“He’s kidding. He’s just having us on… right?”
And just like that we’re back in the world of Tyler, The Creator, conversations around his new album being dominated by the question marks over his sexuality. Within minutes of Flower Boy starting, we’re treated to the lines “Shoutout to the girls that I lead on/ For occasional head and always keeping my bed warm/ And trying they hardest to keep my head on straight”. He’s not hiding in plain sight any more. This feels exactly what it sounds like, and make no mistake it is 100% Tyler by design.
Musically, it’s certainly among his best work. Opener Foreword is a measured introduction, a jazz and string-based bed that backdrops a leisurely flow while Rex Orange County balance out Tyler’s baritone. Piano and flute set the tone for the Frank Ocean-featuring Where This Flower Blooms. This is Tyler, The Creator at the end of the day, and he’s giving his existential confessions the most cinematic (and melodramatic) scale.
Tyler’s closet becomes a Garden Shed, another case of his deeper feelings balanced and maybe even feminised with a female vocalist – in this case Estelle punctuating this breathtaking album centrepiece where Tyler resolutely delivers his case, almost resigned, almost pitiful, but nothing less than searingly honest. It is, for want of a better word, a moment, one that’s conjoined with the stellar Boredom (buttressed spectacularly by Corinne Bailey Rae and Anna of the North) to compound his very obvious loneliness.
There’s a delicateness of touch here this time that only rings out sincerity in his words. It’s a rounding of character, almost a flowery fuck-you to everyone who has a certain image of him, of black men, of hip-hop. In that respect, it’s probably a more important album than even Tyler himself realises – the dreamscape of See You Again (with Kali Uchis on luminous form) is the love song we never realised we needed, delivered with a heart that seems, well, mired in self-pitying solitude.
Of course, the joke could be on us. Tyler could have another moment and laugh at critics and fans, creating an image and selling it wholesale for us all to buy like Ocean or Moonlight did. If that’s the case then shame on his attention-seeking, but it’s certainly his most convincing performance to date, more likely bisexuality if we have to label it anything at all (“Sippin’ on that lemonade, I need a Beyonce,” he sings on 911 / Mr. Lonely). On songs like Glitter it ceases to matter what gender he’s singing to; what’s pure is simply the relatable emotion.
But the thing with Tyler is that he seems like the sort to complain about his situation while being someone who’d refuse an opportunity to change it, content in wallowing through the status quo. In his words it’s often frustrating, at times questionable or too obvious. But in today’s genre landscape, Flower Boy is certainly nothing less than admirable in so many, many ways – for that he deserves one hell of a salute.