With his face guarded by the black-and-yellow body of a chihuahua-sized bumblebee, Tyler, the Creator is here to reintroduce himself. No longer opting for ominosity, he stands up straight in a patch of blossomed sunflowers, several other Steelers-colored stinger-bearers buzzing by the white clouds of a burnt-orange Okaga sky. It took a little more than 45 minutes to walk to this point, but he'd circled his foot in the dirt at the path's trailhead for years.
On Flower Boy, a 14-track odyssey of self-acceptance, Tyler, the Creator reaches full bloom. California's Bastard son is now its brightest star, his shine permeating through the Frank Ocean-featured "Where This Flower Blooms." "I rock, I roll, I bloom, I glow," chants Tyler confidently. "I rock, I roll, I bloom, I grow."
While the album's second track oozes optimism, "Foreword" opens the show contemplating the precarious nature of success. "I'm gone and I'm finished. And I ain't seen my friends in a minute," sings Rex Orange County, channeling Tyler's most harrowing fear. "Guessing nothing lasts forever. Yeah, nothing lasts forever."
Flower Boy serves as a road map for elements of Tyler's life he feels could have/will lead to his demise. In the closing moments of "Pothole," he lets out an expletive as a pothole snags his McLaren tires. Referencing real-life elements that almost brought his own drive to a screeching halt, Tyler raps, "I pull up, get out, what up? I wanna help/ But what you want for some, some n—– really don't want for themselves."
It's easy to speculate that he's somewhat subtweeting Odd Future here, the ragtag group of Los Angeles beatnik youth that Tyler once frontman'd to superstardom. As the collective's cult-like popularity waned after increased exposure and fans adjusting to OF's shock value, Tyler found himself asking the same question The Clash had on Combat Rock in 1982: "Should I Stay or Should I Go." His answer is revealed through a co-chorus with Jaden Smith.
"I had to switch the gears on 'em," raps Smith with an effortlessly smooth tone. "Fishtail in the rearview mirror on 'em."
Establishing himself with what for many may be an all-too-relatable suffering, Tyler uses standout tracks "911/Mr. Lonely" and "Boredom" to provide a view of his struggles with depression. On the former, hip-hop's Howard Stern takes a shot at his own need to be in focus.
"They say the loudest in the room is weak," says Tyler in reflective contemplation. "That's what they assume, but I disagree/ I say the loudest in the room/ is prolly the loneliest in the room (that's me)."
However, even if his friends truly are few and far between, Tyler now surrounds himself only with like-minded people — windshield wipers giving his road clear vision. A$AP Rocky, a fellow rapper/fashion mogul, is Tyler's newest partner in lyrical crime (a figure with interests more akin to Tyler's own than onetime little brother Earl Sweatshirt). Lil Wayne ("Droppin' Seeds") is another recurring collaborator, a 34-year-old rapper who shares Tyler's Peter Pan mold, attempting just about anything (skateboarding, Zumiez-featured clothing lines, promethazine) besides turning in his youth.
Tyler's sexuality is the album's most constant motif, with one of rap's most accused homophobes seemingly revealing his preference for men. Allusions are scattered throughout the album.
"Foreword" finds Tyler shouting-out the girls who once gave him company and oral sex while attempting to keep his "head on straight." On "Sometimes…," a male caller dials up Golf Radio to request to hear the song about him. Immediately after comes "See You Again," a gorgeous jam where Tyler inquires, "Can I get a kiss? And can you make it last forever?" On songs such as "Who Dat Boy" ("currently looking for '95 Leo") and "I Ain't Got Time!" ("Passenger a white boy, look like River Phoenix"), Tyler appears to reveal his type. A captivatingly real tune about the search for comfort, "November" illuminates Tyler's gravest worry.
"And I'm only known for tweets more than beats or," confesses Tyler. "All my day ones turn to three, fours … 'cause of track seven."
The album's seventh track is "Garden Shed," an open diary of sorts where Tyler touches upon his lack of interest in women and what appears to be his desire for "pale tan/polka dot nose" guys that he long masked from even those closest to him. "You don't have to hide," sings Tyler after the song's Estelle opening. "I can smell it in your eyes/ that there's something more to say."
Looking down upon a winding road graced only by a single, winged McLaren, Tyler still stands under the burnt orange sky and its fluffy white clouds. If this isn't him at his full bloom, the army of bees that continue to buzz will bring him there eventually.