As the leader of the Odd Future collective that once included Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt, Domo Genesis, Casey Veggies, Syd, and Vince Staples, Tyler created a West Coast empire like a modern day Dr. Dre. He doesn’t constantly produce his friends projects or have protege after protege, but he’s still the creator of it all, if not the most successful and famous *cough Frank cough*. Nonetheless, he champions the trend-starter element of his clique as an addition to his name, much like Chance the Rapper, and his fans treat him just so—to them he can do no wrong, like a god.
On his latest record,
Scum Fuck Flower Boy, Tyler ditches the heinous lyrics of Odd Future’s past to show a softer, yet always controversial side. He might not be homophobic, but he’s used the word “faggot” multiple times in his past material. He might not be coming out on this record, something the media drooled over, but he states that he’s been “kissing white boys since 2004.” Tyler was banned from entering the UK back in 2015 by Theresa May for his violent language, though now states: “tell these black kids they can be who they are. Dye your hair blue, shit I’ll do it too. Look I smell like Chanel” (a reference to a song Frank Ocean wrote about his bisexuality and his current hair color).
Tyler might defend his use of language as provocative shock art coming from an alter ego he created for his music, but it’s harmful language no matter who it comes from, stage persona or actual beliefs. While he might not be screaming such obscenities on Flower Boy, a type of queerbating still exists, as Tyler alludes over and over again to a conflict in his mind and its relationship to men, such as his friend Frank Ocean, and the importance of being oneself.
It’s no surprise to see, as the artist has been living and breathing a post-label lifestyle ever since Odd Future was formed. The use of slurs and violence in their music was never meant to hurt, it was just aggressive angst turned up to the max from some crazy kids out in California. “You can take the power out of that word,” he told Arsenio Hall. “The way that I see things, it’s you chose to be offended if you care more about stuff like that.” Whether you agree its subversive art or just poorly executed and offensive is up to you, says Tyler, but the lucky part is how little it really matters on Flower Boy.
We can spend all day talking about his past use of homophobic slurs or his “coming out of the closet” year after year, but the moments on Flower Boy that everyone focuses on regarding these subjects are relatively insignificant. As Tyler said on “Yonkers” back in 2011, “I’m a fucking walking paradox. No I’m not,” and Flower Boy is his most straight-forward album yet. Just as I refuse to classify Jay-Z’s 4:44 only by his line about the Jewish people on “The Story of O.J.,” I refuse to classify Tyler’s Flower Boy only by his inner turmoil on the song “Garden Shed.”
Is he queerbating? Maybe. Is he a subversive person with a history of homophobia who is still struggling with coming out? Maybe that too. Arguably however, in the context of Flower Boy, it’s not something that even begins to define the record. As he said about his “Garden Shed” lines on “November,” “all my day ones turn to three, fours ’cause of track seven.” It really feels like the media took one line on the record about kissing boys and applied it to every possible line about hard decisions or confusion on the record.
Tyler also talks about his battle with depression, the Black Lives Matter movement, his own shattered ego, fame, and lost love on Flower Boy, an incredibly diverse record that has been shamefully marginalized as just another attempt from Tyler to come out of the closet and “redeem himself,” or whatever kind of redemption that would entail. Tyler isn’t one to step away from controversy; in fact, every time he’s asked about his lyrics, he doubles down (such as in his Arsenio interview above, or to MTV News here).
If Tyler wasn’t telling the truth about his sexuality, I don’t think he would hide it or make some sweeping announcement of its truth. For Tyler, just saying what he said on the record is probably the biggest sort of announcement we would get. In all actuality, he might have had relationships with men in the past, or even presently, but not choose to identify in any way, and I certainly wouldn’t expect Tyler to throw out any apologies.
Still, Flower Boy is my favorite record of Tyler’s. Showcasing his abilities as a producer and songwriter, he told Stephen Colbert that he kept his rap verses short to really focus on producing, having people sing, and what was really important. Most of the songs are not only incredibly catchy, but memorable after just one listen. Much of Flower Boy is actually his softer side, like on “Where This Flower Blooms,” “See You Again,” and “Garden Shed.” Tyler has a penchant to make these kinds of songs still have an unsettling synth line under all of the lovely melodies however, connecting them to more aggressive tracks like “Who Dat Boy” and “I Ain’t Got Time!” (a track he originally wanted Kanye West and Nicki Minaj on before they turned him down).
If anything, Flower Boy feels like an escape for Tyler, like most of his records do, in which Tyler can exit his life and go to a place where he can process all of his thoughts, good or bad, in some stream of consciousness universe where he can scream “fuck it!”after rapping the name of the song six times or so before purging his mind all over it and drifting away into ignorant bliss. This is the heart of Flower Boy, where thoughts of anxiety, fear, depression, and maybe even coming out of the closet, can be quickly rapped and then drowned out in beautiful melodies.
When Larry King asked Tyler if he thinks we’ll ever have an openly gay rap artist, he responded with “Why does that shit matter? If you wanna fuck dudes, why does that matter? Why do we care?” As he says on the Frank Ocean-assisted track “Where This Flower Blooms,” “CNN doubted ’cause my skin is dark, but they forget when I get in my car… I rock, I roll, I bloom, I glow.”
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.