Have you had your summer holidays yet? Why not take a trip to Tyler’s skewed suburban utopia where the sun always shines casting a soft glow on the cherry blossom trees suspended in eternal bloom, the grass which never grows; stands manicured and measured to precision, each blade resembling a soldier in a procession line standing proudly to attention, as they frame the superior stance of the sunflowers gazing down like overlords on this pastel paradise created by Tyler in the depths of his imagination for us to enjoy. A bee hums by quietly as though it’s afraid to disturb the vivid imagery and splendour of the luxurious landscape, by buzzing too loudly. For a brief moment the sun intensifies to illuminate the suburban surroundings and reveal things are not what they first seemed; the trunks of the cherry blossom trees have been watching you all along as it appears they have sunken eyes carved into them, the leaves on the stalks of the sunflowers’ begin to grow tendrils and begin to unfurl menacingly towards you. You quicken your pace to get away when you feel a sharp pain underfoot, when you look down you discover the blades of grass have turned into pointed weapons of pain! A quintet of bees fly by to join the first and as you take a real good look at one of the bees, to your horror you see the jet black, oversized eyes of a goblin staring back at you, unblinking, unwavering; but wait are they …TEETH?…
The above is how the U.S mulitalent Tyler the creator’s abstract fifth album ‘Scum f*ck / flower boy’ plays out. Tyler has created a beautiful body of work evoking imagery of lazy summer days spent barefoot meandering aimlessly through lush filled sprawling fields that are post card pretty, in a place where time stands still. The first four tracks ‘Foreword’, ‘Where this flower blooms’, ‘Sometimes’ and ‘See you again’ are where the sunny skies vibe sweep you away on a crescendo of piano’s, guitars and violins to leave you feeling as though your brain could float away on clouds of calm. The instrumentals of the first 4 tracks may float by languorously, but the same cannot be said for Tyler’s razor sharp lyrics, which is a testament to Tyler’s ability to inject the grit into the beauty of his avant-garde scenery with his gravelly voice and stark lyrics such as – “How many raps can I write til I can get me some chains, how many chains can I wear ‘til I’m considered a slave?” on the thoughtful opener ‘Foreword’ feat. Rex Orange County. A lyric with such a strong social political tone make you realise Tyler is still bringing the controversy to his music, it’s just packaged prettier than his former projects, namely albums ‘Goblin’ and ‘Wolf.’
Just as we’re ready to stroke “Bumble bees on the scene” convinced we have finally found utopia, that ‘Something aint quite right’ feeling creeps up on us to make us shiver on a blistering hot day ,triggered by the tense opening strains of ‘Who dat boy’ with one of the best features on the album with a solid and flamboyant double time verse from WhatsApp Ricky or is it ASAP Rocky* (forgive me the sun beams brighter in suburbia! I must have sun stroke 😉 the bass is back in full force on this track accompanied by a creepy organ/piano plucking which could be Norman Bates theme music, it’s clear from the placement of lead single ‘Who dat boy’ within the context of the album, that Tyler wanted to put an unexpected macabre moment casting shade on our giant sunflowers.
Tyler erases the eclipse threatening to overshadow the pretty pastures of suburbia and illuminates our surroundings just enough so that we can “Watch out for the ‘Potholes’” which sees Jaden Smith (son of Will) make a surprising cameo sounding like a young Q-tip as he delivers the most semi-conscious warning I have ever heard, I’ll presume he’s rapping after taking a hit from the plant pot of the Kush kind on this double entendre track. Tyler recounts chillin’ in his long time manager’s, Clancy’s home who he apparently fancies, and invites us to share in his memory as he paints a vivid picture with his lyrics. Another surprise feature is from our very own Estelle, on the sleepy sparse guitar strumming of ‘Garden shed’ which is a metaphor for hidden feelings which should be expressed instead of being repressed in a ‘garden shed.’ Estelle’s vocal feels retro (no not ‘1980’) and feels like a 1970’s stunning soul chorus swirling within Tyler’s lucid dream of a production.
The BEST sample use on the album and possibly of the year so far goes to ‘I ain’t got time’, which samples the epic Bel-sha-Zaar’s 1969 hit ‘ Introduction: The art of Belly dancing’ which was also sampled again in the 1990 world-wide smash by Deee-lite, ‘Groove is in the heart.’ This track fascinated me for the simple fact Tyler took a recognisable sample from the golden vaults of music history and made it his own, bringing it kicking and screaming into the present for millennial’s who may not remember the 1990 version never mind the original before it. This track POPS literally, he’s included pop tarts popping from the toaster sound effects, synthesisers, electro rhythms, clapping and clicking tongues which all serves to feel like a dizzying time travelling rollercoaster in the middle of a disco at some place called the ‘funk factory!!’ Tyler’s vocal is rowdy, disruptive and abrasive here and it works perfectly with the psychedelic trip he forces us to take. A clever quirk is that this track follows previous track ‘Boredom’ which repeats the lyric “Find some time to do something” throughout, which makes Tyler’s insistence on this track that he “Ain’t got time” all the more paradoxical and comedic.
The most interesting song on the album for its drum progressions, is the Frank Ocean featured ‘911/Mr. Lonely’ which is a three-tiered layer cake of sorrow and sweetness, each layer more revealing than the last. There is a slightly out of sync drum pattern against gentle cymbal taps and hi hats aplenty on the sing-song chorus where Frank (and Steve Lacy) croon a reworked version of ‘The Gap band’s’ 1980 hit ‘Outstanding.’ By the time Tyler drops his frustrated rap between the sing-song choruses, a woeful piano joins the instrumental which reminded me of the warped piano heard on Wu tang clan albums and RZA’s film scores. The second portion of the song has Tyler spill his thoughts in a rapid fire confessional as he questions “Mirror mirror on the wall the loneliest of them all…” He then concludes the reason for his loneliness stems from the fact he never had a pet.
Elsewhere on the album, Lil Wayne jumps over the picket fence for a 40 second interlude and lands with a thud on the pristine alpine green lawn with his watering can in tow, which is filled to the brim with nature inspired sexual innuendo’s which surprisingly doesn’t involve him getting freaky with a garden hoe (I was waiting for it, I’m disappointed.) This track for me is where scum f*ck and flower boy fuse together as one entity coexisting within the same landscape which also alludes to the dichotomy and paradox of Tyler’s artistry and persona.
As the album nears its close where the sun never sets in the wacky world of Tyler’s creations, he laments on his favourite ‘November’s and wishes he could return instead of worrying whether “my music too weird for the masses and I’m only known for tweets more than beats”, revealing to the listener that even a lone wolf has times of worry. The track feels like sped up neo soul and there are welcome additions to the track in the form of ‘Odd Future’ member Jasper, collaborator A$AP Rocky and peer school boy Q who all drop by to discuss their memorable November’s. The end of ‘November’ has Tyler call a significant other to tell him or her (the fun in listening to Tyler’s music is that he hints, he suggests but at times he doesn’t tell) how deeply he feels leading us nicely to the sparkly sweetness of ‘Glitter’, where Tyler is frank about the fact he wants to be more than friends on a mystery persons voicemail; you can’t help but urge his heart’s desire to pick up the phone so that ‘Mr. lonely’ can be locked away in the ‘Garden shed’ whilst Tyler and his companion walk hand in hand ‘where the flowers bloom’ with his mind not quite spotless, but finally at peace with his paradoxes.
*”Whatsapp Ricky” – Liam Gallagher was quoted recently as saying his kids favourite artist was U.S rapper Whatsapp Ricky (his name is A$AP Rocky) cue hundreds of memes and hours of laughter all over the web! Thanks our kid!
Download / Preview ‘Scum f*ck / ‘Flower Boy’ here:
Watch the visually ambitious video for lead single ‘Who dat boy / 911’ here: