When did Tyler, the Creator become Tyler, the Composer? It’s not a complete surprise, I saw glimpses of SCUM FUCK FLOWER BOY with 2015’s Cherry Bomb but Tyler was going through a transition phase trying to evolve his distorted, raw production and affinity for controversial lines into something more palatable. 2 years later and we’re listening to a different artist. His introspective explorations are much less angry and more self-assured. He took a big step out of his comfort zone and bloomed into a completely different artist.
Tyler’s production is more expansive and his beats sound less like aggressive ADD-fueled angst and more like lush compositions. Even the bone-rattling bangers “Who dat boy” and “I Ain’t got time” are more complex than they let on. There’s variety here too, with melodic, spacey ballads “November” and “See you again” showing Tyler’s new range. Not only does everything sound better, but the songs are much catchier and pop-influenced. Tyler has been traditionally averse to catchy hooks and radio-friendly, well, anything, but “Boredom”, “911/Mr. Lonely”, and “November” are endlessly replayable and have been refusing to leave my head.
I didn’t recognize most of the guest features on SFFB but everybody involved does a great job of enhancing the existing song rather than distracting from it. A lot of that can be attributed to Tyler’s infamous habit of sticking to his artistic vision regardless of who he’s working with. Lil’ Wayne murders a verse on “Dropping Seeds” as does A$AP Rocky on “Who Dat Boy”, Estelle, Kali Uchis, and Rex Orange County all add some beautiful vocals to a couple of tracks, and Frank Ocean sounds incredible as per usual. I even enjoyed the god damn Jaden Smith feature on “Pothole”. That’s how good Tyler is this time around, he got me to like a song with Jaden Smith.
Even though the artwork and track list make it seem like this album would have a cohesive “garden” theme, the concept is mostly just a springboard for Tyler to dive into whatever seems to be on his mind at the moment. A collection of short stories rather than a novel. Still, Tyler works best when his ADD-fueled imagination runs wild.
Lyrically, it sounds like Tyler has spent every part of the last two years perfecting his craft. He’s newfound self-confidence make him sound boisterous without the underlying insecurity and self-hatred. This album oozes personality, with Tyler singing without vocal effects and hilariously acknowledging his shortcomings on “911/Mr.Lonely” (“ay, can ya’ll help me right quick?”), or endlessly boasting about his McLaren but having the self-awareness to realize he does it a lot (“I know ya’ll sick of me talking bout cars”). Tyler’s raps are more personal, harder hitting, and his flows are much more polished.
Unlike Cherry Bomb where the angry, bitter undertones were still hovering around, causing a noticeable disconnect between the lyrics and production and making the ballads clunky and awkward (looking at you “Perfect/Fucking Young”), SFFB is much more comfortable being lighthearted and vulnerable.
Which brings us to the giant gay elephant in the room. “Garden Shed” and “I Ain’t got time” both contain direct references to Tyler’s affinity for men. I could write paragraphs deconstructing why he’s probably trolling or why he’s actually gay or, more importantly, why the music media cares so much. But I won’t because it doesn’t matter. I’d rather focus on the music.
Despite the mountains of praise I’ve heaped on SFFB thus far, it ends on a weak note. The album starts so well and carries that momentum for 3/4ths and then just kind of trails off. “Glitter” feels like a leftover from Cherry Bomb, and not in a good way. And “Enjoy right now, today” isn’t a bad piece of production per se, but it’s stripped down feel doesn’t match the quality of the music that came before it. The last two tracks could have been left off the album and it would’ve been just as good.
So here we are. It’s 2017, Donald Trump is President and Tyler, the Creator is making beautiful, catchy, deeply personal, revealing music. Nothing makes sense anymore. This is a new high point for Tyler, the Creator’s career, and as he continues to mature and focus more on the music and less on the controversy, his talent as a musician and songwriter is starting to really blossom. Tyler is finally embracing who he is instead of hating it, and the results are spectacular.