Since the dawn of his career and first album Bastard in 2009, Tyler, The Creator has made himself known for his edgy persona and his provocative statements, introducing his character to the world by eating a cockroach in the ‘Yonkers’ music video.
From cockroaches to flowers, Tyler has perfected his sound in the vivid sonic landscape and texture that is Scum Fuck Flower Boy, or the abbreviated promotional title: Flower Boy. His careless, don’t-give-a-fuck attitude and philosophy wavers in the depths of the loneliness and isolation that surrounds ‘911/Mr Lonely’ and ‘Boredom’. In the nostalgic and sombre ‘November’, all his doubts pertaining to everything he’s ever believed in – from father-figure and manager Clancy, to his relevancy as an artist, how his friends will react to his confessions on track seven, ‘Garden Shed’ – brim to the surface.
Occasional moments of braggadocio are primarily the artist finding pride in his growth as a creator and as a changing person. But mostly, ego subsides, making room for raw honesty and emotional vulnerability.
The most revealing track on the album is ‘Garden Shed’. Estelle, of ‘American Boy’ fame’s gospel-like, goosebump-inducing melodies drift through lyrics about loving every flower equally, and the potential for life to fly out of the cocoon—further conveying the theme of growth and acceptance. Guitar distortion pierces the cotton-textured wall of quietness and softness, and Tyler comes in with a verse a third of the way through the track. He opens up about his sexuality and being in the closet through the metaphor of the garden shed, ‘garden shed for the garçons’. Garçon being the French word for boy.
‘Sometimes’ has a nameless boy ringing in to Golf Radio to request a song, ‘the one about me’. And the following track, ‘See You Again’ is an intimate love song, featuring some of the best singing of Tyler’s career, and a sweet hook from Kali Uchis, who supplied vocals on Cherry Bomb’s, ‘Fucking Young/ Perfect’.
Tyler’s focus on Scum Fuck Flower Boy isn’t in the shock value or bizarre fictional characters showcased in previous projects. The most shocking line on the album is the one that should be the least shocking, but perhaps the most cathartic declaration for the artist: ‘I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004’.
Tyler references his affinity for 90’s dream boys multiple times in the album: ‘Looking for a ’95 Leo’ in ‘Who Dat Boy’, and ‘passenger/white boy/look like River Phoenix’ in ‘I Ain’t Got Time!’ In the ‘Who Dat Boy’ music video, the passenger seat is indeed occupied by a ’90s Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike. The boy wears a shirt designed by Tyler that closely resembles the Hawaiian shirt sported by young Romeo in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. The poster at the start of the video emphasises the comparison before the Bonnie and Clyde pair escape the police chase and zoom off into the mountain roads.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. But it’s an important moment for hip hop, and will probably come as a surprise to many, as the rapper and producer is known for his homophobic lyrics—even being banned from the UK, Australia and New Zealand as a result.
Tyler’s deep voice glides over the smooth production, akin to the feeling of gliding through clouds or lying in a field of wildflowers. These are settings he evokes in the album cover art created by visual artist Eric White, featuring Tyler between a field of sunflowers, bumble bees and an understated rainbow, as he looks out to a soft orange sky. In the opening track, ‘Foreword’, he paints this picture, the importance of flowers and natural imagery in the album: ‘I was in the woods with flowers, rainbows and posies’. By the end of the album, you can hear someone walking out of a car, perhaps this is the narrative build or journey to the moment captured in the album art. Tyler’s signature McLaren is hidden in the distance, he stops to admire the landscape of his own sonic creation, and the last track, or instrumental rather, of Flower Boy is fittingly called ‘Enjoy Right Now, Today’.
The narrative of this album, if there is one, could be read in a few different ways. One is Tyler trying to win over the person of his dreams. Phone calls and voice mail messages are a recurring trend. In ‘911/Mr Lonely’, featuring the budding Steve Lacy of The Internet, Anna of the North and Frank Ocean, he implores someone to call him and rid him of his loneliness. In ‘November’, he explains that he wrote a song about this person, possibly ‘See You Again’ that follows the song request in ‘Sometimes’. And at the end of the song he says he’ll play it to show this person how he feels, and if the person doesn’t respond he’ll leave a voicemail. The outro to ‘Glitter’ robotically states that the person didn’t receive the message, either because he was not speaking or because of a bad connection. This could mean that the person Tyler’s infatuated with doesn’t reciprocate these feelings. It could also mean, more abstractly, that his message isn’t being received by his fans and critics.
Tyler told Stephen Colbert on The Late Show this week that everything he said on the album was important and that he wasn’t joking. Fans might continue to believe that the artist is fooling everyone in Flower Boy, once again, but it seems more likely that he wants to be taken seriously this time around.
Another interpretation of this narrative is that it’s both a literal and symbolic journey, narrated through floral metaphors and road trip imagery. There are the references to cars scattered throughout the album. Notably in, ‘Pothole’ with guest vocals from Jaden Smith, where the artist discusses trying not to let minor problems impact the overall drive. He struggles with depression and feeling isolated from friends, these fears contributing to the metaphor of the ‘potholes’ he wants to avoid. But acceptance is pertinent to his growth: ‘rooted from the bottom, bloomed into a tree’, is a line central to the theme of the album. For someone who found fame as a teenager, after establishing the collective Odd Future, Tyler is now 26, has his own brand that he made from scratch, a bunch of TV shows and product deals, and is constantly looking to the future. ‘Where This Flower Blooms’ features the relaxed vocals of Frank Ocean, as Tyler delves into the past and his prior job at Starbucks. And he then takes us back to his present, in which he’s now accumulated all the toys he never thought he could afford. Sometimes he longs for the simpler times, this is certainly evident in ‘November’. But he’s also focused on what growing up has given him, how far he’s come, and there are even celebratory lyrics: ‘Tell these black kids they can be who they are’, ‘I rock, I roll, I bloom, I grow’. Tyler has become comfortable in his own skin, as a producer and artist, but also as a nuanced and complicated person.
In Scum Fuck Flower Boy, Tyler reflects on what’s important in his life. Cars, chains and mansions perpetually fill the void where someone else should be. He’s alone even within crowds of adoring fans, and his insecurities still plague him. This vulnerability is best represented through Tyler’s singing, as he has expressed frustration with the limitations of his voice before. ‘Glitter’ is essentially the closing track, and though the overall palette of the song is incredibly warm, Tyler’s imperfect singing carries this lingering sadness and dissatisfaction. His singing has improved drastically, his production is smoother and more cohesive than ever, but there’s still progress to be made, greater heights to be reached. This album encompasses Tyler’s voyage towards a more realised, more perfect self, but the young artist is ridden with flaws which add depth and humanity to the album.