Streaming Consciously: TYLER, THE CREATOR...Thru the FUTURE and the Past, ODD-ly
Flowers and Potholes, Pots and Pans, Just Clap Your Hands.
Tyler the Creator’s new album is called Flower Boy.
Tyler the Creator’s new album is also alternatively titled SCUM FUCK FLOWER BOY.
Tyler the Creator is about that Shock’n Yes Yes Y’all life.
Always has been.
Which takes me back to the first time I met him.
Well okay, I haven’t actually met the millennial mastermind behind the collective formally known as Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All.
But it still sorta feels like I did, as a Los Angeles resident familiar with the Ladera/Baldwin/View Park area that birthed them (shout out to the Taylor Fam), as well as being a student of the burgeoning tumblr/streetwear/hip-hop/skate culture surrounding them back then.
These were suburban L.A. kids who tried to “find some time, find some time to do something”, because “boredom has a new best friend”.
It feels insufficient in 2017, now a full year since departing Los Angeles, after living there for the prior thirteen, to simply tell you I dig this new Tyler the Creator album.
I feel like in order to tell you about the outlook on Tyler & the community he created, I need to reacquaint or possibly introduce, some in #WudderWorld to Odd Future's past.
But to get there, we may have to dip back even further, to before these 90's babies in Odd Future had even formed a wink in their father's eye.
You see, once upon a time in the 80's, people thought rap music was never gonna last.
I feel blessed to say that’s when I first discovered it.
There’s no better time to become aware of something, than before the powers that be decide it has validity.
The first two rap songs that changed my life were “The Show” by Doug E Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew and “Jam On It” by Nucleus.
Both felt like an entry point into another universe, that eight-year-old me had yet to access until hearing those two records.
Those of us growing up in the suburbs of Philly and New York, could not yet understand that we were standing within the floodgates of a cultural tidal wave, which would go on to quite literally change the world, and give us the dominant lexicon for future generations.
But in '84-'85, as a young curious kid with virgin ears?
That powerful signal was still received, loud and clear.
This stuff belonged to some young people from the places you'd yet to go, while it befuddled any standard set by things that came before.
Over the next two decades, as a healthy student of rap music, it not only became a part of my identity, but a signifier for pop-culture as a whole, until by the turn of the millennium, hip-hop had overtaken the rock & roll template framing earlier generations' existence.
After that mid-80's discovery, born out of late 70's South Bronx gestation, at least two “Golden Era” periods for the form would follow.
But back in the day, the whole point was never considering tomorrow.
It’s a feeling tough to explain to those born since the year rap broke.
It's one that no amount of well-placed words will ever recapture.
Odd Future, with its founder Tyler the Creator, came long after.
In between, despite hip-hop's ongoing musical and cultural proliferation, there were some less-than-inspiring chapters.
The genre's most underwhelming era so far, spanned virtually the entire decade of the 2000’s. Specifically and especially, from 2002 thru 2009.
Sure, like any era in rap to date, there were still definitely highlights.
But by the end of the decade, something didn’t feel right...leading me, as a contributor to the social-media-before-it-even-existed environment that was "The Lesson" music discussion board, to write this archived manifesto on #ThatSite about its plight...
Wed Jul-01-09 09:07 AM
"Rap Has Gotten So Flabby & Sick Someone Needs To Knock Its Ass Out"
Something needs to come along and reduce this shit back to its basest elements.
No matter how many bodies these cats catch, or coke they sell on record, this music has long since lost its ability to shock or scare even lily white 55-year-old investment bankers (half of whom probably have a TI joint on their iPod workout playlist).
At this point we need something to come along that threatens the established guardians of the genre. Not a new-jack to come up and challenge Jay-Z to a battle. Some new jacks whose very existence makes folks, old and young, fully realize how irrelevant these Rap Dinosaurs have become.
It needs to be something extreme enough that it brings the 'AND THEY CLAIM THAT IT'S MUSIC!'(c)PE/Fear-of-a-Black-Planet-Intro crowd out of the woodwork.
Something that potentially embarrasses the fence-straddling-old-heads, still-tryin-to-be-down, into either getting on the bandwagon for real, or hopping off for good. Material uncomfortable enough to confuse some of today's youth who aren't even old enough to remember the Newsweek cover story of 1989 or the FBI Letter to NWA, when this music was actually 'threatening' for reasons beyond their favorite MC's police-blotter appearances.
Something that simplifies shit back to its rawest form like "Sucker MCs" in '83, 'Criminal Minded' in 86 or even Wu-Tang's debut, but not in this day-glo purposely-retro format propagated by groups like The Cool Kids.
Not in the form of some super-lyrical multi-spitting display of verbal wizardry either. That shit has gone as far as it can or needs to go.
Rap is long overdue for a watershed 'punk rock' reaction in the vein of the Stooges or Ramones first two records.
It needs to be stripped of its artifice immediately because much like rock by the early 70's, this music no longer is really anti-establishment. It actually is the establishment.
Maybe the blow-back I'm hoping for won't even resemble rap music at all, I don't have any particular sound or image in mind.
I just know I'll know it when I hear it and I know it isn't here yet. I may even hate it when it comes but I'll gladly welcome its arrival because this 'fad' I grew up with has long since devolved into idol-worship and self-parody.
Enter Odd Future, Wolf Gang, Golf Wang into that cold, dark night.
Somewhere between Christmas Day 2009, when an eighteen-year-old Tyler the Creator released his independent, self-produced album Bastard, and the following year that brought sixteen-year-old rhyming prodigy Earl Sweatshirt's Earl, I had started to feel like it would be Odd Future that woke rap from its golden slumber, administering the adrenaline shot to charge the next wave, and send us hurdling into the light.
Needless to say, I hopped on board running, headfirst, with feet flyin' up in the air...
In the subsequent eight summers since, Tyler, Earl, Frank Ocean and #OFWGKTA's lone female Syd The Kid's group The Internet would prove Nostrabombus half right.
Many wuddershed moments soon followed, both for this collective and by extension, the author of this Streaming Consciously episode.
There were shows I attended, like this one, at the Palladium, on the Sunset Strip, that made me feel both reinvigorated but also provided a powerful reminder in my early thirties, that I was no longer a kid anymore. This fact was inescapable in my brain, while watching the madness spill about from the outer ring of the Palladium's roller-rink dance floor, never daring to venture far into the mouth of the impossibly young and aggressively adolescent crowd.
This wasn't totally about being an oldie tho, I had after all sold my pit ticket following Wu-Tang's set and jetted to the lawn before Rage Against The Machine came out, back when their shared summer-shed tour of '97 came thru Camden NJ twenty summertime's ago. Moshing was never really my thing, I just happened to like seeing some forms of live music, that in certain cases brought forth that form of pugnaciousness.
When you are, as I now undeniably am, a music critic of the old-and-washed variety, these things are best scoped out from a respectful, almost anthropological, distance.
Note the great Jon Caramanica’s masterful June 2017 New York Times profile of the current “Soundcloud rap” phenomena, as a prime recent example.
Tyler, the de facto “RZA” to Odd Future’s “Wu-Tang”, would create a brand with successes in a dizzying number of areas. Fashion iconography, graphic artistry, video direction, hosting/producing/starring in multiple television shows, boutique record labels, curation of Grammy-winning offshoot acts, and more stuff I won't rack my brain further by trying to list. Hipster and celebrity admirer love…would soon follow.
But in order for a movement, at least originally, ostensibly about music, to truly transcend its own time, thus making the power-move towards timelessness…it’s still gotta have the songs.
There’s still a need to certify the collective credentials with more than just classic moments but classic songs and albums too.
How many of those does Odd Future have?
It’s tough to say and depends on who you ask, but scant few forming anything resembling a cultural consensus.
How many of those does Tyler the Creator have?
That’s even tougher, as we now absorb his fourth "official" solo project.
I’m not sure any of the previous three could be put at the level of Earl or Syd’s best.
Meanwhile Frank Ocean now occupies his own unique space in pop culture so resoundingly, that many of his fans may not even know he started with Odd Future.
Surely, since 2010-2011, the Golf Wang/Wolf Gang’s collective catalog, has been trumped in terms of quality by a few of their peers.
They need look no further than just below “Black Beverly Hills”, closer to the confines of grittier, inner-city existence like Compton or even Carson, where Top Dawg Entertainment and the Black Hippy movement, led by Kendrick Lamar, has lapped #OFWGKTA by far, when it comes to impact and quality of its canon.
Tyler, or Earl, are not likely to ever headline Coachella, unless at some big, full-scale Odd Future reunion show in 2025 or so, when the kids I saw in that Palladium mosh-pit, have been blessed to grow old enough to become nostalgic.
Tyler, one of the shrewder young taste-making creators to ever do it, surely knows this, as evidenced by the chirping crowd chatter of "you ain't got no classics" heard in mid-verse on "November".
From that knowledge seed of self-awareness, a Flower Boy hath sprouted.
We are hereby pleased to report, that this is not only Tyler’s most accessible album, but his most satisfying and accomplished.
There is a decided emphasis on melody, a scaling back to more pointed raps, sonic cohesion and a warm steady stream of undeniable grooves.
This is an idealized Odd Future version of a summer album, from the city of Endless Summer, almost as much as Earl Sweatshirt's last headphone masterpiece, #2 on Streaming Consciously's Top 15 Albums of 2015, was the ultimate Hazy Shade of Winter album from that same Southland locale.
As we mentioned first in our last episode of Streaming Consciously, exploring the new Jay-Z way back on the 17th, not only did Tyler bring out the pared-down verses, big hooks, memorable grooves, he also made sure to bring out the headlines this time.
The lead-up to its release, led to questions of whether Tyler had come out of the closet.
We don’t really know that to be true, nor probably do many, if any, of you.
That almost feels somewhat beside the point.
Odd Future has been “out”, in terms of having a DGAF attitude about who is or isn’t “out”, since almost the day they came out.
Its biggest selling male artist is an openly gay singer (Ocean).
Its original DJ is a lesbian who also sings, writes and plays piano (Syd the Kid).
Tyler himself, took all that day-glo from the D.A.I.S.Y. age, fed it thru an LA skate-punk filter, channeling Native Tongue Son Pharrell Williams on the keyboard-led production end.
So while whoever Tyler is bunking with is already a bunk topic, the flap proved that Tyler, like Bowie in the early 70’s, was a powerful enough personality to make any answer irrelevant.
And just being able to do that, in any era, is significant.
The headlines might have been the only thing about this album’s milieu, clinging to the old vestiges of shock value.
Tyler has jettisoned much of the graphic language and fantastical, violently escapist imagery, an Eminem-inspired trope so routine early in his career that it veered on becoming a doing-too-much crutch, shortly thereafter.
On Flower Boy, a now-26-year-old Tyler the Creator, no longer seems fixated on being your mother’s least-favorite rapper.
The single, “Who Dat Boy”, with an assist from Harlem style-icon/movement-starter-whose-catalog-should-hit-harder a-alike, ASAP Rocky, is probably the most traditional OF record on here, right down to the ridiculously indelible images from the video.
But most of the highlights on Flower Boy, center more around something closer to resembling real life. Tyler pulls back the curtain some, revealing his inner-wizard. In doing so, he comes clean about the loneliness at the top. It’s both his most meta and most emotive work.
Look no further than one of the album's highlights, "911/Mr. Lonely", featuring Steve Lacy & Frank Ocean, which contains a clever flip of The Gap Band's "Outstanding" in between minor piano chords and verses with lines like:
I'm the loneliest man alive
But I keep on dancin' to throw 'em off
I'm gon' run out of moves 'cause I can't groove to the blues
If you know any DJs, tell 'em to call me at nine-one-one
But then watch the epic performance of it this week on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where those thoughts are shared while under the glow of a Bumblebee disco-ball, surrounded by a collection of cool-as-fuck friends, featuring a Soul Train line performed by kids too young to remember Soul Train airing.
Then there's "Pothole", easily the best piece of art to ever include Jaden Smith, regardless of how much you enjoy The Pursuit of Happyness.
It also happens to be the best song about metaphorical potholes, since the one dropped in '89 by those flower-flouting suburban teens in De La Soul.
"Pothole" features strings that sound like the nephew of De La's fellow Long Island legendary rap group contemporary, EPMD's "Please Listen To My Demo".
It's aided by voices at the end of the hook who sound like they're falling down a manhole. We'll go with this one as our current highlight. At least it's the one that had fellow #ThatSite alums, like my mans Doc Claw and Mike Beon, geeking out about it on social-media the night the album dropped. I was soon falling right in line with 'em once I heard it, then played it again and again, like a 36 Chambers call-in.
In further Native Tongue fashion, "November" has members of Odd Future's extended family introducing themselves on record, in a similar vein to De La's "I Am, I Be" in '93.
Whether or not these minor details, or others such as Danny Elfman's strings from Pee Wee's Big Adventure being subtly referenced in the lead single's intro, are intentional or coincidental, almost becomes beside the point.
What matters as a listener and viewer, is that we still see and hear the signal loud & clear here. Much like I once did, as a kid, long before Tyler was alive, way back in '85.
Perhaps in 2025, when Tyler the Creator has stopped relentlessly pushing forward long enough to look back, when some old-and-washed journalist asks about bursting onto the scene at eighteen, but taking until age 26 and album #4, to finally start creating the consistently classic material he was always capable, he'll tell us "I meant to do that".