When Tyler, The Creator was first buzzing online, his shock tactics were a major part of the conversation. The twisted, brazen lyrics on Goblin got as much coverage as the music itself—Dorian Lynskey for The Guardian wrote that Goblin is full of “casual homophobia and rampant misogyny,” for example—but Tyler moved on. Those early days occasionally still haunt him: Tyler was banned from Australia and the U.K. in 2015, and some music fans undoubtedly still see him as the wild kid always looking to push people's buttons. While that will always be true to some extent, his latest album Flower Boy showcases how much Tyler has matured in the past years, and acts as a timely reminder that he is more important to the contemporary music landscape than he’s given credit for.
Looking at his business decisions, it’s easy to see Tyler’s influence on young, creative entrepreneurs. More than ever, artists are looking to make it on their own or with their friends rather than seeing a major label deal as the ultimate goal. It’s yielded some exciting results. Odd Future made a lot of kids realize the power of a collective, where a network can combine efforts to make and push each other’s art. The collectives that came up in the wake of Odd Future, like Brockhampton, are now inspiring new groups of young people.
Tyler has remained ambitious since the moment he self-released Bastard, working not only on his music but on his visuals. Young artists are now more keen to control every part of their art because of people like Tyler, who has continually been enthusiastic about his involvement in every part of the process. From his self-directed videos, multiple TV shows, and even a musical festival, Tyler is a self-made success story, a truly inspirational role model.
'Flower Boy' showcases how much Tyler has matured in the past years, and acts as a timely reminder that he is more important to the contemporary music landscape than he’s given credit for.
Artists like Yung Lean and Kevin Abstract are following in his footsteps business-wise, realizing their own worth. Merch is treated like a new line drop from a clothing brand, partnerships in distribution are allowing these artists to do things on their own terms, and they've successfully built a home for their art without being sucked into the tired, systematic major label approach of decades past.
Tyler and Odd Future’s path to success was anything but traditional at the time, building immense buzz online before translating it to sold-out shows worldwide. Tyler broke new ground because he knew how to market himself to kids, and that’s because he was part of his audience. For all his business savvy, Tyler’s impact on modern music is even more important. Tyler has never not been experimental, and more often than not, those experiments have led the way for the young creatives that followed. Flower Boy continues this trend.
Tyler has made it clear time and time again that the best thing kids can be is themselves. Despite using fictional characters to tell his stories and create his albums, he’s always been authentic in his public persona, sharing the highs and lows, his successes and struggles as he becomes a superstar.
As much as he cracks jokes and trolls interviewers, he also speaks plainly about what drives him to create. He’s been far more open with his fans than most rappers are, and now he’s applying that to his music. Fostering a community rather than a following, Tyler has always been keen to connect with his audience and let listeners know they’re not alone.
He’s often played the smartass, but on Flower Boy he’s downplaying that aspect of his music, instead focusing on his struggles to understand himself and others around him. Flower Boy is more an album about feelings and memories than punchlines and outlandish stories. There’s nothing as silly as “Transylvania” or “Bitch Suck Dick,” and nothing as austere and offensive as “Tron Cat.” What he’s singing and rapping about here is more rooted in reality than any of his previous albums.
It’s a shame that, for some, the lyrics where Tyler discusses sexuality will dominate the narrative of the album, but that’s indicative of a hip-hop culture just beginning to understand things outside of heteronormative masculinity.
It’s also his most personal album by virtue of eschewing characters like the murderous Wolf Haley, as Tyler refuses to hide behind a mask. He’s gotten personal in the past in his music, but it’s never been as upfront and as unfiltered as it is here. The honesty isn't spiked with an abrasive kicker, and there is seemingly less of a desire to shock and provoke. It’s the album of his that reveals the most about who Tyler is, but it’s also his shortest, standing at a brisk 46 minutes as opposed to the 73-minute running time of his breakout album Goblin.
From album to album, Tyler has brought something new to the table, and while Flower Boy does repurpose some familiar elements, they’re presented in a new context. Goblin is over six years old now, and it’s hard to see the Tyler on Flower Boy performing some of the tracks from that album now, even if they remain fan-favorites. Built on memories and not relying on nostalgia too heavily, Flower Boy is a beautiful album about the realities of growing up. Losing friends, reminiscing, but not glorifying the teenage days when jokes were funnier the more offensive they are.
This isn’t Tyler dismissing his past, in fact; he’s speaking about it more frankly than he ever has before. Odd Future as we know it is effectively over, even if the name still appears on the cover of the album. Tyler is in the present even when he’s frequently discussing the past, and the album is all the better for it. His outrageous antics are replaced by reasoning, pondering, and heart-breaking depictions of loneliness and love.
It’s a shame that, for some, the lyrics where Tyler discusses sexuality (on “Garden Shed” and “Ain’t Got Time” in particular) will dominate the narrative of the album, but that’s indicative of a hip-hop culture just beginning to understand things outside of heteronormative masculinity. Anyone who challenges this is still questioned, and their sexuality or refusal to label themselves has people up in arms as if it’s important to whether they can enjoy their music or not. These frenzied attempts to other Tyler based on a couple of lines are disappointing—the conversation regarding Flower Boy should be focused on how much Tyler has done for rap music and the kids that listen to him.
Few artists have made it their mission to encourage others to create as much as Tyler has, inspiring so many to push onward regardless of experience or means.
The production on Flower Boy is sublime, gorgeous, and further proof that Tyler knows what he’s doing when it comes to putting together a song that refuses to adhere to any trends or explicit rules. He’s always been eager to handle most—if not all—of the production on his albums, but this is the first time the results have matched his compositional ambition. The sounds are clearer while still remaining identifiably his own, and as a result this is his best showcase of production so far. He’s come a long way from the muddy, and quite often poorly mastered music found on Goblin.
It helps that the album includes some of his most compelling lyrical content to date, too. “What if my music too weird for the masses? / And I’m only known for tweets more than beats or / All my day ones to three, fours cause of track seven / Fuck, what if I get stuck? What if I got comfortable?” he raps on “November,” in a moment of vulnerability. So far in his career, Tyler has never seemed totally comfortable or complacent, and that’s why he’s been so fascinating to watch.
Tyler has continually made it clear that rappers don’t need to stick to a set path, and he’s unapologetically deviated from his own route and evolved throughout his time in the spotlight. He’s an individual who has made some missteps, provoked outrage at points, but also succeeded and inspired more than anything else. Few artists have made it their mission to encourage others to create as much as Tyler has, inspiring so many to push onward regardless of experience or means.
From his grimy, uncompromising debut Bastard, to the gorgeous Flower Boy, Tyler has remained true to himself and his vision. For many he’s become the definition of DIY success, teaching kids to believe in themselves and pursue their goals without compromising. The main takeaway shouldn’t be what he’s said in the past, but what he’s actually influencing youth to do. On this album, he's leading by example.
Tyler, The Creator's new album 'Flower Boy' is out July 21.