“The only appropriate question after listening to it is, are you okay?” Jerrod Carmichael states to Tyler, The Creator in FLOWER BOY: A Conversation; a sit-down discussion released in the wake of Tyler’s fourth studio album. It’s a question that can be applied to almost all of Tyler’s work up to this point, as you’re confronted with the chaotic, scorched earth therapy sessions with Dr TC that appear on Bastard and Goblin, the coming-of-age realisations of Wolf, and the ambitious musicality of the songs that make up Cherry Bomb. It has always seemed as if the producer/rapper, even at his most controversial, was holding something back, and that gritty production and shock-value lyrics were a way of channelling his repressed emotions, all while his grassroots movement alongside OFWGKTA provided a safe space for pundits that felt outcasted in society.
So why is this question the first thing that pops to mind upon listening to Flower Boy? Well, it’s because Tyler is asking himself the same thing. This opus seems to be centred around Tyler checking on himself and confronting his emotions, and the paranoia of losing everything he’s worked for. This self-care is a vast contrast from his character-based interactions with Dr TC on past songs like ‘Goblin’ where nihilism commands his openness, spawning lyrics like “I’m fucked in the head, I lost my mind with my virginity.” There’s hope in the melancholy of Flower Boy, and as we look back on the project for its 5-year anniversary, these audio diary entries serve as an important reference point in the blossoming of Tyler’s career since.
The album starts with ‘Foreword’, a word usually used to describe the short intro to a book. It possesses the same utility here, as it sets the tone for Tyler’s journey of exploration. The song is jam-packed with questions like “How many cars can I buy ‘til I run out of drive?” representing his paranoia surrounding the fickleness of fame, as well as diving into themes of loneliness and depression. It’s similar to one of Wolf’s standout tracks ‘Answer’, but instead of Tyler confronting the abandonment of a parental figure, he struggles with the impending doom of his life’s work fading away.
While ‘Answer’ ends with Tyler longing for his father to return his calls, ‘Foreword’ leads into ‘Where This Flower Blooms’; a track where the dark dirt of his thoughts begins to spawn growth, and he lends the emotional support he once sought from others to himself. As the flower rises, so do Tyler’s ambitions, rapping “Tell these black kids they could be who they are, dye your hair blue shit I’ll do it too.” In two tracks, Tyler’s concerned introspection plants the seeds for him to become an inspiration.
With the flower blooming, Tyler continues to water his garden, hoping to help his field of feelings flourish. For every sombre moment like ‘November’ where Tyler’s fears loom, he reminds himself of the present’s beauty with cuts like ‘Glitter’. When he’s conscious of a possible crash on ‘Pothole’, he makes sure to swerve with precision and style. Where ‘See You Again’ and ‘911/Mr Lonely’ long for love, he makes sure to enjoy the small details in his romance-fueled quest. He finds the positives in the tumultuous time capsules he explores in his tracks, which surround the album’s pivotal soliloquy ‘Garden Shed’.
Where this album sets up his emotions as a wide-spawning horizon of flowers, ‘Garden Shed’ represents the land’s one confined space, where the emotional ecosystem is limited to four walls Tyler has built around it. Each second of the song feels like Tyler breaking the barriers of the structure down, with an impactful verse that finds him unravelling a forbidden relationship and exploring the fluidity of love. It’s a song that sparked speculation around the time of its release, with many interpreting it as Tyler confirming his sexuality, but regardless of this, it symbolises Tyler allowing a part of himself that he once hid to join the greener pastures of his growth.
Tyler waters his garden on the album with his creative canister of production skills, which had reached a new level in the fields of Flower Boy. The emotional release in every song enhances his talents as a beatsmith, opening the floodgates for his inspirations to shine. Lush chords fill bridges, where they used to be buried in bellowing basslines on Cherry Bomb. Where Tyler once seemed to condemn sampling in his beats, he now finds himself interpolating Roy Ayers and The Gap Band. Tyler states that while creating the album, he was delving into the world of pop music, finding himself outside of his comfort zone in clubs, and delving into the discography of Max Martin, and the Justin Timberlake and Pharrell magic of albums like Justified. The freedom of his musical palette, fueled by his artistic curiosity, allows him to support his self-expression with the arena-ready instrumentation it deserves; a common trait that would continue to amplify his success in the years to come.
So, as the blockbuster opus closes on its final track, the question still remains: is Tyler okay? It’s something we wonder, Jerrod Carmichael wonders, and even Tyler himself wonders. But as you probably know from the twists and turns of life, the answer isn’t that simple. What Flower Boy confirms is that Tyler is no longer looking for comfort in the contents of a song like ‘Answer’, or the chaotic destruction that he created in his early career. He now simply waters his garden, planting seeds of introspection, and fueling growth with art and unabashed authenticity.
By starting this process on the album, he unlocked new potential in his production wheelhouse, and created a field of open-book emotions, leading to a path that helps him move forward from ‘Foreword’. He started his musical journey as the voice of a generation of outcasts, allowing them to find comfort in their internal pandemonium, and providing a safe space for them outside of the excluding machismo of rap that thrived in the early days of the 2010s. Flower Boy begins a new chapter in a coming-of-age manner, imploring the youth that looks up to him to allow their true selves to flourish.
Looking back after 5 years, this album serves as Tyler’s coming of age moment, which lead him to be the megastar he is today. Without Flower Boy, it’s hard to imagine receiving the Grammy-cosigned love story of IGOR, or the luxurious travels of Call Me If You Get Lost, because Tyler may have never found his freedom.
He may not always feel okay, but he knows he’s going to be okay. And as the final chords of Flower Boy bloom, the closing track’s title serves as the greatest lesson learned in every listen of this album: ‘Enjoy Right Now,