April 12, 2015
I’ve been following Tyler and his crew of misfits Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA) since 2011. I remember first hearing him on a collaboration with The Game (Goblins vs. Martians) and wondering who this psychotic rapper with the scratchy baritone was. I downloaded “Goblin” and was blown away. It was so different from anything else in Hip Hop at the time. Dark, self-reflective, depressing, and revolutionary. It was like punk rock and hip hop got into a head on collision and the result was Tyler, the Creator. What intrigued me further was the fact that Tyler produced most of his own music and started his own label along with a GOLF WANG clothing line, Adult Swim TV Show Loiter Squad, Odd Future photography book, and an Odd Future retail store. He turning into the young generations version of RZA from Wu-Tang in the early 90s. Insanely ambitious but talented enough to pull it off. With OFWGKTA becoming increasingly fractured, Tyler is back to lone WOLFing and refining his unique sound. Domo, Hodgy, and Left Brain are smoking pounds and working on MellowHype and MellowHigh, R&B innovator Frank Ocean is unfortunately on hiatus (though he appears in the final track here), and Earl is diving deeper and deeper into the darkness on his superb new album “I don’t like shit, I don’t go outside.” Now that the baby birds have learned to fly and left the nest, Tyler is focusing on himself.
Tyler has pulled back some of his dark subject matter but replaced it with too much openness and honesty. Bastard and Goblin found him in a very dark mental state constantly contemplating suicide and screaming things like “KILL PEOPLE, BURN SHIT, FUCK SCHOOL”. He was self-deprecating and brutally honest with himself which was a refreshing concept. On Bomb, Tyler sounds like he has learned to love himself at least somewhat and can finally be happy with the success and fame he’s garnered. At the same time, his penchant for drawing a roadmap of his influences and being a little too honest can make him seem boring at times. He bites a Kanye line no less than 5 times by my count, and the leadoff song “DEATHCAMP” sounds more like a rip off of an N.E.R.D. song than inspired material. Tyler is removing all sense of mystery from his persona and it’s hurting his music more than helping.
Tyler produces and raps alone on mostly every track, cutting out the usual Odd Future appearances with the exception of Frank Ocean. There is a smattering of ideas at work from punk rock, jazz, R&B, hardcore rap, and even an appearance by Toro Y Moi. His ideas are much more mature on Cherry Bomb but he still has a track titled “BLOW MY LOAD” so I won’t get ahead of myself. There are some star studded features including 2 of his professed heroes Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne, who both lend incredible verses to SMUCKERS. (Favorite Kanye line I’ve heard since 2013, “Richer than white people with black kids/Scarier than black people with ideas.”). Pharrell also copy/pastes and N.E.R.D template on leadoff track “DEATHCAMP” and also lends his voice ti “KEEP DA O’S” although you wouldn’t know it from the production. Although Tyler has trimmed the running time and made a more consistent album, he still struggles to bring the entire thing together as a producer.
Most of the tracks have a lot of distortion and rawer feel to them which is turning into Tyler’s signature style. Sonically, it’s hard to pin this album as the tone shifts drastically from song to song. Tyler has definitely evolved as a producer and incorporated a huge number of different things on each song. “DEATH CAMP”, “BUFFALO”, and “THE BROWN STAINS OF DARKEESE LATIFAH PARTS 6-12” are all straight forward hardcore rap songs that harken back to his early days. The last one his Tyler reuniting with Schoolboy Q to rap over a west-coast beat with siren sounds blaring in the background similar to the one Tyler produced for Oxymoron (“The Purge”). Tyler gets jazzy and proves he can write a catchy pop melodies on “FIND YOUR WINGS”, “2SEATER”, and “FUCKING PERFECT/PERFECT” . He also incorporates a dash of hardcore punk rock on the title track “CHERRY BOMB”. The album mostly feels cohesive because of the singular vision, but Tyler still annoyingly lets some tracks run on way too long, relying on his production alone.
There are a few indulgences that don’t work very well. “BLOW MY LOAD” is an ill-conceived love song that will probably make you cringe. “2SEATER” is way too long and Tyler uses a weird vocal effect at the end that doesn’t work nearly as well as it does in “FUCKING PERFECT”. Speaking of bad vocal effects, it took me 3 listens to realize Pharrell was even on “KEEP DA O’S” because of how processed Tyler makes the vocals. Since the album is only 13 songs long, these misfires are much more glaring than they would otherwise be. Although the shorter running time is a relief compared to his other efforts.
Overall this is the tightest, most well produced album Tyler has released. Taking a few pages out of Kanye West’s book, he is indulging all of his creative impulses and seeing where his talent leads for better or worse. I used to think the most interesting thing about him was how intriguing he was, but after he explains it in exhaustive detail, we have to rely on the production. He’s still a great rapper, just not as interesting as he once was.
THE BROWN STAINS OF DARKEESE LATIFAH PARTS 6-12