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Apparently, we all have Westside Gunn to thank for Tyler The Creator rapping again on Call Me If You Get Lost. They should absolutely be the most profuse thanks we can muster. In the leadup to his new album’s release, Tyler credited the Griselda don with inspiring his back-to-basics approach, which also doubles as DJ Drama’s latest Gangsta Grillz mixtape, the most surefire sign a rapper has reached the pinnacle of their powers.
Quiet as it’s kept, Tyler has been one of the best pure MCs across not just one, but two generations. Debuting as he did at the tail end of the late-2000s blog era (when those Gangsta Grillz tapes reigned supreme) but being about 10 years younger than its biggest stars, Ty can proudly claim to represent both that time and this modern, post-Soundcloud streaming boom, acting as the bridge between both that someone like J. Cole imagines himself to be.
But, it was easy enough to forget that Tyler’s pen game is worthy of placement among rap’s upper echelons amidst all the chaos of his early introduction alongside Odd Future or his creative invention in more recent years as the sensitive loner of Flower Boy or the artful eccentric that was Igor. It’s kind of hard to pay attention to a clever turn of phrase or an armor-piercing punchline when you’re too busy feeling revulsion from watching a kid apparently down a roach, or mystified from his and his cohort’s antisocial antics.
Fortunately, Tyler’s latest alter ego, Tyler Baudelaire, has put all that behind him. In fact, of all the alter egos he’s displayed over the past several projects, this one feels the least like a put-on; Tyler was much too far removed in life circumstances from the awkward teen that was Flower Boy by the time he made the album bearing that title, while Igor was inherently a mask, playing up the Warhol-esque arthouse proclivities that drove that album to its critical acclaim and ill-fitting Best Rap Album Grammy win. On Call Me If You Get Lost, Tyler is most like himself, free of the artifice that he no longer feels the need to hide behind — and free to finally let his nuts hang, so to speak.
Here, he raps like a rapper. Boasts of wealth and status abound; on the chest-thumping “Lumberjack,” he flaunts that aforementioned golden statue, bragging that he “bought another car ’cause I ain’t how to celebrate.” He tells just what kind of car with a subtle hint in the punchline: “That big boy, that big bitch for all-weather / It never rain in Cali’, came with an umbrella.” That would be just about any car made by Rolls Royce, which stashes high-end umbrellas in the driver’s side doors of its automobiles. Tyler just told us he has a Rolls in the slickest way possible. Again, thank you, Westside Gunn. Sometimes, amid all the high-concept stuff out there in the world, you just want to hear a rapper floss cool stuff at a high level.
Tyler does cool stuff like this all over the album. On “Corso,” he spits a brain-teasing reference to the 106 & Park classics of his youth: “Hurricane-proof all the views, shit like ‘A Bay Bay.’” He slickly calls back to another misunderstood genius of rap on the barn-burning “Manifesto,” snarling, “I might not have dreadlocks, I might have these gold teeth / But I’m a n**** like you, and you’s a n**** like me.” I am trusting you to catch these references because to understand Tyler is to understand that Tyler is a true student of hip-hop, as well you should be too because if you’re only catching half the bars, you’re missing out. Tyler gets that, which is why he’s employed the ultimate signifier of cultural cachet, DJ Drama, to yell all over his tracks.
And look, I know that a lot of Tyler’s newer, younger, more sophisticated, hip, tasteful fans fell in love with the melodic bent his music has taken on since 2015’s Cherry Bomb. But as a member of that blog generation, someone who counts names like Kendrick Lamar and Wale among my peers and contemporaries, someone who recognized that Tyler could rap his Black ass off but didn’t seem to have anything to rap about until recently, I can’t help but feel like this is his most complete work yet.
He addresses racism, and the backlash to his refusal to speak out on issues that should be self-evident, on “Manifesto.” And his boasts are now Jay-Z level, not just in construction, but in content, revealing an un-self-conscious swagger that doesn’t aim to shock in its bluntness anymore. He’s just getting these bars off, feeling himself, and dismissing — not reacting to, truly dismissing — the lame criticisms his detractors fling at him “from your lunch break,” as he says on the provocatively-titled “Massa.”
Don’t even get me started on the production, which has finally achieved the ideal balance between his cacophonous, Neptunes-inspired percussion parties and the soulful wit of Igor’s most groovy moments. If there’s anything to be disappointed by, it’s that he soils the smooth H-Town sample on “Wusyaname” with an irksome verse from Youngboy Never Broke Again, who does the track justice but brings his abusive baggage to what should be another triumphant, bridging-the-gaps moment of cross-generational synergy. Tyler’s now the wise vet, passing the torch to hungry young upstarts like 42 Dugg that he was once semi-denied.
And he’s hanging, lyrically, socially, and financially with influences like Pharrell and Lil Wayne, bringing out their best because they need to keep him up with him. He even offers an olive branch to fans of his melodic material with “I Thought You Wanted To Dance,” which should appease the flower children who might well be bewildered by all this gruff tough talk. But it’s only an intermission in the rhythmic proceedings, offering a glimpse at a more well-rounded artist and letting us know this is only one of the tricks from his bag. That said, as much as you have to appreciate just how roomy and densely-packed that bag is, Tyler’s still left plenty of room for some good, old-fashioned, rhythm-and-rhymes-first-foremost-and-forever, “I’m the shit and I know it, now let me explain why”-style rap. Thank you, Westside Gunn.
Call Me If You Get Lost is out now on Columbia. Get it here.