The words ‘psychedelic’ and ‘hip hop’ have been used together with increasing frequency in recent years. Of course, the longer a genre exists for, the more likely it is to mutate into interesting new forms. Regular visitors to the blog will notice we’re very much interested in psychedelic music but I’d have to admit, regarding hip hop, whilst I’ve enjoyed a great deal of what I’ve heard over the steadily mounting years, I’m not as knowledgeable of this genre compared to others.
When a hip hop artist is described as absorbing elements of psychedelic music into their output, my curiosity is immediately piqued. However this has often ended in anticlimax. Not to do a disservice to an undoubtedly talented individual, but when, for example, A$AP Rocky’s 2015 release ‘At. Long. Last. ASAP’, was described as psychedelic I was left a little bit cold by what I heard across the whole album when perhaps I wouldn’t have been if it hadn’t have had that billing in the first place, on the part of some.
The above is not to argue psychedelia cannot come in many different shapes and forms, of course, much is in the ear of the beholder, but when you’ve listened to everything from The Beatles to Beefheart, from Hendrix to The Doors, from The Grateful Dead to George Clinton, from Sun Ra to Love, from…well you get the idea, for hip hop to be really far out then it has to be REALLY far out. Frank Ocean’s recent output has certainly provided something of a relaxing sonic haze to unwind to but I’d stop short at describing it as fully blown psychedelia, personally speaking. With Tyler the Creator’s new release ‘Flower Boy’ though, I’d argue we’re really starting to run pretty damn close to cooking with full gas.
The opener ‘Foreword’ has a lovely spacey feel to it and despite the minimalist presentation, there’s a nice chord change or two. It has the type of groove I want from my hip hop and a trippy feel which melts away into something really soulful. Encouraging. ‘Where This Flower Blooms’ begins with some nice string instrumentation before the lyrics come in alongside a piano line. Everything shifts and changes shape quickly though, a trend that continues throughout the album. Jazzy guitar chords conjure up Outkast a little bit – a comparison I find myself coming back to as the LP progresses.
‘Sometimes’ serves up some out of whack souled up backing vocals and some curiously placed fake DJ chunter before ‘See You Again’ begins and hits you with a really appealing melody line. This is confidently delivered material but minus the over the top bravado which often characterizes less interesting rap music. With all that Kanye West has done with the medium, even if you’re anti-West, you’d have to concede his influence on modern, or perhaps I might assert progressive, incarnations of the genre runs deep. Tyler seems to have the type of precision and feel though that I find is missing from some of West’s more recent output.
‘Who Dat Boy’ strikes an eerie contrast with what precedes it. It’s like the trip just turned bad. Production wise this is a really interesting track. Great use of reverb and space on the mids and highs with a noticeable absence of distortion until that low end hits. What this track lacks in perhaps out and out groove, ‘Pothole’ rapidly makes amends for, and there’s a proficient enough cameo from Jaden Smith, credit where credit’s due. Mind-assaulting trip wise, the unnerving turn for the worst is over. But things are still feeling a little weird.
The intro of ‘Garden Shed’ really feels like the hallucinations are about to peak. Again this is a track that veers off into some serious soulful meanderings. And again there’s obvious Outkast references but as someone who loves their 60s soul and Motown the fact this is pleasing my ears is high praise indeed. Once Tyler begins rapping you’d be forgiven for needing this reminder that yes, this is a rap album, because actually, it’s already become so much more than that. So much experimentation has already occurred the author is significantly challenging what this medium is capable of and where it can potentially go.
Things start picking up pace wise with ‘Boredom’ but it’s still suitably drowsy and downbeat, bearing in mind the song title and subject matter. This track features some smoothly delivered contributions from Anna of the North and Corinne Bailey Rae. Encapsulating the essence of this record, the song structure bends for the outro with something of an underlying awkwardness. Next, for anyone looking for a track that really pops out of the speakers look no further than ‘I Ain’t Got Time!’
You might not expect proceedings to become any more conventional with Frank Ocean involved, and arguably they don’t with ‘911/Mr Lonely’. However, compared with much of the album, this track feels somehow less of a headfuck. This and the next tune ‘Droppin’ Seeds’ really give the impression the album is stepping up a gear. It’s almost like the acid is wearing off. Almost. Intermittent sidesteps aside, the same is true of ‘November’ – things are feeling more straightforward all of a sudden.
With ‘Glitter’ however we’re back to that warped tape feel. With LSD this strong there’s always the chance, just when you think it’s over, BANG. You’re back in the midst of it. It’s feeling more manageable though. Just. ‘Enjoy Right Now, Today’ seals the deal with a really fun, quirky rhythm. Overall I really, really like this album. I think I’m going to be listening to it a lot this year and telling other people to. There is the odd moment when it tails off and doesn’t quite retain the psychedelic feel I want it to. But perhaps I need to lay off the acid.