ALBUM REVIEW: Tyler, The Creator, Call Me If You Get Lost
Have you guys seen that 2010s Mt. Rushmore for rappers? The one that has Kendrick, Drake, J. Cole and a voted in Nicki Minaj on it? Well, this may be a controversial opinion, but think J Cole should be replaced with Tyler, The Creator. As someone who grew up listening to both Goblin by Tyler and The Sideline Story by Cole around the same time, I always preferred Tyler’s music, warts and all. While Cole was making a name for himself by collabing with big names like Jay-Z, Tyler was actively making an effort to NOT do that. “What you think of Hayley Williams? Fuck her” he sneered, “...stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn esophagus” he continued. It’s not just the controversy that bumps Cole for me. How they individually define “DIY” and what they do with that distinction does it. While Cole is always bragging about going “Triple Platinum with no features” while dropping mid like KOD, Tyler quietly went number 1 with IGOR, an album that was much more impressively arranged and performed entirely by him (with a couple of little cameos). If 2021 albums are to be the deciding factor between whether it’s Cole or Tyler in the top four, then I think Tyler’s latest offering, Call Me If You Get Lost, crowns him as the victor.
Like Cole did with The Off Season, Tyler is expanding his horizons collaboratively and sonically, stepping out his comfort zone by relinquishing the host role and allowing some other producers like Beat Conducta, Jamie xx and Pharrell into the fold. In classic Le Fleur-era Tyler fashion, we get a loose concept that is ornately arranged. Picture The Grand Budapest Hotel but with DJ Drama guiding us instead of an elder Zero Moustafa. “We just landed in Genova...We on a yacht. A young lady just fed me vanilla ice cream, we all got our toes out!” he yells over jazzy woodwinds. The overall mood of the project is reminiscent of Westside Gunn’s Pray For Paris or Watch The Throne, a showcase of luxury, excess and talented rappers over beats that sound as expensive as the watches they adorn. Like he did so perfectly with Carti on “EARFQUAKE”, he cyphers with mixtape gods like NBA Youngboy, Lil Wayne and Lil Uzi Vert after a round of tennis on his 3rd private court.
What gives this a leg up over Pray For Paris, in my opinion, is both Tyler’s vision and the romantic side of things. While Tyler is most certainly on his “yo thanks for letting me borrow the Lambo this weekend bro” shit on songs like “CORSO” or “LUMBERJACK”, he occasionally stops to smell the roses. “WUSYANAME” is the first full track dedicated to this, a wonderfully soulful track where Tyler is essentially negging this girl who already has a boyfriend. “Ah you look malnourished!” he opens up, before bragging about all the cool bands and indie movies he knows that she’s “never heard of”. He’s essentially detracting her experiences and advertising himself to fill in the newly formed blank spots. I feel like he has mastered the overbearing courting tendencies he faltered on with older songs like “She” or more specifically on the creepy “FUCKING YOUNG/PERFECT”. He’s still toxic, but it’s so over-the-top and assured that it’s hard to get mad at it. Juxtaposed with short tracks like “WUSYANAME” are two massive behemoths in “SWEET...” and “WILSHIRE”, which both re-center the romance in a sea of brags and inspirational tracks like “RUN IT UP”.
These songs add and subtract from the experience of the album in different ways. “SWEET” is an incredibly nostalgic piece of ‘60s funk featuring heavenly vocals from Brent Faiyaz, making it more clear that Tyler is making physical moves on this girl with lyrics like “And you taste so good”. The back end of this song, “I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE”, is a bit more hit or miss. The 5-minute bossanova epic that TC crafts (by his fucking SELF) is impressive with classy pianos, dub reggae guitars, Dilla sirens, etc. The track also gives us the perspective of his female counterpart through Fana Hues vocals, but it’s Tyler’s strained singing that throws it all off. As Ibe and I concurred on this week’s podcast episode, it’s very overindulgent and painfully highlights a lacks of vocal skill. “WILSHIRE”, the other 8+ minute track, consists of a simple drum beat and Tyler just talking his shit. It reminds me of unstructured closers like Kanye’s “Last Call” off The College Dropout, it’s an informative, one-take hangout freestyle that caps the record off well. He paints an honest portrait of the relationship from start to finish, from first meeting to days in the swimming pool to the secret dates to the breakup, all perspectives are told fairly and accurately. While it’s maybe not the most hype moment on the record, it helps to show Tyler as a matured and nuanced romantic after all these years.
Just like Kanye’s messy masterwork The Life of Pablo, this feels like a greatest hits of songs that never came out. We get hints back to the Odd Future days through a connection with former member Domo Genesis (“MANIFESTO”), half rap-half soul as on IGOR (“RISE!”) and a version of “Tamale” that isn’t annoying as shit (“JUGGERNAUT”). We get career spanning but cohesive beat-work, as well as some life updates and nostalgia through the skits. “BLESSED” bothered me at first, but it just felt appropriate for this album upon my fourth or fifth listen. “Smell good, nail polish, Converse, Gucci...I’m out here scoring commercials, movies soon” is a lot to take in, but it all makes sense after he says “life is fucking beautiful” and I realize what this album really is trying to be. While he’s still the same guy he was on “911/Mr. Lonely” at his core, he is no longer trying to overcompensate for his flaws. He has the world by the balls, is traveling for leisure not business and after proving himself over and over again, he’s finally able to take a deep breath and reflect on his surprisingly full career as a 30-year old. While some of his old Eminem influenced tendencies (saying the R word in 2021) and some features like 42Dugg have some party fouls along the way, this is still a reflective and satisfying culmination for long time fans, and an accessible entry point for the new generation.