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  • Writer's pictureRyan Hardison


The first time I can recall the vexing madness of Tyler, the Creator was when I watched the grotesquely brilliant music video for “Yonkers,” a boom-bap style track he made as a vulgar parody of traditional New York hip-hop. It was about as simplistic and vile as the song itself. The camera solely focuses on a black and white room where Tyler is lounging on a stool. He starts rhyming and then reveals a massive cockroach climbing up his arm. Tyler grasps it and takes a bite, and the disgust of the taste makes him immediately throw up. He then rips off his shirt, stares into the camera’s soul with devilishly dark eyes and a bloody nose, then proceeds to hang himself. “Yonkers” symbolized every fuck-it attitude he hoped to extract and embolden. Fittingly, “Yonkers' ' became his breakout hit.

Being a middle school student during the rise of Tyler, the Creator and his ensemble group of rappers, friends, and personalities known as Odd Future was a baffling time. I have clear-cut memories of Simpsons-colored donut socks, OFWGKTA insignia scrawled on desks, GOLF WANG apparel on free-dress days, lines recited from their Adult Swim sketch comedy show “Loiter Squad.” They were almost annoyingly inescapable.

Odd Future emerged as a juvenile crew of underdogs and SoCal skater goons, verbally attacking any VIP target (Bruno Mars, Kendall Jenner, Larry David) who came to mind on their records, and Tyler was their enigmatic, raucous leader. Their music was a belligerent attempt to wriggle under people’s skin and gnaw at their comfort like cicadas, with shocking lyrics and careless attitudes. The people who Odd Future failed to intimidate, they molded to become life-long supporters. It worked perfectly, sometimes even too perfectly. The group has since moved far beyond recording mixtapes and doing Jackass-style comedy to bigger and brighter things, albeit far apart from each other. Earl Sweatshirt has become one of rap's most beloved wordsmiths, Taco tours as a successful DJ, Syd and Matt Martians started The Internet, Jasper and Errol got a TV show, and Tyler, the Creator is still making unique genre-defying music.

As an artist, Tyler, the Creator’s relationship with rap music began as a way to air his grievances and later became a nuisance. He'd always been a fan of hip-hop and found endless inspiration in the stylish cool of Pharell Williams, but his carefree, gravelly-voiced raps could not emphasize enough that music was far from something he approached delicately. Yet even when he legitimately hated rapping, “Goblin,” “Wolf” and “Cherry Bomb” showed a headstrong craving to break out of his rebellious shell, as well as the foundation for further creative progression. The outlandish antics formed a wall around his insecurities and shielded all his secrets. It explains why Tyler has taken on many names and faces throughout his artistic evolution, often adapting another cryptic persona each album cycle.

On his sixth studio album “CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST,” he’s become Tyler Baudelaire, inspired by 19th-century French author Charles Baudelaire (someone who also dealt with a fair share of controversy for his art). With this high-roller identity, Tyler is a world traveler who amasses vacations as mementos to hang over the heads of anyone who tries to poke his opulent bubble. He acknowledges his downtrodden past, revealing that his mom lived in a homeless shelter when his breakout hit “Yonkers'' was released. Now, his biggest worries are finding fresh fish to eat and fitting his yacht into the docks of Capri.

The opening trio of “TYLER BAUDELAIRE,” “CORSO” and “LEMONHEAD” establish that Tyler, the Creator has put his heart into rapping again. Since his last pair of albums featured more singing and neo-soul stylings, many people forget about Tyler's seismic rapper identity. However, can no longer approach rap with the same untouchable mindset he had when first making his name. Past antics and homophobic lyrics landed him in hot water and earned him many notable enemies. Tyler was banned from the United Kingdom for three years, being kept out by former prime minister Theresa May through an anti-terrorism act. His actions also temporarily restricted him from entering Australia. His transformation from provocateur to tastemaker is noted throughout the album. It's free of cheap shots, surprisingly explains his distaste for the word “bitch” and even apologizes to Selena Gomez.

Following in the shadow of Pharell’s “In My Mind: The Prequel,” DJ Drama provides Tyler with his very own DJ Drama Gangsta Grillz tape, a right of passage that determined whose mid-2000s mixtape was worth a damn. To the indie buffs who attached to Tyler’s glow around the release of “Flower Boy,” DJ Drama’s appearance may not be as significant. Frankly, I could hear DJ Drama yell “Welcome to the disco” all day long. His spirited ad-libs serve as random and enthusiastic travel updates (“We just landed in Geneva”), all of which feel necessary. Rappers who discuss their world travels as attainable and not distant pipe dreams crave a certain je ne sais quoi to cement their credibility. With Drama’s help as the ultimate light-hearted hypeman, Tyler puts endless exclamation marks on his grandeur.

Like any voyager, Tyler carries luggage along for the ride. But lingering in his suitcase is some serious emotional baggage. There are moments when Tyler finds himself transfixed on past afflictions with a solemn vulnerability that accompanies his generalized boasting. “WILSHIRE” recalls a time when he fell for his pal's girlfriend, going back and forth between justifying his behavior and criticizing himself for his actions. Some of the details seem too grimy to be factual (and display a level of dirty macking that only Bobby Womack would be proud of), but Tyler says no details were exaggerated. At the same time, he further opens up about his bisexuality, noting “Men or women, it don't matter, if I seen 'em, then I had 'em.” "WILSHIRE" runs over eight minutes long, a big deviation from most of the album's 2-3 minute song runtimes. "SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE" is the only other song that reaches this threshold, lasting nine minutes and 46 seconds. "SWEET" features Brent Faiyaz and is a sugary, concocted bliss that thematically precedes "WILSHIRE" and depicts Tyler knee-deep in love. "I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE" is a groovy, reggae-inspired back-and-forth that features Fana Hues as the female perspective from "WILSHIRE." She seems hesitant to continue their affair, but Tyler is still holding out hope by saving her a dance. These songs are the crux of Tyler's vulnerable arc on this project, and "SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE" has Tyler's melodic brilliance dialed to a thousand.

Even with his steadfast, above-the-clouds mindset, Tyler, the Creator rarely takes himself too seriously. He starts off “WUSYANAME” admittedly with the worst pickup line ever: “Aw, you look malnourished.” Still, the Ty Dolla $ign and Youngboy Never Broke Again-assisted track sounds unearthed from a vault of mid-90s R&B loosies. Tyler's heroes Lil Wayne and Pharrell hop on "HOT WIND BLOWS" and "JUGGERNAUT" respectively, and sound invigorated. There’s a lot of flexing, and Tyler never fails to signify even the smallest semblance of his personal growth: "BLESSED" sees him run through a laundry list of personal accomplishments, including “I'm healthy, my skin glowin', my friends healthy" Tyler consistently finds creative ways to signify his status without it coming across as a shallow plea for recognition. His artistic showmanship has always contained a cinematic feel, but now it gravitates closer to his favorite filmmaker Wes Anderson than the horror flicks he embodied earlier in his career.

“CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST” is Tyler, the Creator's extravagant victory lap. It also marks his progression as a producer who can incorporate luscious pop arrangements seamlessly with hardened bangers. Tyler has accomplished all of his dreams in a decade, everything else that comes will be a pleasant bonus.


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