I don’t know of anyone who is ambivalent to Tyler the Creator. It honestly seems as though, of everyone who knows about him and his music, 50% think it’s brilliant, and 50% think it’s immature garbage. I’ve long counted myself in the former, ever since I first heard “Yonkers”, and I don’t see my opinion changing any time soon. When Tyler announced his new album, Cherry Bomb, last week to be released this week, I was pretty excited. He released two very different singles, “DEATH CAMP” and “FUCKING YOUNG”, alongside a seriously cool video. It was Tyler season for the first time since 2013’s Wolf, and I was feeling it hard.
Tyler Okonma, AKA Tyler, the Creator, founder and de facto leader of (possibly defunct) alternative hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, creator of the absurdist Loiter Gang on Adult Swim, rapper, producer, fashion designer, filmmaker, and so on, and so on, and so on. Tyler is, without a doubt, an artistic genius. I will never say anything otherwise. The amount of good, worthwhile, unique, and deeply personal art that Tyler has put out should be the envy of anyone who considers themselves a creative. The fact is, though, that none of this makes him immune to criticism, and while Tyler may personally have an allergic reaction to music critics, I’m more than happy to write what I really think of Cherry Bomb.
All of this is building up to one thing: I’m disappointed with Cherry Bomb. I love Tyler, and I love his work, but he has always come so close to releasing a truly great album and always manages to somehow fall just short. Wolf was littered with moments of brilliance, including what were some of Tyler’s songs to date, but was overlong and meandered, and the “concept album” thing didn’t totally pan out. Goblin, which put him on the map, was violent and spastic and full of just a bit too much shock appeal to be taken wholly seriously. His solo debut, Bastard, is maybe the purest distillation of Tyler the Artist, but still sounds amateurish. These are all good albums – what I want is for Tyler to release a great album. Cherry Bomb isn’t that.
However, even with that in mind, Cherry Bomb is far from a bad album. Roughly one third of the 13 tracks on this album are seriously good and represent why he’s a rapper to watch right now. Unfortunately, these are only moments, and don’t represent the whole album well. Songs like the aforementioned “DEATH CAMP” and “FUCKING YOUNG”, alongside “THE BROWN STAINS OF DARKEESE LATIFAH PART 6-12 (REMIX)” and “SMUCKERS”, are honestly some of the best music put out this year. But on the other hand, songs like “BLOW MY LOAD” and “PILOT” are really nothing special, culminating in the title track, “CHERRY BOMB”, which honestly might be the worst song that Tyler has ever recorded.
Front to back, this album is mixed very…oddly. It’s difficult for me to say “badly”, because obviously Tyler meant to do it this way (which I’ll get back to in a second), but it just sounds wrong. Half or more of the songs on this album have Tyler’s vocal track buried so far in the mix and modulated or distorted or pitch-shifted up to the point where you really can’t understand him. Not like Tyler’s lyrics are the greatest thing in the world – he’s clever and his flow is phenomenal, but the subject matter doesn’t tend to resonate very much – but I often found myself ignoring the production and trying to pay extra close attention to the vocals, because they were impossible to decipher. The production on this album is almost entirely above-average (with the exception of “CHERRY BOMB”, which will get its own paragraph a little later), but rather than compliment that with well-done and well-mixed vocal tracks, Tyler chose not.
He chose not. That’s important. Tyler did all of the production on this album, all of the writing, and you can even tell that he pushed the few features to do what he wanted (including getting 2002 Lil Wayne and College Dropout Kanye on “SMUCKERS”, one of the album’s highlights). Cherry Bomb is maybe the most Tyler of Tyler’s albums. The only problem is that if you’re not willing to take the ride with him, you’ll find yourself clashing with some of the weaker moments throughout Cherry Bomb. Hell, I was more than willing to take the ride, and I still struggle with a handful of the tracks on here. Tyler is an artist – this album is so personal and so utterly him, made by him, for him, reflecting him, that it’s hard not to respect. The only problem is that just because I respect an album doesn’t mean I have to like an album.
Let’s look at “CHERRY BOMB”, then. I honestly don’t know what to make of this track. It’s like Tyler took a hard-hitting boom-bap/hardcore instrumental, but then blew the whole thing out to the point where most of the song sounds like white noise punctuated by the occasional drum beat, with Tyler’s totally undecipherable lyrics shouting over the top. A casual listener could hit this song and hate it so much that they totally stop listening, which would suck, because it comes right before the album’s strongest stretch of tracks. I love Death Grips, I like loud and noisy and distorted and really hard music, but “CHERRY BOMB” isn’t that. It just sounds bad. But again, the dilemma: this was obviously intentional. How do I negotiate that? I think the answer is that I don’t, and I just say the truth: this song is bad.
I don’t want to hate on Cherry Bomb anymore, though. After all, like I said, it’s not a bad album. I’m just puzzled by some of Tyler’s choices here, and think that it would be so much stronger with just a few minor tweaks. The opening track, “DEATH CAMP”, has a N.E.R.D. “Lapdance” guitar riff and vibe to it, with some pretty clever lyricism on Tyler’s part. After this, he has two classically Odd Future sounding tracks, “BUFFALO” and “PILOT”. These are both good songs – not Tyler’s best work, but not offensively bad. There’s a short interlude in “RUN”, a minute-long, pitch-shifted waste of time before the slick and jazzy “FIND YOUR WINGS”, introducing some very soulful, un-Tyler instrumentation that will show back up on the later tracks in the album. This segues into the aforementioned “CHERRY BOMB”, before the lyrically gross and musically boring “BLOW MY LOAD”. If you’ve made it this far, you’re in the clear. From the sincere and emotional “2SEATER” to the amazingly-produced, Schoolboy Q-featuring “THE BROWN STAINS OF DARKEESE LATIFAH PART 6-12 (REMIX)” (with a beat drop that will make you want to crunk like no one’s fucking business). “FUCKING YOUNG/PERFECT”, essentially a neo-soul song, is the last thing that I would have expected from Tyler. But, honestly, this song is amazing. The lyrics are a little weird and mildly pedophilic, but not offensively bad. This showcases how wide Tyler’s talents really go. Of course, the song after is “SMUCKERS”, featuring Lil Wayne and Kanye West, and really doesn’t have a bad thing about it. The final two tracks, “KEEP DA O’S” and “OKAGA, CA”, are a little weird, but the production and instrumentation are pretty top-notch – nothing as bad as the stretch of subpar songs in the middle of the album.
When Cherry Bomb is good, it’s Tyler’s best work. When Cherry Bomb is bad, it’s Tyler’s worst work. I can see myself coming back to the high points of this album, but I routinely skip pretty much everything from “RUN” to “2SEATER”, skipping a solid third of the album that’s really just not worth listening to. Either way, I’m super happy to have some new Tyler in my life. If you like Odd Future or Tyler, you’ve already listened to this and probably feel about how I do, or maybe like it a little more. I don’t see Cherry Bomb converting many people, but it’s a worthy addition to Tyler’s discography, and I’m always excited to see what he does next.
Not for everyone, but some moments of brilliance almost make up for the bad tracks.7
Lyrics score 6
Production score 8
Composition score 7