Tyler, the Creator wants you to know that his skin is glowing. He’s booked, busy, and #blessed, basking in the afterglow that comes with being a critical and commercial success. His new album Call Me If You Get Lost follows 2019’s IGOR, the Grammy-winning, genre-busting LP that helped further solidify his status as a Serious Artist. Eleven years removed from his gleefully despicable, Tumblr-distributed debut LP, Tyler’s raps have evolved from homophobic to homoerotic, his amorphous threats of rape and murder replaced by emotional affairs that remain unconsummated. Were one to jump from 2009’s Bastard to CMIYGL, the whiplash would be debilitating. But viewed with a wide-angle lens, his growth from record to record has been steady, deliberate, and nothing short of remarkable. Now that he’s graduated from a Goblin to a Grammy, what’s his next act? Here are some early impressions:
IGOR was a watershed moment in Tyler’s career, the final stage in his metamorphosis from indie rap troll to mainstream pop star. And while the change appears to be permanent in some ways (CMIYGL uses much of IGOR’s vintage-synth-heavy musical palette), the new record also has him calling back to formative influences: Namely, DJ Drama’s legendary Gangsta Grillz mixtapes with the likes of Pharrell, Lil Wayne, and Young Jeezy. Here, Tyler uses the format to remind everyone why anyone ever paid attention to him in the first place: The boy can rap. He leaves most of the singing to guest stars, focusing his energies on bars designed to equally dazzle and desecrate: “Whips on whips, my ancestors got they backs out,” he spits on “LUMBERJACK.” Drama’s ad libs are persistent to the point of omnipresence, just like the old days. They’re also frequently hilarious: “You see these excursions right here?/Just too lavish to post on the ’gram,” he humblebrags on “HOT WIND BLOWS.” “THIS IS WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE WHEN THE MOON AND THE SUN COLLIDE.”
CMIYGL finds Tyler more adept than ever at weaving different ideas into one cohesive song, rather than just smushing them together. He toys with movement in the mix, bouncing sounds between left and right channels for an immersive headphones experience. The guest list features big names like Lil Uzi Vert, Pharrell, and Frank Ocean, but he’s never once upstaged—even the biggest stars fall into his geo-stational orbit. And while CMIYGL has a very specific underlying narrative lyrically, the production styles seem to tell the story of Tyler’s whole career thus far. There’s the post-Thundercat yacht R&B (“I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE”), a Gravediggaz horrorcore sample (“LUMBERJACK”), and a Salaam Remi flip that would not sound out of place on a Kendrick Lamar LP (“MANIFESTO”). So even though CMIYGL is a marked return to rap following the surreal pop of IGOR, Tyler is also clearly light years away from the skeletal productions of his first few LPs.
Baudelaire, the character Tyler plays throughout the album, is a proxy for Tyler’s newfound worldliness—and his inability to leverage that sophistication into the relationship of his dreams. The real-life Baudelaire was a French poet who mixed romance and realism—parts of his most famous work, 1857’s Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), were originally banned for being too explicit, and Baudelaire himself was prosecuted for indecency. So it scans that Tyler’s evolution from angsty teen spewing filth for shock value into sensitive lover man with a mischievous streak would culminate in this role, especially since most of these lyrics are about stealing his friend’s girl.
But the Baudelaire character also offers a clue as to the specifics of his growing pains. On “MASSA,” Tyler admits that at least some of his early ignorance was cured with his passport, which allowed him to leave his bubble for the first time and experience the world. Adding to the awkwardness of his metamorphoses is the fact that the transformation was not only artistic, but also physical, as he raps:
Yeah, when I turned 23 that’s when puberty finally hit me My facial hair started growing, my clothing ain’t really fit me That caterpillar went to cocoon, do you get me? See, I was shifting, that’s really why Cherry Bomb sounded so shifty My taste started changing from what it was when they met me
As Tyler has become more refined, so has his aesthetic, evolving from youthful chaos to careful curation. And CMIYGL’s is complemented by a cohesive set of visuals, from the album cover to billboards to teasers and music videos. Wes Anderson’s influence looms large here, with wide-angle shots on diorama sets, and vintage luxury suitcases shot with a low-contrast, brown-and-pastel color palette. It’s hard to separate Anderson’s manicured aesthetic from whiteness, and how Tyler’s proximity to and relationship with whiteness throughout his career has proven to be awkward and, at times, problematic. Beyond the eyebrow-raising voiceover in the LUMBERJACK teaser talking about the “powder that’s reflecting on my porcelain skin,” the visuals as a whole recall Tyler’s early comments about being “too white for the Black kids and too Black for the white kids,” and his history of speaking of Black people as a monolith.
At the album’s midpoint, Tyler attempts to work through his thoughts on his role as a Black man in the public eye, addressing the pressure he’s received to be vocal about police brutality and injustice in the world at large. It’s probably the clearest sign that he’s no longer viewed as just a teen rapscallion with a potty mouth, but a serious artist with a platform and an expectation to use it for good. “Hit some protest up, retweeted positive messages/Donated some funds then I went and copped me a necklace,” he raps, acknowledging his own contradictions before addressing potential critics: “I’m probably a coon, and your standard’s based on this evidence/Am I doing enough or not doing enough?” His ultimate takeaway? To advise the youngins to succeed the only way he knows how: Do you, and do it well.