Tyler, The Creator gets personal on his new album
One can give Tyler, The Creator a lot of credit for growing his brand beyond the music; as traditional albums become less lucrative by the minute, branching out into fashion and television has allowed Tyler to help shape the culture the way only he can. He’s made savvy business moves in the music industry as well, of course; his Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival is one of the signature hip-hop events of the year, drawing top shelf headliners and spotlighting fresh new talent. He’ll have some new material for his ravenous fans when the festival returns to Exposition Park this October, as his new album Flower Boy has finally arrived after much anticipation.
It’s easily his most personal album yet, seeing Tyler minimizing the hard-hitting bangers and maximizing the content in his verses. Many of those words touch on Tyler’s sexuality, with several of the lyrics suggesting he’s ready (or has been ready) to come out of the closet. “Next line will have them like woah / I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004,” he raps on “I Ain’t Got Time.” He drops more hints on the song “Garden Shed,” using extended metaphors over his own moving production to increase the weight of his words. “Truth is, since a youth kid, thought it was a phase / Thought it be like the phrase; ‘poof,’ gone / But, it’s still going on,” he raps on the song.
Hip-hop’s dicey history with homosexuality is well known, and although the culture has become more accepting in recent years, there’s still a significant amount of pushback when a rapper announces he’s gay. Tyler has often brought up the topic in his music and his interviews, and has expressed frustration with his inability to be taken seriously on it. Many saw his tendency to troll (and his copious use of homophobic slurs on earlier albums and looked at his words with skepticism, but there’s a sense of sincerity on Flower Boy that’s causing the hip-hop world to rethink.
On “November,” Tyler spells out his various insecurities and mentions his fear of being excluded due to his sexual orientation. “What if my music too weird for the masses? / And I’m only known for tweets more than beats or / All my day ones turn to three, fours ‘cause of track seven,” he says while alluding to “Garden Shed,” the seventh song on Flower Boy. There’s more angst on the “Boredom,” seeing Tyler lament his loneliness on long summer days. “I’ve been in this fuckin’ room so long / My eyeballs are turning to dry wall / My friends suck, fuck ‘em I’m over ‘em,” he says, inviting Rex Orange County to belt out the chorus.
There’s melodies galore throughout Flower Boy, but the few 808-driven tracks are certainly worth noting. Once the lengthy intro to “Who Dat Boy” finally cuts out, Tyler and frequent collaborator A$AP Rocky flex their status on a beat created with the mosh pits in mind. The aforementioned “I Ain’t Got Time” contrasts the alienation Tyler feels on much of the album, seeing him lash out at the fake friends attracted to him for his platform.
As the conversation on mental health becomes more widespread, it’s appropriate that the current generation of musicians take the time to address their own issues. Depression is real, and it’s up to all of us to look out for each other and be a resource to those in need. “Tell these black kids they could be who they are,” Tyler says on “Where This Flower Blooms.” Empowerment goes a long way, and being comfortable in one’s own skin is paramount to a balanced, healthy life. Tyler has struggled with acceptance for much of his career — a fact that will likely hold true as he continues to make moves in the industry. By taking control of his own sexual identity on Flower Boy, however, he’s giving a voice to a rather marginalized side of the hip-hop community. If he’s able to lift even one soul out of despair, he’ll have fulfilled his mission with his most meaningful album yet.