Tyler, The Creator Raises His Game on ‘Cherry Bomb’
Tyler, The Creator’s career has firm roots in shock value. His third studio album Cherry Bomb fell right in step this month, with a surprise early release on April 12. His Coachella performance the same weekend served to hype the project, which was already tangibly buzzing thanks in part to the Kanye West, Lil Wayne, ScHoolboy Q and Pharrell features. The hour-long album is produced entirely by Tyler, which becomes increasingly obvious as the instrumentals mirror the ADHD persona that’s helped win him his cult-like following.
Cherry Bomb plays like a disheveled homage to N.E.R.D., with some Yeezus peppered in for good measure. Far from attempting to sneak it past listeners, Tyler is proudly transparent about the album influences. On “Deathcamp,” the jangling punk rock album opener, he sets that tone straight away, claiming “In Search Of... did more for me than Illmatic.” The title track has an overt throw to Kanye as Tyler shouts “I am a God” with the same unmistakable aggression and cadence. Pharrell and 'Ye themselves grace a track each (“Keep Da O’s” and “Smuckers,” respectively), implicitly cosigning the overarching tribute.
Pharrell’s feature is easy to miss, however, distorted into oblivion by vocal effects. It’s one of several jarring techniques Tyler uses throughout the album that are both fascinating and difficult for the listener. The vocals are often drowned in a sea of cacophonous instrumentals. Many verses are nearly inaudible, with a few bars bobbing to the surface every once in a while to gasp something perceptible. The beats run this show.
And truly, he gave us so damn much to sink our teeth into with the production, complete with stomach-turning rollercoaster transitions. “Keep Da O’s” has lasers shooting out its eyes before a chorus of fingers snap it into masterfully pitched-up soul. “Find Your Wings” is an oasis of soft piano and easy horns, as Kali Uchis uplifts with her ethereal crooning. The kick drum on “Cherry Bomb" knocks like the police before a criminally grimy drop that’s designed to sound like it’s blowing your speakers (which, it might). Every track, from the supremely listenable to the cluttered and chaotic, is worthy of dissection. Tyler has taken his past verbal outrageousness and applied it to the production instead.
Which is not to say Cherry Bomb is devoid of bars. Tyler scorches “Buffalo,” addressing his controversy with Boyce Watkins, Hopsin, Mountain Dew, his Austin arrest last year and more. On “Smuckers” the 24-year-old is up against the OGs, and though Kanye and Weezy eat that track up, Tyler goes appropriately hard (“Damn 'bout to drop, gas 'em up, thick exhaust/Young T, came quick, hard to beat, dick is soft”). From Kanye we get a relaxed throwback flow, and Wayne too shines with that effortless dominance that defined his mixtape golden era.
Cherry Bomb is both sinister and playful; impressive and all over the place. While he works out where he’s going to go with his narrative moving forward, his blinding and growing talent will more than suffice. Cherry Bomb is his greatest achievement thus far, solidifying his place in the game, with or without the conspicuously absent Odd Future crew. —Rachel Chesbrough