His sixth full-length album finds the Odd Future co-founder sounding like the truest version of himself yet.
There’s a point almost halfway through his latest opus, Call Me If You Get Lost, where Tyler, The Creator takes a moment to recall his journey from rap’s odd caterpillar to the music industry’s adored butterfly. The moment of revelation is sandwiched between boasting about the million dollars he paid Drake in 2019 for an ill-fated surprise performance at his festival, Camp Flog Gnaw, and his sexual attraction to Justin Bieber.
Because nobody’s sheer spectrum of output is wider than Tyler Okonma’s.
“I turned 23, that’s when puberty finally hit me,” he laments. “That caterpillar went to cocoon, do you get me?”
But it’s not the admission that’s the hook here. It’s the awareness of the metamorphosis that is the basis of Tyler’s latest elevation. The career outcast’s grasp of this concept signals one final leap for his genius, from prodigy who caught the eye of Kanye West to industry darling with the world in the palm of his hands.
Tyler’s daring fight against normalcy and impressively stubborn adherence to his own identity at all times has brought the world to him rather than having to conform to the world himself. ”N—s treat my nuance like it, like it was a nuisance so I was like, I was like, ‘Fuck ’em,’” he rants on “Runitup.”
“Fuck ’em, I did my own shit, and now I’m up and now all that paid off
And all them n—s, they peaked in high school
I always had confidence, I ain’t never been nervous, I ain’t never had anxiety, I ain’t never second-guessed myself
If I want it, I go get it.”
On Lost, he acknowledges that he’s grown, but refutes that he’s changed at all.
And he’s right.
Ironically, for a man who’s insisted on staying in character, it was when Tyler finally locked into what that as an artist that he finally achieved mainstream adulation. For his Grammy award-winning Igor, he transformed into a blonde-haired avatar for his own lovestruck emotions, weaved a tale of a love triangle and all of the anguish that came with wanting to win that race. He scored the biggest hit of his life with “Earfquake,” which was (in true Tyler fashion) a cast-off song he’d written and tried to give to megastars Rihanna and Bieber.
But while Igor was a clever bit of subterfuge, Lost is by Tyler’s own admission his most transparent and personal album yet. Yet again, he journeys through another love triangle, a reoccurring bit throughout the album, culminating in a captivating neatly uninterrupted eight-minute recollection of the entire saga on “Wilshire.”
But there are battles with identity, boasts about wealth, insights into Tyler’s views on race and his own Blackness as the now 30-year-old cultivates a sonic realm all to his own.
Bursting, buoyant production where synths take command (and drums are nearly an afterthought) sets the pace but doesn’t control the entire dynamic. On “Hot Wind Blows” with Lil Wayne, the drums are removed entirely, allowing the duo to float at their own tempo. Wayne explores every crevice of the instrumentation, delivering one of the year’s standout verses.
On what may emerge as the most radio-ready of the album’s 16 songs, Tyler presents a bouncy sound on “Rise!” harkening back to peak Neptunes and N.E.R.D., huge influences on his career. But while he balances singing and rapping, it doesn’t feel like a copycat act or a homage, but rather his own organic amalgamation of himself and his influences. This is an entirely new sound is crafted solely for and by Tyler.
As he puts it on “Massa,” if his oft-maligned, scatterbrained third album Cherrybomb was “shifty” because his tastes were changing, Lost has him finally locked into what he believes he ultimately sounds like.
After arriving on the scene decked in a Supreme six-panel hat it must be maddening for Tyler to watch rappers who scoffed at his cockroach-eating weirdness a decade ago flock to Supreme sweaters and jackets like they’re designer garb. But it’s weirdly the perfect encapsulation of his self-described journey from caterpillar to butterfly.
Tyler had the right idea a decade ago; he was just the only one that knew it. Now, everybody agrees with him. And since that he’s honed this form of self and created an island unto himself, the only question left is what he does next.
And how long will it take for the rest of the world to catch up with it.