The hip hop virtuoso revisits and refines past eras to achieve artistic equilibrium – a true matrimony of Tyler’s early and latest visions.
Tyler Okonma has never been short of ambition. It could be argued he is the most ambitious artist in modern, mainstream hip hop. On his latest studio album he lists all his achievements in 57 seconds, which includes but isn’t limited to; a home owner, clothing brand connoisseur, festival organiser and movie scorer. That is before we even get to the music, which has endured a transformative evolution since his debut with the 2009 mixtape Bastard. It was 2017’s Flower Boy that launched the rebirth, a seasonal odyssey that fused alternative hip hop with twinkling neo-soul. The conceptual 2019 record IGOR dared to jump a step further, indulging fully in synth-pop and sung vocals. After checking off such bold experimentations, the direction of his latest offering ends in nothing but question marks.
Call Me If You Get Lost accomplishes the finest balance of Tyler’s career, backtracking to the raps pre-Flower Boy while maintaining the progressive sound and production of his last two albums for a complete Tyler, The Creator experience.
The classic “This new album sounds like [insert artist’s nostalgic album here]” fan statement gets thrown around a lot, especially with Tyler, The Creator. However, Call Me If You Get Lost fits this trope to a tee. Call Me If You Get Lost feels like a sequel to Cherry Bomb, with a dash of Wolf. In fact, Tyler has openly confessed a bondage to his 2015 record, stating that it is “the music I’ve always wanted to make”. Its mixed reception sent Tyler back to the drawing board. He even references the album on the song “MASSA”, rapping “See, I was shiftin’, that’s really why Cherry Bomb sounded so shifty.” Fast forward six years and the abrasive tones and stacked collaborations are back, except now they are polished via the experience of Fligor.
Most notably, the bangers are back in abundance. Call Me… assorts a line of short yet high-energy tracks – some of his most bombastic to date. Tracks like “CORSO” and “LEMONHEAD” only clock in at two minutes but provide a seamless punch that exists throughout the whole album. Lead single “LUMBERJACK” was the cryptic taster that proved to represent the sound of the album. “JUGGERNAUT” with Lil Uzi Vert and Pharrell Williams is one of the strangest songs in Tyler’s catalogue, switching thumping bass with digital ringing over the course of its short run-length. It is when Call Me deluges in this energy where it delivers brilliant payoff for the listener.
From top to bottom, Tyler curates a vintage mixtape experience, fulfilling his long-term desire to earn a Gangsta Grillz mixtape. Equipped with smooth track transitions and DJ Drama’s iconic host commentary. For those cultured within the 2000s mixtape era, Drama’s vocals will be no problem. He is the complimentary popcorn to the movie, an extension to the existing energy. There may be a mixtape feel but the music is certainly album-quality.
During release week, Tyler went on Instagram Live and declared that Westside Gunn inspired him to rap again. What results is Tyler’s best rapping to date, dealing a newfound vim in his pen and performances. Quotables such as “Earlobes look like headlights” flock and flutter through your ears, a refreshing departure from the blemished singing on IGOR. This is Tyler, The Creator in his finest element, spitting with alacritous intent.
As confessional as Flower Boy may have been, Call Me… is comfortably Tyler’s most personal album to date. On “MANIFESTO” he addresses his juvenile past; the third verse’s opening four lines deposit the maturity that critics and fans claim Fligor had. Elsewhere are references to his mother living in a shelter pre-“Yonkers”, coupled with braggadocious yet reflective anecdotes of the riches he’s rightfully earned. But Tyler’s at his most candid in the album’s eight and ten-minute centrepieces: “SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE” and “WILSHIRE”, which break down the true story of Tyler secretly pursuing a relationship with his friend’s partner. Even though this is framed under the Tyler Baudelaire character, it feels far too frank to be fictional.
Like the conductor he is, Tyler guarantee that every contributing vocalist is on their A-game. Call Me plucks guests from polar eras, re-inviting Lil Wayne and Pharrell as well as new trap sensations YoungBoy NBA and 42 Dugg. The latter two’s involvement raised eyebrows, but silence their doubters to deliver two of the most memorable contributions to the album. Meanwhile, Lil Wayne proves he has never lost his touch on the sensual “HOT WIND BLOWS” that radiates opulence. All together, the guests are like well-oiled cogs essential to the function of the machine that Tyler controls.
What escapes Call Me… is that foreshadowing mark of a timeless record. While that cannot be immediately decided without the necessary clockwork, the Odd Future star’s legacy is driven by his cult fanbase, whom administer classic status to his albums. Like Flower Boy and Igor, Call Me… is a strong body of work that doesn’t shake the culture enough to warrant a spot in the hall of fame. It is an album that is rough around the edges, although that often plays to its strengths, and a hay’s width away from a song or two that make a mark outside of Tyler’s core audience.
This is the album where Tyler gains consistency, not reinvention. Carbon tropes of past songs exist on “SWEET”, shedding light on the thought that Tyler is redoing Cherry Bomb with every chance he gets. Yet Tyler has every right to use his past templates as a renewable energy source, especially when Call Me… upgrades and improves each and every one of those past attempts.
With no glaring lows in sight, Call Me If You Get Lost is one of Tyler, The Creator’s strongest records to date – right at the apex of his discography alongside Flower Boy. The constant reference to a boat in Geneva is the exact picture the music reps, and the listener is right in the thick of it. If Tyler, The Creator really is a late bloomer, he is living proof that unlocking your potential is always better late than never.
8.5 / 10
Best tracks: “WILSHIRE”, “HOT WIND BLOWS”, “LEMONHEAD”, “MANIFESTO”, “CORSO”, “WUSYANAME”, “LUMBERJACK”