Like most of the rest of his career, the story behind Tyler, The Creator’s fourth and latest album, Cherry Bomb, is playing out on his own terms. In the current age of surprise digital album releases, liner notes and extensive crediting are sometimes lost in the shuffle. On its face Cherry Bomb is a solitary affair, the 13-song tracklist that appeared with little warning on iTunes and Spotify mentions none of the features contained inside: neither the grandiose Kanye West and Lil Wayne appearances on “SMUCKERS,” nor the in-the-pocket cameos from Roy Ayers or Leon Ware (or Pharrell or Charlie Wilson or Toro Y Moi, for that matter). And while Cherry Bomb plays out like a heady manifesto from the depths of Tyler’s twisted psyche the album is a showcase in marvelous collaboration, an awe-inspiring peek at the Odd Future frontman’s genius as a producer. Tyler, The Creator isn’t just pimping out his rolodex, the guy seems to be living out his dreams.
The just-turned-24 year old has taken to Twitter to offer a form of 21st century liner notes, blasting off little revelations about each song. A prime example, “RUN,” is “based off of friends that started gang banging,” or that another, “BLOW MY LOAD,” is a perversely specific fantasy about a particular English model. Tyler also doled out credit in the same fashion, writing excitedly about pulling the best out of his icons on his own album—”Tell me I didnt bring out the best Wayne and Ye verse in a while f-ck!”—and amping up the performances of relative unknowns, like a “20 year old kid named Arron” who “played the sax on ‘2SEATER.’” “Hes beast.”
Immediately and throughout the album, Tyler’s voice is buried in the mix, sometimes to the point of being obscured almost completely. On the first track, “DEATHCAMP,” Tyler bears out his N.E.R.D. obsession with a pounding but approachable punk inflection, crunchy distorted guitars attack aggressively and he raps outright, “In Search Of… did more for me than Illmatic,” a sort of bottom-line explanation for the music that follows.
Lyrically Tyler hints at some of the concepts he mines throughout the album, opening himself up bare to build up a self-love manifesto that’s equal parts “I’m weird and awesome” as it is an underhanded “f-ck you” to oppressive doubters. “So special the teacher asked if I was autistic / And now I’m making plates, you just washing the dishes,” he raps before throwing fame-obsessed rappers under the bus, reminding everyone, “I don’t like to follow the rules / And that’s just who I am.” On the next song, “BUFFALO,” Tyler brings forth a figurative call-to-arms that laments the lack of leaders in his community. The revelation that he’s the only one around is as inspiring as it is jarring, and more than a little disconcerting: “How many leaders in the house?” he challenges. “Well can’t somebody bring the mirrors out, I’m getting lonely.” The voice doesn’t belong to Tyler, but it seems to weigh over him to offer a hefty reminder: “Do not fuck this up!”
Cherry Bomb finds Tyler tied up in that internal struggle of how to proceed with his influence. Reassuringly, he sounds reinvigorated by positivity, a change in course—Tyler, for years after all, has been a model of a particularly youthful apathy and wry cynicism—that bodes well not just for his own personal well-being but also for the audience on which he’s cast a spell. “I don’t wanna crash anymore, I don’t wanna crash anymore,” he raps in a near-monotone on “PILOT,” a leadership title Tyler adopts for himself, “I just wanna soar through the space, let the wind hit my face.” Cherry Bomb is tied up in that light of inspiration and its artist seems to want something better for everyone.
Musically the album is Tyler’s most ambitious and fully-formed― if not his magnum opus― as an ambitious producer. “FIND YOUR WINGS” is a Roy Ayers tribute—crisp drums, chunky synths, an upbeat Jazz fusion aesthetic borne out by savvy chord progressions—that features the man himself on vibes. The ode-to-Ayers includes the swooping vocals of Kali Uchis. Her own performance is a possible homage to mid-70’s Ayers’ collaborator Chicas whose singing can be heard on songs like “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” and “Running Away.” Besides Tyler and despite her sporadic appearances, Uchis is the only other sustained star on Cherry Bomb and her placement on songs like “FIND YOUR WINGS” and “FUCKING YOUNG / PERFECT” cement her rising-star status and versatility. That second song is the first to get a video from the album and exists as a beautiful and simultaneously unsettling explanation of young love. The song plays out in two halves. The first is a careful exploration of the heartache Tyler encounters upon falling in love with perilously-young teenager. The second is a dreamy-eyed ode sung from the perspective of the adolescent girl which Kali sings in a near baby-talk inflection. “SMUCKERS” consolidates Tyler’s charm and depravity into a witty and expansive proclamation. “Money, money, money, money, money ain’t the motive,” he starts, adding on later, “Got too much drive, need like ten lanes…I need music all over the street like Erick Sermon.” The song also pulls out the best from both Kanye West and Lil Wayne, with Yeezy donning his most arrogant and likeable vulnerability as well as a handful of hilarious one-liners. “Why, why, why?” Ye sings before what would be a show-stopping verse on another album. “Why don’t they like me? / ‘Cause Nike gave lot of n-ggas checks / But I’m the only n-gga to ever check Nike.” The whole song is a powerful statement from three beloved but tortured outcasts. “I am the free n-gga archetype,” Ye raps in an unaffected tone, “I am the light and the beacon / You can ask the deacon.”
As a whole Cherry Bomb might double as a conversion tool for the doubters as much as an affirmation for Tyler, The Creator’s long-time fans. Not for the first time in his career, Tyler has proven himself worthy of praise that extends beyond an acknowledgment of his clever and voraciously original oddness. Here there’s an undeniable sophistication in the music that has long been creeping in the depths of his work but that is now fully and obviously realized in the harmonies of “2SEATER” or the floating jam complexities of the final song, “OKAGA, CA.” The album is expansive, a spectacle full of savvy musical twists and turns and an all-embracing message. It’s a consuming and gratifying project to digest. The more layers a listener and Tyler himself is willing to peel back, the more obvious the genius inside becomes apparent. Cherry Bomb isn’t meant to be defused, it’s meant to blow up and diffuse in every direction.
Listen to Tyler, The Creator’s Cherry Bomb on Spotify here.
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