What’s Tyler, the Creator’s Greatest Album?: Head to Head with Edd

Welcome back to Head to Head with Edd, where yours truly goes toe-to-toe with the superfans of the game’s biggest artists. We’ll take a look at the selected artist’s biggest hits and misses and see where we can find common ground.

I’m pretty excited to be joined by the homie Jakob Frazier, aka Phrasure, rapper and writer extraordinaire. His column Iron City’s Finest highlights some of the best names in hip-hop resonating from the South. But today Jakob will be going toe-to-toe with me as we debate an artist who has been very influential in his career – the multitalented Tyler, the Creator.

Name Tyler’s three best albums.

Jakob:

1. Flower Boy

2. WOLF

3. IGOR

I really want Goblin to be on this list, but it’s just a little messy, even though I still regard it as a favorite. IGOR saw Tyler take his Cherry Bomb ideas and aesthetics and beef them up quite nicely, and WOLF saw Tyler scale back on the violence and be bolder with his production choices, but Flower Boy sees Tyler at his best. The chords are lush and the beats are complex; the raps are tight and vulnerable; the features are strategically placed; the theme is displayed in every song; and everything just comes together so perfectly. 

Edd:

1. WOLF

2. Flower Boy

3. IGOR

Agree with you on Goblin – there’s lot of promise with that one but it’s quite uneven and sometimes overly ambitious. Quite frankly, that’s an issue I have with almost all of Tyler’s albums. They tend to be really good projects that either get too experimental for their own good (IGOR) or boast ambitious themes that get a little too lost in themselves (Flower Boy). To date, WOLF is his best mix of artistry and anarchy. It might not be his most popular release – both Flower Boy and IGOR beat it in that regard – but it’s by far his most complete.

And what’s his weakest album?

Jakob: Cherry Bomb

I’ll probably catch some flak for this pick, which is fine, but I need to say that I do like the album. It has some of my favorite songs that Tyler’s made (“Brown Stains,” “Smuckers”) but the problems with the album aren’t the songs themselves. It’s the fact that most of the songs sound like they were mixed on a Nokia phone. I know it was Tyler’s intention (after WOLF, he said on Twitter that his next album was going to be half-done demos), but that doesn’t make them any more listenable.

Edd: Cherry Bomb

You’ll get no flak from me playa, when you’re right you’re right. As I mentioned earlier, Tyler’s greatest charm and biggest drawback is that he’s just all over the place. That chaos really holds him back here, an album that boasts a few good tracks but man, you gotta plod through some clunkers to find them.

What’s the first song that made you a fan of Tyler, the Creator?

Jakob: “Martians vs Goblins”

Before this song, I had seen the “Yonkers” video and was disgusted; I was also (regrettably) a fan of Hopsin, who had dissed Tyler several times, so I had no interest in listening to him. Then I bought Game’s The R.E.D. Album, and his verse (and appearance in the video, let’s be honest) won me over. Game tried too hard to beat Tyler at his own game (pun intended), and I wish Lil’ Wayne had a verse, but Tyler made this song worth it. … And the beat is crazy.

Edd: “She”

Great pick, I love both that song and The R.E.D. Album. Believe it or not, there was a time in the early 2010s where MTV still played music videos on the regular. I mean, I guess they could be still playing them today but I have no idea – these days I only frequent MTV when I wanna watch the buffoonery that is Catfish. But I digress. Circa 2011, I’d spend my mornings in the gym being completely grossed out by Tyler’s “Yonkers” video. But once I got past the roach eating, I recognized that he was actually a pretty solid rapper.

So when Tyler dropped “She” as his next single, I paid much closer attention than immediately writing him off as some bug-eating shock rapper. On the surface “She” is the kind of crass material that would bury his career in a mountain of think pieces today but it’s the artistry and nuance that hooked me. This one won me over.

What’s Tyler’s best single?

Jakob: “Deathcamp”

This is my favorite version of Tyler. He’s channeling that N*E*R*D spirit that he loves so much, and he does it well; it’s a little bit aggressive, a little bit goofy, and a lotta bit hard. And it kicks off Cherry Bomb with an incredibly strong energy that none of his other album intros have had (except maybe “IGOR’S THEME”).

Edd: “Domo23”

Well, since you mentioned it, this is MY favorite version of Tyler. He’s just a ball of kinetic energy here, spitting absolute madness over a hyperactive track that seems plucked from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I have no idea why he’s so angry about lettuce at the end of the song but it’s Tyler, who knows. Don’t ask, just laugh.

Name a Tyler album cut that should have been a single.

Jakob: “Where This Flower Blooms”

This song reeks of Big Single Energy (am I cool yet?). It’s got a beautiful and immediately catchy hook from Frank Ocean, and I often find myself randomly saying “I rock, I roll, I shine, I glow I GLOW” to myself. The beat is so fun and windows-down, and the bass unapologetically THUMPS. I can’t help but do my best/worst dance when it drops. Close runner up, though, is that obnoxiously titled ScHoolBoy Q collab from Cherry Bomb.

Edd: “Awkward”

This was tough because Tyler’s pretty good at selecting singles – or at least giving worthy album cuts the video treatment. “Awkward” might be slightly too low key for a single in the 2010s era but it definitely feels worthy of visuals. His distorted vocals and the song’s themes are tailor-made for Tyler’s wacky-yet-insightful video treatment.

Tyler has some of the dopest album covers in recent memory. Which is your favorite?

Jakob: Wolf (deluxe edition cover)

I really like the fact that for each album, Tyler has at least two album covers; I almost never use the “standard” cover for the artwork on my iTunes. But the WOLF cover with him on his bike in the woods is such a perfect representation of that album to me. It’s so beautifully detailed and weird, but it gives you such a springtime feeling. The only way you could get that physical cover was if you pre-ordered the deluxe edition of WOLF (which I did) and it also came with some stickers, a sew-on patch, a poster, and the CD was in a box as opposed to a jewel case.

Edd: Flower Boy (original cover)

If you haven’t been able to tell from me repeating it over and over again, I’m constantly in awe of Tyler’s artistry. Artist Eric White’s design for the main Flower Boy cover is an extension of that – a wonderful blend of color, cool and “umm, what IS this?” intrigue. The symbolism of the bee obscuring Tyler’s face isn’t lost on me, especially when this album is filled with themes that focus on identity and self-acceptance. When even the album art can tell a compelling story, you know you’re in for a treat.

Speaking of imagery, what’s Tyler’s best music video?

Jakob: “Rella”

There’s nothing to it except that it’s pure chaos. It’s obscene, absurd, and hilarious, which is exactly what Odd Future was at this point. I remember waiting up late for this video to premier on their YouTube channel; it was premiering at 9 p.m. California time, which made it, like, 11 or midnight in Alabama. It was worth it. I mean, Tyler, the Creator doing a mountain of cocaine as a centaur with a bob? C’mon.

Edd: “A Boy is a Gun”

Wanna know why I like this one – well, besides it being maybe my favorite Tyler song ever? It’s because it doesn’t SEEM like a Tyler video. No edible cockroaches, no makeshift wrestling rings, no giant dollhouses, none of the chaos you’d expect. It’s just Tyler throwing a fit over some dude he likes in an obscenely opulent mansion. It’s like something plucked from one of my mom’s soap operas. The visuals are stunning and plays well into the “money can’t buy happiness” theme.

Plus this guy’s Playa Please face steals the show every time. He’s so over these rich brats.

Tyler is a pretty accomplished producer. What’s his best beat for an artist other than himself?

Jakob: Frank Ocean featuring John Mayer, “White”

Okay, so there are two versions of this song: there’s the channel ORANGE version where Frank doesn’t even sing – he just enlists John Mayer to effortlessly pluck away over the mellow, subdued instrumental, and it is absolutely lovely. The other version was on The OF Tape, Vol. 2 and DID have Frank singing. It starts out very similarly to the CO version, but after Frank finishes his verse, the beat fully drops, and there are marching band-esque drums and horns that close out the song. It’s kinda cool to see the same musical idea in two very different iterations. 

Edd: Westside Gunn, “Party Wit Pop Smoke”

I hope I’m not suffering from recency bias on this one but the first track that came to mind was the new one from Westside Gunn’s Pray for Paris album. The sample of Apple & The Three Oranges’ “Moonlight” is a monster, reeking of the dusty soul that the Wu-Tang Clan revolutionized decades ago. Didn’t know Tyler had this in him, but I’m so glad he did.

Name the best member of the Odd Future collective not named Tyler

Jakob: Frank Ocean

Earl Sweatshirt is in close combat for this title, but it must go to Frank. Domo Genesis and Hodgy Beats released a few cool projects, but nothing near the caliber of Earl or Frank. The reason Frank gets the nod is because channel ORANGE is unmatched. It was my soundtrack to the summer of 2012, and it’s easily one of my favorite albums ever. I may not like blond as much as the general public, but CO; Nostalgia, Ultra; and his array of features are enough for me.

Edd: Frank Ocean

My homework assignment for this pandemic world is to spend a weekend rediscovering Earl Sweatshirt. Fans constantly champion him as one of the GREATEST OF ALL TIME and I clearly haven’t spent enough time with his material to share that sentiment. I’ll report back on him.

Back to the matter at hand: The easy answer here is Frank Ocean, for all the reasons Jakob mentioned. But instead of restating the obvious, I’m going to shout out Syd of The Internet. Syd not only helped distinguish the band as a bright spot in a dire era of R&B, but her solo project was just as great – it’s highly underrated and one of my favorites of the past decade. Frank’s great but Syd is right up there.

Is Tyler, the Creator overrated, underrated or properly rated?

Jakob: Proper, with slight leanings toward under

If you had asked me this question two years ago, I would’ve said severely underrated, but with all the attention IGOR got last year, I feel like Tyler is finally starting to get the attention he deserves. His evolution is constant, and he’s been pretty influential to the younger generations for nearly a decade (I mean, much of my own music sounds the way it does because of Tyler’s albums). He leans toward underrated because I don’t feel like he gets recognition for just what all he does –not only does he write, rap, produce, and compose his own songs, but he directs videos, has assisted on multiple television shows, is a fashion designer, spearheads a festival, and I’m sure there are more things that I’m forgetting. Regardless, I think it’s gonna take a lot for Tyler to fall off; I think the only place he’s going is up.

Edd: Properly rated as an artist, underrated as a producer/writer/designer/everything else

You nailed it once again. I’ll admit that I’ve been guilty of underrating Tyler in the past, though it’s probably just a product of his overenthusiastic fanbase. Stans will make you think everybody is overrated. But let’s be clear: There’s so much more to Tyler than the attention-seeking weirdo he was often portrayed as in his early years. He’s an accomplished director, producer, writer and designer. Also, Tyler has done a great job being a voice for his audience – the younger millennial/Gen Z crowd that’s still trying to figure out their own identity. However, I do think there are several kinks in Tyler’s armor – mainly when his need for constant experimentation goes awry, resulting in some uneven material. Some of his most celebrated material ain’t nearly as flawless as his fans believe. But what’s most important is that his fans believe in HIM. Finally, the world is starting to see why.  

Who got it right? Did Jakob do Tyler proud or did Edd come through? Let us know in the comments below.

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