He was a power, eating cockroaches in music video, fantasizing about mangle and suicide, delighting in hiding behind a veneer of edgelord homophobic, misogynist lyrics. His was a youthful, playful, closely theoretical form of destruction. He reveled in blurring the line between character and artist and troll, between ego and id. Yet he was sol sure-handed in his art, so unchained, that he was precisely what I, and probably you, could have used as a kid : person who does not care about anyone ’ randomness rules but seems such a ace that no one opposing him could ever be taken seriously. Your parents can ground you ; they can ’ t do a thing to Tyler. frankincense : He represented exemption. A ghastly and dark one, for sure, but a exemption however .
His growing up came in stages. On earlier albums like “ Bastard ” ( 2009 ) and “ Goblin ” ( 2011 ), he is still thrilled by the unassailable powers of potty mouth, enchanted by the possibility of scandalizing people in a way that rap used to but hadn ’ metric ton in years. On “ Cherry Bomb ” ( 2015 ) and “ Flower Boy ” ( 2017 ), he ’ randomness thrilled by the power of music itself, and possibly by the office of success, excessively. On “ Flower Boy, ” in finical, he is writing about a male lover — plot bend ! — and is now brimming with questions about life and love, beauty and bees. The annoying-little-brother skater Tyler is surely distillery in the build, but quite frequently his inclusion feels like an reconsideration, a decision made in postproduction, a conciliation to the fans that stop him at Six Flags and ask for pictures in hopes of validating their own ease up youth.
then comes last year ’ randomness “ IGOR, ” and it ’ s an entirely different game. For many longtime Tyler fans, the album felt like an insult : Where are the bars, the bangers, the in-between fingers ? But as anyone doing a close read of Tyler ’ s discography knows, the real “ IGOR ” was with us all along. here the output genius and pure musicality he explored on “ Flower Boy ” meets the earnestness of “ Cherry Bomb. ” And the fact that the man who once rhymed “ Aretha ” with “ urethra ” had now made an entire album about one one dissolution ? Well, that ’ s the biggest middle finger to anyone missing the old Tyler.
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All this was brought into graphic relief on the album ’ randomness first and entirely individual, “ Earfquake, ” anchored by a pop-friendly three-chord progress, vocals by the Gap Band legend Charlie Wilson and a verse from the rapper Playboi Carti delivered so breezily as to about be a parody of a Playboi Carti verse. Tyler later admitted that he originally wrote it for Justin Bieber or Rihanna, both of whom passed before he took it himself. The Gap Band charm is potent : You can easily superimpose Tyler ’ s refrain over the verse chords from one of its biggest hits, “ Outstanding ” ( 1982 ), and Wilson ’ s influential voice technique — late imitated by the likes of Keith Sweat and Aaron Hall of Guy — is present here, in a telescopic recall to the late ’ 80s New Jack Swing he helped inspire.
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For me though, what hits hardest about “ Earfquake ” is that Tyler presents a interpretation of himself with no room to spare. The song, like much of the album, finds him at a loss. He has ditched the condom of youthful alienation to seek love and some version of earnestness — but, surprise, it hurts. such is the price of truly trying to care. “ Don ’ metric ton leave, ” he begs, “ it ’ s my fault. ” This is a Tyler without an answer. The certainty is gone, replaced with beseeching. He is refreshingly, if painfully, not in dominance. We ’ ve already heard angry Tyler, swaggering Tyler, depressive and violent Tyler, double-middle-finger Tyler and I ’ m-too-smart-for-all-this Tyler. “ Earfquake ” is the inaugural time we hear a Tyler in necessitate of person else. The land beneath his feet has indeed been shaken .
This pop-fueled exploration into genuine vulnerability — not in the sense of baring all, but in the smell of being open to being harmed — has reached a broader consultation than any of Tyler ’ s early work ever has. “ IGOR ” was the first No.1 album of his decade-plus career ; it netted him a Grammy. Musically, production-wise, it ’ s his most skilled creation, and literarily it ’ s his most completely thought-through. It can ’ thymine be everyone ’ sulfur favored. But since his first solo campaign in 2009, Tyler has gone from hating himself to loving himself to loving person else — with all the destruction and emotional debris that brings. I can ’ thyroxine think of a better definition of growing up than that .
Carvell Wallace is a put up writer for the magazine and a podcaster based in Oakland, Calif. He last wrote a feature article about the film “ Queen & Slim. ” Illustration by Denise Nestor. Source photograph : Stephane Cardinale/Corbis, via Getty Images .