Favorite Tracks: “LEMONHEAD (feat. 42 Dugg),” “WUSYANAME,” “HOT WIND BLOWS,” “SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE,” “RISE!”
With a month to reflect, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST completes an arc we’ve seen many times in varying forms: the successful mainstreaming of a once-outsider rapper considered too radical for true stardom. Once these arcs are typically traced to their end, they traditionally conclude with Snoop Dogg hawking cookware on Martha Stewart, 21 Savage offering financial advice on CNBC, or Lil Wayne showing up in Super Bowl ads to promote unlistenable rock records. Tyler stands apart by completing his arc entirely on his own terms, without sacrificing musical quality at the altar of diversification. Where others might be stretched thin by helming a clothing line, or too attached to the youthful rage that defined their early work, Tyler’s foundational output, his albums, are only getting stronger. That list of non-musical accomplishments is impressive enough to basically be listed spoken word in the interlude BLESSED without coming off as arrogant showboating, rooted in how clearly Tyler’s personality, effort, and care are felt in his varied work. As The Weeknd recently opined, Tyler “is someone I really admire, he wears his feelings on his sleeve,” and whether that’s expressing a crush on Jadakiss, proudly wearing whatever he feels like, or pouring his all into a career-defining album, Tyler once again exceeds and challenges expectations on CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST.
Tyler’s career is fascinating to retrace to this point, particularly through the last three albums. FLOWER BOY sets up the central conflict, flipping a shock rapper who once threw the f-slur around like it was nothing and encouraged listeners to “kill people, burn shit, fuck school,” to release a sincere, often bright and sexually ambiguous record. IGOR was the climax, an earth-shattering departure from the abrasion and gruffness to embrace a tender, brilliantly executed album about love and loss, just about the least anticipated thing I would’ve thought he’d do, and it was a smash. Unburdened by any sense of anxiety about losing his core fanbase or sanding off his appeal, Tyler was free to make anything, knowing wherever his creative impulses took him, it was likely to land. That those impulses led him to “what if a DJ Drama mixtape but also a #1 album” is an amazing surprise from a man who’s making a huge career on them. DJ Drama “contributions” typically aren’t my favorite part of an album, but I’ll concede that his table setting really adds color to the album, either funny or tasteful enough to evoke the legendary mid-aughts mixtapes without the jank. It’s a genius aesthetic choice, and fulfills a decade-old dream of Tyler’s at a point in his career where he’s more artistically capable of evoking and building on his inspirations. In fact, the entire album is wish fulfillment, from extending his collaborative streak with Pharrell to meshing bits from all of his past albums into a cohesive-but-varied new whole.
CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST has something for every breed of Tyler fan. For fans of FLOWER BOY’s eclectic, sunny feel, there’s the cheeky, beaming “WUSYANAME,” which teases lighthearted, melodic performances from Youngboy Never Broke Again and Ty Dolla $ign. For those who loved the tender IGOR, there’s the fluttering, downtempo odyssey “SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE,” which features a delightful beat switch into reggae rhythms. Disciples of CHERRY BOMB’s legendary team up “Smuckers” will be thrilled to see Wayne back on board and in prime form on “HOT WIND BLOWS.” For those who relish the abrasive, manic energy of BASTARD or GOBLIN (without the horrifying lyrics), “LEMONHEAD” and “JUGGERNAUT” refine the sound with skull-rattling production and delirious flexing.
I appreciate the threads of narrative carried through the album, and even previous appearances. Tyler still hasn’t bought the aspirational boat from his feature on Freddie Gibbs’ “Something to Rap About” last year, but he’s mulling it on “CORSO.” He’s professed to be a McLaren man in older lyrics, but as shown above he’s graduated another level to almost exclusively Rolls Royce references; “They say I’m stuck in my ways, I say how so? / First n—- to put a bike rack on the Rolls” or “Ridin in, double RR, that’s that Cullinan / Pullin’ in, that 400 grand, I just ordered this.” And, of course, the primary conflict of CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, the imperfectly informed love triangle, a lone blight on Tyler’s personal assessment, it’s big revelation. It’s nothing as seismic as FLOWER BOY’S “Garden Shed” or stylistically risky as IGOR, but it gives the album some internal conflict, first dealt with on “CORSO” and culminating in the conversational, minimal centerpiece, “WILSHIRE”. Tyler pours his heart out with the benefit of hindsight in a confessional monotone, a long rumination on an unrequited love. It’s a refreshing angle on the “take your girl” rap trope, depicting Tyler battling selfish feelings, regret, and guilt. It’s a last surprise in an album and career full of them.