As the L.A. rapper and producer releases new music, he has continued to move from precocious teenager to peerless director. His tastes may seem in line with the idea, a claim that isn’t entirely false, but we do live in a world where a teenager could write as intelligibly about Tortoise or Stevie Wonder as the low end of professional music critics. Those who have approached Tyler with a working knowledge of 90s indie and pop music can appreciate where he’s looked to for influence and features. Proving to be a hipster worth his salt, he went from an album that boasts a Lætitia Sadier (Stereolab) feature to working with Leon Ware. This combined with his devil-may-care approach to songwriting has led to consistently good albums and stellar singles. Yet the Tyler, The Creator project has had not turned the corner at any point in its first three releases.
His latest, Cherry Bomb, is his In Search Of…, which is to say that it is a hard left, even for Tyler, The Creator. Loosely referred to as The Neptunes’ (billed as N*E*R*D) first rock album, In Search Of… was marrying conventional skills with unconventional skills to make music that had no business existing before it was cool. It’s not a hard connection to make, considering Pharell is often cited as a primary influence for Tyler, The Creator. What’s more is how outrageous each album opens up. N*E*R*D’s “Lapdance” could have been used by nu-metal faux-provocateurs (hed) p.e., while Tyler’s “DEATHCAMP” is post-apocalyptic James Brown to re-package his mission statement since 2009 in the form of an overture. (For those of you counting at home, this is the third James Brown comparison I have for you this year. Mystikal’s is the best.) Both works are the product of well-equipped artists locked in a studio at their most eccentric.
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Where Tyler, The Creator’s shtick has held his work back when employed haphazardly, it tends to function as noise on Cherry Bomb. He still speaks like a lewd teenager, which is something he’s been doing long enough that he gets a pass for it. Still, it’s hard to shake the idea that his persona has been reduced to a defense mechanism. It’s the final nail in the coffin of “BUFFALO”, which squanders a sample of Bunny Sigler’s “Shake Your Booty” that casual rap heads will remember from Pusha T’s “Numbers On The Boards.” It’s the album’s only huge misstep. Elsewhere, Tyler, The Creator’s ego only takes center stage on top of undeniable production.
Then there’s “BLOW MY LOAD”, a sincere, on-brand diatribe about wanting to have sex with Cara Delevingne. It works where J. Cole’s “Wet Dreamz” doesn’t because we’ve come to expect Tyler, The Creator to Too $hort levels of coarseness from him. Yet, the sex talk here is as thoughtful as it is uncomfortable. He sounds even better when he’s got a girl in his car on the next track. All of this is awkward, still, as Tyler glo’d up, so to speak, more than five years ago and he writes like he’s still growing up because he is. By comparison, he’s assured when waxing poetic about a girl six years his junior—an endeavor that can only be described as “Tyga outside of Kylie Jenner’s window music.”
His strongest traits remain his ability behind the boards and his ability to get the best of his artists. In 2015, he remains the only person capable of getting the best of “old Kanye West” AND “old Lil’ Wayne” on the same track. He might also be the only person who knows how to properly use ScHoolboy Q as an instrument. And those are just the big rap names (besides Pharrell) he invites to his post-industrial R&B party. It barely works, as some of the lighter numbers sound like he’s putting The Internet (the band) in a blender, while “CHERRY BOMB” is Death Grips by way of Arthur Russell. Tyler, The Creator worked in enough guests, context, and references to make Cherry Bomb a satisfactory imagination of the recesses of his mind. The same may ring true for his last album, Wolf, but this is simply a better offering.
As in Wolf, he breaks character to reveal a warm, caring individual. While sincere sex raps will gain more attention from writers and teenagers alike, “RUN” and “KEEP DA O’S” takes his MacKaye-an attitude about drugs and applies it to a more concrete fear like his friends getting involved in gangs. He’s no word artist, but Tyler, The Creator is at his best when he means what he says. More importantly, he’s the empathetic character that should be picking up where the vapid In Search Of… left off. As such, Cherry Bomb is the album 2015 didn’t know it needed.
Album Rating: 4/5