Tyler, the Creator’s career is built on winking oversharing. The Odd Future universe sprang from a big bang of Tumblr, Twitter, and Formspring accounts to flood the web with original photography, personal revelations, and iterative in-jokes. Tyler was at the forefront of this deluge, aping the language of therapy to explore his every idea in gruesome, charming, and absurd detail. To listen to his early music was to submerge yourself in an actual stream of consciousness, with no thought—whether vile, embarrassing, or inane—left unsaid. Provocation was built into that openness, and it understandably became the defining element of Tyler’s music (for Tyler and for listeners), but the mock therapy sessions staged on Bastard (2009) and Goblin (2011), and the psychodrama of Wolf (2013), had purposes alongside crude shock and annoyance. They were self-examination, imagination unleashed in hopes of understanding the imaginer.
On Flower Boy, his fifth solo full-length, Tyler has achieved a new level of self-understanding and it’s a marvel how coy he is about that discovery. The writing here is sparse and evasive, full of pregnant pauses, coded language, and outright omissions. Revelations are frequent but unembellished, almost hidden. The album’s opener, “Foreword,” presents itself as a self-reckoning (“Shout out to the girls that I led on for occasional head and always keeping my bed warm”), but is really about delaying the day when that reckoning comes. “How many raps can I write ‘til I get me a chain? How many chains can I wear ‘til I’m considered a slave? How many slaves can it be ‘til Nat Turner arise? How many riots can it be until them black lives matter?” he poses in succession, asking questions to avoid answers. “Who Dat Boy,” the first single, is frank about Tyler’s dating preferences (“I’m currently looking for ’95 Leo”), but buries that openness between goofy boasts.