Music

REVIEW: Tyler the Creator Finds His Wings with Scum Fuck Flower Boy

When I was at my college newspaper I decided to expand my horizons and wrote my one and only music review on Tyler the Creator’s Wolf. In retrospect you can see a lot of my ignorance about the music world and rap industry, but that’s what started me on the journey of becoming a fan of Tyler the Creator. In many ways, Tyler has been one of the most frustrating artists to follow. He’s always shown he has a lot of potential, but tended to lean on his reliable ability to stir critics and create controversy. Every new release I asked the same question: Is this going to be the moment he finds the sound he wants? For his latest release, Scum Fuck Flower Boy, I can finally say the answer is yes.

I want to say that Tyler’s success with Scum Fuck Flower Boy is one of the greatest stories in the music industry today, but to understand the weight of this destination you have to know the context of the journey.

Tyler’s style started from a place of misanthropy and juvenile pranks. He was the guy who rapped about raping girls and dumping their bodies. He’s the guy who ate that cockroach in that video where he shittalked Hayley Williams and said he wanted to stab Bruno Mars. For most of the mass public, that’s who Tyler is to them. He’s a shock artist that wants to ride the wave of controversy to stardom. A lot of his music reinforces that like Yonkers, Tron Cat, Rusty and BUFFALO.

The people who got invested in Tyler the Creator quickly learned the he was more than an edgy teenager. No matter which album you started with, you saw a side of Tyler that most casual listeners did not. You saw that he’s kind of depressed, has “father problems,” and feels lost. Speaking from personal experience, I know that the feelings of hatred for others and hatred for yourself often go hand in hand. Tyler’s music embodied that dynamic more than any other artist in the past decade. But Tyler also liked to have fun. The early days of Odd Future were defined by Tyler’s playfulness. It was a group of talented artists making music, hanging out and making silly videos. Tyler led the charge on this image with his ridiculous music videos, on-track teasing of fellow artists and rapping about riding bikes with friends.

Tyler’s personality perfectly represented being a young adult. You have a lot of strong emotions about the world, about yourself, about your circumstance, but you also want to boogie to some Marvin. His appeal to millennial existential dread mixed with desire to laugh about your problems might be why the majority of Tyler fans are suburban white kids – including myself.

This made listening to Tyler very therapeutic and that made up for a lot of the deficiencies in his music. He had a lot of potential to become more legitimate that never quite made it to the finished album. Songs like Treehome95 and Find Your Wings showed that Tyler was more than a rap artist. The sheer artistry of his music videos showed that this guy was clearly in a class of his own but most people didn’t see that. Despite whatever talent he showed on his albums, his public image created a consensus that he was an artist that dealt in controversy, not expression.

In some ways Tyler’s potential reflected the frustration I had with my own young-adult life. I felt like I had so much to offer and so many different things I could do, but often get characterized as one specific thing that people can’t look past. Tyler tried to undermine his pigeon-holing by saying he had multiple personalities. In many songs the different sides of himself are represented as totally different people (Wolf Haley, Sam, Dr. TC, etc.). The suggestion being that he’s not one-note, that’s just the only side of him they’re familiar with.

To add to these frustrations, Tyler has said before that he wished he could do more than rap but felt his voice limited what he can do musically. After Cherry Bomb came out — arguably his most experimental album — some fans criticized the album for lacking the misanthropic depression that had become Tyler’s signature style. Tyler was pretty frustrated by these comments and actually responded to a few of them on internet forums:

“it was cool when i was raping girls and telling you how sad i was on records, but when shit changes and im feeling great and i fuck with myself you cant deal with it?”

So there’s been high points and low points in Tyler’s career but it has still been defined by frustrations. Tyler’s frustrated he hasn’t been able to make the music he wants to make. Some fans are frustrated that he’s changing his tone. Other fans are frustrated that he’s clearly trying to do something but never gets where he wants to be. There are all these elements and personalities mixing around inside of Tyler and it’s been hard to figure out which would prevail. Is he a shock artist? Is he a soul-inspired musician? Is he a Death-Grips inspired rapper? Who is Tyler the Creator?

This album is the answer. He’s all of those things. He’s a Scum Fuck, but he’s also a Flower Boy. He made an album that represents everything about himself and it’s incredible.

I think the greatest compliment you can give this album is that it has a lot of variety but it all sounds like it’s from the same project. This is the sound the Tyler has been trying to make for a long time. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of the sounds used on SFFB are very similar to elements of previous songs. I’m not good at recognizing/describing noises so here’s some points of comparison:

Garden Shed (02:46) and Rusty (00:02) – The synth in the background

911 / Mr Lonely (00:26) and Find Your Wings (00:15) – The bubbling bass line / progression.

Bordem (1:11) and FUCKING YOUNG / PERFECT (5:25) – This style of harmony vocals.

Even if you can’t follow me on that line of thought, it’s fair to say that SFFB has a very consistent sound. It evokes the imagery of a “garden” with the use of spritey sound effects in See You Again, or the prominence of strings across the entire album. Even with that established sound the album finds a way to deviate when Tyler wants to do something new. Songs like See You Again, Bordem, 911 / Mr. Lonely and November are part of the album’s serene garden theme but other songs like Who Dat Boy, Pothole, I Ain’t Got Time and Droppin’ Seeds are deviations reminiscent of Tyler’s mainstream work that seamlessly flow with the overall tone. On paper many of these songs sound completely different but there are consistent motifs and concepts across the whole album that make the transitions sound like a new branch on the same tree.

With the sound established, everything else on the album is of the quality you’d expect from Tyler. He’s always been good at bridging concepts or capitalizing on dual meanings to transition to another idea and that’s on full-display throughout the album:

How many raps can I write ’til I get me a chain?
How many chains can I wear ’til I’m considered a slave?
How many slaves can it be ’til Nat Turner arrives?
How many riots can it be ’til them Black Lives Matter?
When niggas click, clack, splatter, pew, pew that nigga
Life a game of basketball, you better shoot that nigga
‘Cause if that cop got tricky, he better pull
‘Cause when I get pulled over, I usually play it cool
‘Cause I know what I’m driving is usually paid in full

I also like this one where he goes from sexual thirst to Beyonce’s Lemonade to Tesla in four lines:

My thirst levels are infinity and beyond
Sippin’ on that lemonade, I need a Beyoncé
Can’t see straight, these shades are Céline Dion
Sucks you can’t gas me up, shout out to Elon

Tyler’s rapping ability isn’t new, but there has been a significant shift in the content of his rhymes.

Tyler’s songs have always been about things that happen in his life. He hates X, Y and Z. His father left him. He had a bad break-up. He uses these as the backdrop for his aggressive tone and offensive tendencies, but we never really know how Tyler feels about any of it. Scum Fuck Flower Boy is all about Tyler and what he’s feeling. Take a song like IFHY and compare it to See You Again. They’re both love songs, but IFHY seems to be Tyler expressing his anger over catching feelings whereas See You Again is relishing in them.

It’s also worth considering these songs with the context that Tyler being “bored with rap.” IFHY sounds like a song placating popular rap tropes at the time of its release, right down to the buzzing-synth hook. See You Again sounds like the type of song that Tyler has been wanting to make. He sings more than he raps, uses harmony vocals throughout, and there are more horns and strings than bass. There’s nothing wrong with traditional rap trends but I personally feel like Tyler has wanted to move away from the mainstream sound without knowing where to go instead. But he’s finally found it.

Scum Fuck Flower Boy sounds like a concept album. It’s one of those records that you start at track one and let it run till it’s over. I have tracks that I like more than others, but there isn’t anything that I feel the need to skip over completely. Even as a die-hard Tyler apologist, I couldn’t say that about Bastard, Cherry Bomb or even Wolf.

Finally, although I think Tyler deserves significantly more praise than he gets for a variety of reasons (writes his own stuff, produces his own stuff, doesn’t rely on samples), I think it’s worth acknowledging that the path to Scum Fuck Flower Boy was paved by other artists. Of course, Tyler has had these thoughts in his mind for some amount of time. But I can’t help but acknowledge that the success of albums like Coloring Book or Blonde allowed Tyler to feel like he could embrace this more low-key sound over the aggressive edgy tone he had before. But that doesn’t take away from his accomplishment.

Scum Fuck Flower Boy stands on its own musically, but more importantly it’s a huge landmark in Tyler the Creator’s career. He finally did it. He found his sound and created an album that’s both genuinely him and honestly one of the better albums this year. On a personal level, I feel a connection to Tyler’s work. If he can achieve what he’s always wanted, maybe all of us can too.

5/5

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