“How many cars can I buy ’til I run out of drive?” So begins “Foreword,” the first track on Tyler the Creator’s fourth studio album: Flower Boy (AKA Scum Fuck Flower Boy). This opening line, at first glance, conforms with much of modern rap’s materialistic boasting. Upon closer inspection, however, it actually sets a unique tone that subverts this boastful inclination. Instead of outright bragging about his purchasing power, he questions how long his hobby of buying (expensive) cars will satisfy him. Tyler uses shows of wealth – fancy cars, his mansion, etc. – not to boast, but as a tool to aid in an exploration of his identity. It is here that Flower Boy stands above the rest of his discography.
Throughout his career Tyler has often been critiqued for his unabashed crudeness, often deservedly so. His earlier projects were ripe with a level of misogyny and homophobia (sadly all too common in rap music today) that turned away many a listener, myself included, from the otherwise interesting musical ideas at play. On Flower Boy, however, Tyler presents himself in the midst of an identity crisis. He presents realizations about his sexuality and how hard he tries to fit in alongside his peers in the rap industry. In doing so, he investigates how his former braggadocio is actually the result of a deeper loneliness. This doesn’t excuse his offensive lyrics in the past, but it does paint a far more complex portrait of a confused young man—a portrait that, in my opinion, is worth the listen.