Where To Start With... Tyler, The Creator
As the leader and one of the founding members of Odd Future - the hip-hop collective that also includes the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, Hodgy Beats and Frank Ocean - Tyler, The Creator has been involved in some of the most creative output the alternative hip-hop scene has had to offer in recent years.
His first three albums – Bastard, Goblin and Wolf – earned him an army of fans thanks his experimental, often chaotic production style and the lyrical concepts running across the first three LPs, which appear to form a running narrative involving several alter-egos like Tron Cat, Sam, Wolf and Ace The Creator, stitched together by several skits depicting 'therapy sessions'. For this reason, the first three albums are often described as the 'Wolf Trilogy' and although Tyler himself has never really confirmed any of this, the last few years have seen the internet buzzing with theories about how the lyrics on his first three albums link together to form part of a story.
However, on his fourth album, 2015's Cherry Bomb, there seemed to be a change of direction. Up until that point, most of Tyler's lyrics seemed to be projected from one fictional alter-ego or another, but the Odd Future track 'Sam (Is Dead)' featured a video in which Tyler's alter-egos are literally killed off, and the lyrics to various tracks on Cherry Bomb seemed to indicate that Tyler was done hiding behind characters and making an album that was more honest, more direct and more personal. So where does that leave us now?
This week sees Tyler deliver the next chapter in the saga with arrival of his fifth album, Scum F*ck Flower Boy, and once again Tyler has everyone guessing. Of the handful of tracks unveiled so far, 'Garden Shed' is the one inspiring the most chatter amongst his fans, since it seems to hint at the rapper coming out of the closet: “Garden shed for the garçons / Them feelings I was guardin' / Heavy on my mind / All my friends lost / They couldn't read the signs / I didn't wanna talk and tell 'em my location / And they ain't wanna walk / Truth is, since a youth kid, thought it was a phase / Thought it'd be like Frank; poof, gone / But, it's still goin' on.” Taken at face value, it's easy to see why the lyrics have inspired so much talk about his sexuality, but this is Tyler, after all, and we've been here before. More importantly, does it even matter?
What is clear about the new album though is that this is Tyler at his most introspective; the constant talk of fast cars on tracks like 'Who Dat Boy' point to the standard fare rap lyrics about living the high life, but even this is subverted by his admission that his purchases are filling a void of loneliness, and it's this latter theme that seems to be the dominant one right across the album. On songs like '911' and 'See You Again', Tyler appears to pour his heart out quite a bit, returning again and again to themes of being alone or unrequited love.
If you were expecting an album peppered with face-melters like some of his earlier records, you're probably in for a bit of a surprise here, but then it wouldn't be a Tyler album without that sense of puzzlement and wonder. It's certainly more downbeat than a lot of his output so far, but it's still a thing of beauty, packed as it is with twists, left turns and contradictions. Along with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and even Kanye West, Tyler is one of a handful of artists really pushing the boundaries in hip-hop and, if nothing else, Scum F*ck Flower Boy shows that he still has plenty more in the tank.
You can find the video for 'Who Dat Boy?' Below, beneath that we've picked our five key tracks from Tyler's story so far...
Taken from 2013's Wolf, 'Answer' sees Tyler and his alter-egos holed up in Camp Flog Gnaw enduring therapy sessions, and here he addresses issues with the relationship between himself and his absentee father. He doesn't pull any punches either...
A cut from 2011's Goblin, 'She' finds Tyler discussing his obsession with the girl that two of his alter-egos – Wolf and Sam – are fighting over, and wrestling with his feelings of lust. Frank Ocean adds vocals to a track that is one of the more downtempo moments on the album, but still one of its highlights.
Tyler is known for his vivid and often disturbing music videos, and 'IFHY' is a perfect example of this, set in a doll's house and featuring Sam and Wolf expressing their feelings on their love triangle with Salem. The song is supposedly written in two parts – one by Sam, the other by Wolf – with each of his alter-egos singing each other's parts, but the way this is enacted in the song's video is one of the most visually arresting things Tyler has done to date.
'Sam (Is Dead)'
Featured on one of Odd Future's mixtapes as opposed to a Tyler album, 'Sam (Is Dead)' essentially marks the end of the narrative featured throughout the Wolf Trilogy, with both its lyrics and video symbolically killing off the myriad characters involved in the story, leaving Tyler as the last man standing.
'F*cking Young / Deathcamp'
Our final pick features both the lead single and the opening track of Tyler's fourth album Cherry Bomb. The latter supposedly picks up immediately after the events of 'Sam (Is Dead)', but while 'F*cking Young' is framed as a song written for a girl, it's also thought to be a song addressing Tyler's younger self and trying to explain that he doesn't need to play a character, he just needs to believe in his own abilities. The video also features Tyler in a cinema, watching a movie that is supposedly about the events on his first three albums.