Introspective rap

Tyler has redeemed himself with his latest album, Flower Boy.
Tyler has redeemed himself with his latest album, Flower Boy.PHOTO: COLUMBIA

Like with all agent provocateurs, people either love or hate him, but no one can ignore him. This is Tyler, The Creator, the 26-year-old Californian homeboy better known as Tyler Gregory Okonma to his ma.

The enfant terrible of the Los Angeles hip-hop collective Odd Future (of which member Frank Ocean has become the brightest star), he has been a gimlet-eyed goblin, a mutant monkey king in polo tees, a Technicolor trickster toying with political correctness.

Once branded a homophobe and a misogynist (and even banned from entering Britain for his early lyrics), he has redeemed himself with his fourth and most surprising missive, Flower Boy.

The constant vacillation with sexuality and sexual mores has culminated in a softer, more slippery persona.

In I Ain't Got Time, a catchy-as-hell cruise through the pitfalls of fame, he proclaims over sputtering beats that he is on a ride with a River Phoenix-lookalike. In Garden Shed, a slo-mo R&B ballad, featuring the chilled vocals of Estelle, he takes refuge in the titular "garden shed for the garcons", saying: "All my friends lost/They couldn't read the signs."

It is all very titillating, but this double talk precisely plays into his tinderbox of roles, some identikit and others less so.



    Tyler, The Creator


    4/5 stars

In Foreword, he sets out his agenda - a night of introspection - over a laidback, synth-slicked groove built around the 1972 track Spoon by the krautrock band Can.

"How many raps can I write till I get me a chain/How many chains can I wear till I'm considered a slave?" goes the litany of rhetorical questions, counterpointed by the seductive, come-down atmospherics. The fraught position of the African-American male hangs over the proceedings, even as the music exhorts you to unwind.

Pothole continues the driving leitmotif, the ultimate American dream, as Tyler views life as a lifelong sojourn filled with unexpected obstacles.

"Watch out for the pothole," he repeats in a lazy-afternoon trip over deceptively languid beats and gentle syncopation.

See You Again, apparently his favourite song on the album, is, likewise a twinkly-eyed ditty as Tyler and Colombian-American pop starlet Kali Uchis trade sweet nothings.

"Can I get kiss?/And can you make it last forever," she sings the chorus over beatific xylophones and laser synths. Everything is all hunky-dory till he utters the last line about having to go to war soon and that they may never meet again. Gulp.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2017, with the headline 'Introspective rap'. Print Edition | Subscribe