Tyler The Creator entertains with Cherry Bomb


Tyler Okonma, better known by his alias Tyler, the Creator, is a 24-year-old hip-hop phenom from Ladera Heights, California.

At just 18 he started his own record label called Odd Future Records and had started gaining extreme amounts of fame on the internet for his eccentric personality and abstract musicality.

Cherry Bomb, Tyler’s fourth LP and third official album, complements his characteristics to a tee, in ways both good and bad. His greatest strength has always been world-building, using a synth-heavy blitz of candy-colored jazz chords taken straight (sometimes blatantly so) from the Pharrell Williams handbook. Cherry Bomb isn’t exactly a hard left turn from this lane, but it is a quick swerve.

He’s still occasionally obnoxious and shockingly adolescent for someone almost a quarter-century old. His idea of a joke is making the lead single to his rap album a Stevie Wonder-inspired bop about an underage relationship. What makes the joke “land,” of course, is that the song is really good, a warm-sounding piece of pop music complete with an appearance from the ineffable Charlie Wilson. It’s a smart, annoying, obnoxious, creative, and borderline genius tactic from someone still working on reaching his final form.

The best thing Cherry Bomb has going for it is relative brevity. His last albums were notoriously long, which felt like a betrayal of one of Tyler’s biggest strengths—shotgun blasts of creativity and anguish as opposed to woozy, multi-part dirges that bordered on self-parody.

The opening song Deathcamp was allegedly inspired by The Stooges, and it sounds like what would happen if you put Tyler’s idea of The Stooges on top of Glassjaw, on top a vintage N.E.R.D. production.

Your mileage may vary, but I find it thrilling—the influence of rock music, while always present in Tyler’s music, is overwhelming here, which creates a Rebirth-ian wrinkle to an album that, to its strength and detriment, mostly recycles three or four similar ideas.

Pilot and the title track are drum machine-led walls of sound that break down and start up again as Tyler struggles to be heard over the noise. He is friends with Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bundick (who makes an anonymous appearance on track Run), and Find Your Wings is Tyler’s gentlest song to date, an interlude that’s part quiet storm, part Toro, and completely without pretense or sarcasm.

Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne have verses on Smuckers, the album’s best song. All three artists are auteurs in their own right, and with Tyler’s verses bookending and sandwiching the track and a beat switch thrown in the middle, it’s as if he’s playing hot potato with rap’s most powerful superstars and inserting himself in their world, a vandal placing his mark on a piece in a gallery.

There’s a lot of talk about how unfocused or chaotic this album is, but I’ve always taken that as a given with any Tyler music. Tyler is just doing Tyler things, and it’s refreshing when an artist creates exactly the kind of art they want to create.

A quick glance at the announced five alternate covers to the album was revealing—there’s a real aesthetic consistency to them. I’m reminded of the work of Marilyn Minter, an artist with a similar knack for creating intentionally ugly and tacky art, with the knowing observation, “Yes, this is ugly, but I can’t stop looking at it.” That may be old hat at this point, but the idea is still such a seductive one: I know it’s a mess, I put a lot of work into creating this mess, and it’s your problem if you can’t handle it. A funhouse mirror doesn’t make sense without knowledge of how a regular mirror works. Tyler, the Creator only creates as the sum of his kaleidoscope self—and I keep looking at him.

Favorite tracks: Smuckers, Find Your Wings

Least favorite tracks: Deathcamp, Run

Rating: 7/10