Indie rapper blends politics and perversion

With Cherry Bomb, Tyler, the Creator crafts a sonic cornucopia that cartwheels from blearing static to jazzy interludes while still retaining the synth-heavy melodies Odd Future is known for. However, Cherry Bomb represents an artistic step back for Tyler, lacking the self-revealing introspection and provocativeness that made Goblin and Wolf unmissable works of indie rap.

Tyler strove for a broader and more eclectic soundscape in Cherry Bomb, a laudable ambition that works in some places, yet the intervals of longueur and unintelligibility obstruct Tyler’s fiery energy.

The most salient trope threading through Cherry Bomb is a desire for ascendancy, embodied in the metaphor of careless, thoughtless flight. In “PILOT”, Tyler raps “I don’t want to crash anymore/ I just want to soar through space and let the wind hit my face.”

And PILOT beautifully represents the scabrous ways Tyler presents his thematics, for in the midst of self-actualizations like “The boy’s a fucking problem like turbulence boy, get used to it” he incorporates references to the shoe-bomber and crashing planes into buildings. Then the song concludes with Tyler lapsing into self-doubt: “You in first class class but you feel like coach.”

“RUN” finds Tyler denouncing gang culture, injecting didacticism and political undertones, which he usually shys away from or leaves implicit. The sequencing of the song is effective: after a little over a minute of amphetiminic delivery with lines like “They got a homie called karma he gon meet you/ Better look the other way if he ever see you,” the listener is soothed and consoled with “FLY YOUR WINGS”, a jazzy interlude with dreamy xylophones and piano riffs.

“FLY YOUR WINGS” continues the flight trope, which is subsequently inverted on “CHERRY BOMB” when Tyler raps “Tie the knot/ Kick the chair/ Float in the air.” In typical Odd Future fashion, self-destruction haunts attempts at escape.

“BLOW MY LOAD” and “FUCKING YOUNG/PERFECT” feature libidinous pining after women, although Tyler has jettisoned the masochistic eroticism that fueled songs like “Tron Cat.” Neither song is romantic: in “BLOW MY LOAD”, the ultimate end of Tyler pursuing the girl is his orgasm, and “FUCKING YOUNG/PERFECT”, Tyler grapples playfully with his attraction to an underage girl.

The latter is creative and poppy, yet both sexual paeans fail thematically; Tyler comes off as perverted (“I’m a pervert with a purpose”) and onanistic and forgoes the sensuous details and evocative samples that made Kanye’s “Hell Of A Life” and “I’m In It” work as sex songs.

Cherry Bomb tires in the intervals where the album becomes overly distorted. In the title track, a wall of overbearing static is unpleasant to listen to and makes Tyler hard to understand. “CHERRY BOMB” draws heavily on the brash, anti-melodies of Yeezus (he even raps “I am a god”), which can be cacophonous. But Tyler often rewards the listener after taxing them, and it remains obvious that Tyler is making music that sounds exactly like he wants it to.

“DEATH CAMP” is heavily rock-inspired in the style of Lil Wayne’s Rebirth and Eminem songs like “Berzerk,” but the melding of genres doesn’t justify itself. Nevertheless, on long songs like “2SEATER” and “SMUCKERS,” Tyler shows his virtuosity in being able to transform songs within themselves, seamlessly patching together divergent melodies. Accordingly, there is more of an emphasis on instrumentation and orchestration and less on drawn-out verses, a fact Tyler acknowledges on “2SEATER”: “[Fans] Hoping that I ditch the chords and go pick up the pen again.”

In Cherry Bomb, Tyler is less prone to self-doubt and loathing tracks like “Bastard” and “Goblin”. The new confidence is likely a function of Tyler’s success, and he communicates it through his new affinity for his reflection.

In “BUFFALO,” Tyler raps “How many leaders in the house?/ Well can somebody bring the mirrors out? I’m getting lonely” and, in “THE BROWN STAINS OF DARKEESE,” “See I look in the mirror and he said, ‘You are the man.’” Whereas Tyler was once the insular, subversive misanthrope, Cherry Bomb finds him transitioning into the role of unbridled leader, and the music has a corollary upbeat tempo.

Notable in Cherry Bomb is Tyler lapsing into some of the materialism and braggadocio that he largely eschewed in earlier works. But rather than bringing Tyler any real satiety, these asides to his wealth seem to function mostly as rebuttals to his persistent detractors (“And now I pay a mortgage and they stuck in tuition”). “2SEATER” features Tyler’s first foray into luxury rap. Indeed, he wanted to have Rick Ross on the song, wherein he rhapsodizes his two-seater and waxes on garages full of cars.

Cherry Bomb displays depressive thoughts, although they seem to haunt Tyler less than they did in previous works. While “Bastard” and “Goblin” sounded like necessary bloodlettings for Tyler’s darkest thoughts, in Cherry Bomb, Tyler is more comfortable in his own skin. He is just as indifferent to what other people think and more willing to experiment with different sounds and orchestral arrangements, for better and for worse.

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