Wishing for Tyler, the Creator to make another rap album is almost as clichéd as debating whether or not he’s gay. Once, as ringleader of Californian rap nine-piece Odd Future, Tyler was banned from entering the UK by then foreign secretary Theresa May on account of his violent and homophobic lyrics.
But over the next decade he drifted further and further from horror-core hip-hop into softer, more ambiguous realms. He rapped about Timothée Chalamet. He flirted with pop and funk and jazz. He made “Garden Shed”, a genius, grown-up song that all but confirmed his homosexuality in the eyes of some.
By 2019 Tyler was explicitly telling fans his fifth studio LP IGOR was not a rap album. He sang about having his heart broken by a boy, though he never publicly came out. Critics loved it, but many yearned for Tyler to return to rapping, to combine the biting wit of his earlier days with the maturity he had since grown into.
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IGOR’s follow-up Call Me If You Get Lost is the work of a man who knows exactly what people are saying about him and just loves that they can never quite figure him out. In an act of almost predictable unpredictability, it’s about a love affair with a girl. And it’s a rap album.
It’s a record that not only gives fans what they want but makes an artistic statement out of doing so. “You asked for it!” shouts host DJ Drama on “LUMBERJACK”. His very presence is an homage to the hip-hop genre. He shouts life-affirming ad-libs throughout as audio ballast (other examples include “Dedicated to the haters! The non-believers! And the disgruntled!”), just as he did on his mid-2000s mixtape series Gangsta Grillz, a collection of over 100 records by rappers like Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane.
But the mixtape era was all black, grey, dark blue, blood red. Tyler uses pastel colours, painting his nails green in the album’s music videos and making it all feel like a Wes Anderson film. “LEMONHEAD” ends with a passage of idyllic elevator music, all cherubic flutes and wallpaper keys. “SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANTED …” tries slightly too hard to sound nice, wandering between ideas without nailing any of them.
But it has more edge than IGOR. “WILSHERE” is a brilliant eight minutes of straight rapping, with no hook, a looping beat and a winding love story. Tyler confesses to falling for another man’s girlfriend, owns up to being in the wrong, then admits he got hurt when she chose the other guy.
It’s both functional and complex, immensely enjoyable and unfailingly clever. It might be the album Tyler was born to make.