop beat, it’s also a post-R&B song with serious lyrical replay value. I’m stuck on the great line ‘I wonder if you look both ways/when you cross my mind’, and it’s one of many great ones that spill out between blasts of trumpets and 808-bombed handclaps. Tyler’s rapping prowess has never been in doubt, but rarely has he sounded this laidback on his own composition. He pulls the beat back and then canters along side it between sweet melodic interludes, making sure the harmonic thread isn’t lost even as the track twists and turns.
It should come as little shock that creating sunny music is the most punk rock thing an anti-hero can do in 2017. Rest assured, Tyler’s still got plenty of venom and releases it in high doses across the album. But even the devil incarnate can’t deny how good he sounds when he finally lets one of his hooks breathe and properly sings his own melody. Many critics had Tyler pegged as a flash in the pan, and five years in, he’s turning out to be a renaissance man instead. What a delightful turn of events.