“I came a long way from my past,” Tyler, the Creator raps on ‘MANIFESTO’, the defiant standout from his sixth album ‘Call Me If You Get Lost’. The song is a snarled retort to so-called ‘cancel culture’; at once exhilarating and a little nostalgic, it displays a side of Tyler that we haven’t heard for a while. As he puts it on the lounge-rap cut ‘MASSA’: “I’ve calmed down in front of cameras… I’m not that little boy y’all was introduced to at 19.”
It’s true: Tyler’s journey – both creatively and personally – has been quite remarkable over the past decade. How many would have predicted that the delinquent provocateur of California’s rap rabble-rousers Odd Future would blossom into one of hip-hop’s most dynamic figures?
While he made his name with brash, no-holds-barred bars that encapsulated youthful rage, Tyler’s last handful of releases – 2017’s ‘Flower Boy’ and its Grammy-winning avant-pop follow-up ‘IGOR’ – showed stark growth as the harsh beats of old were swapped out for sublime, deftly-delivered jazz, R&B, funk and neo-soul flourishes. His lyrics, too, have recently taken on a far more reflective and meditative tilt, touching upon heartbreak, self-reflection and sexual fluidity.
A large part of ‘Call Me…’, however, sees him return to the craft that made him his name, a middle-finger-up to any fans chiding him for not rapping any more. While he warned fans in the build-up to ‘IGOR’ to not “go into this expecting a rap album”, it seems that Tyler has had a change of heart of late. He proclaimed in a recent Instagram Live: “Shout out rap music – I love it.”
In some ways, the record operates as a love letter to the genre. In part, it’s an homage to the much-loved 2000s ‘Gangsta Grillz’ mixtape series from American producer DJ Drama, who adds his signature ad-libs to the majority of the tracks here. The guest list, too, looks to the past and future of rap, bringing together hip-hop’s all-time greats (Lil Wayne, Pharrell Williams) and brightest stars of today (42 Dugg, YoungBoy Never Broke Again).
While Tyler’s recent records have been nothing short of brilliant, it’s still thrilling to hear Tyler let loose again on ‘Call Me…’, such as on the bassy bruiser ‘JUGGERNAUT’. Abrasive lead single ‘LUMBERJACK’ samples horrorcore pioneers Gravediggaz‘s 1994 track ‘2 Cups of Blood’, bringing us back to Tyler’s early, menacing ‘GOBLIN’ era.
‘MANIFESTO’, meanwhile, sees Tyler exorcising his demons – whether that’s guilt for old indiscretions (“I was a teener, tweetin’ Selena [Gomez] crazy shit”) or whether he’s using his voice for good (“I feel like anything I say, dawg, I’m screwin’ shit up / So I just tell these black babies, they should do what they want”). Mostly, though, he seems at peace with his own wrongdoings, noting on ‘CORSO’: “Look, tried to take somebody bitch ’cause I’m a bad person / I don’t regret shit”.
Personas have always been integral to Tyler’s work, from the demented “Satan’s son” of his ‘Bastard’ era to the platinum-wigged crooner of ‘IGOR’. Here, the star inhabits a new character, an extravagant globe-trotter named Tyler Baudelaire with the kind of pastel-backpack aesthetic that wouldn’t be out of place in a Wes Anderson movie. Tyler’s new adopted surname is presumed as a reference to the 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire, an artist known both for his opulence and obscenity. Both Tyler and the real-life Baudelaire have been fixated on the struggle between romance and realism, luxury and love, beauty and death, talents and controversies.
Like Baudelaire’s poetry, ‘Call Me…’ juxtaposes the grimier moments with flashes of beauty and tenderness. Spoken-word track ‘BLESSED’ sees Tyler counting all the things he’s thankful for: good health, a good career and a good skincare regime. Meanwhile, ‘MOMMA TALK’ features a voicemail of his mother stressing her love for her children and how she will (both figuratively and literally) fight for them: “If you fuck with my kids, I’ll beat up kids over my kid, OK?”.
One of the album’s highlights displays a softer touch too. ‘SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE’, an almost 10 minute-long two-parter, starts off as a glistening synth-pop number before transforming into a breezy reggae-inflected gem. The first half sees Tyler lost in the daydream of new love (“They should call you sugar, ’cause you’re so sweet to me”) before heartbreak befalls him (“Why am I here? Standing alone? Because I thought you wanted to dance with me”.)
Ultimately, ‘Call Me If You Get Lost’ is neither a full retreat into the past, nor Tyler trying to escape it. After all, as he stresses on ‘MANIFESTO’: “Internet bringin’ old lyrics up, like I hide the shit”.
Instead, the record stands as an all-encompassing culmination of Tyler’s ever-varying sound, showing that growth isn’t always linear and that artists can be a multitude of things. On ‘Call Me…’, Tyler cements his place as a generational talent, one in fine form and continuing to push the boundaries of his vision and kaleidoscopic sound.
Release date: June 24
Record label: Columbia Records / Sony