Album Review: Tyler, the Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost

[Columbia; 2021]

In the span of a decade, the ringleaders of upstart California posse Odd Future have taken over the world of music. Between Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt, and Tyler, the Creator, the rap collective has dominated in just about every avenue possible for them. Two years ago, Tyler hit the top of the Billboards with his critically adored IGOR, an album that told the story of a love triangle between Tyler’s character Igor, his male lover, and a woman. The character of Igor represented the darker side of Tyler, and as a result the album toyed with several stylistic divergences.

This trajectory didn’t start with IGOR though. Tyler made a conscious decision after the poor reception of Cherry Bomb that he needed to approach his craft differently. Flower Boy from 2017 landed like an atomic bomb. It was stitched together with his own brief but concise rapping and bolstered by a host of guests, but never felt overcrowded. It was a necessary pivot for him, his antics and homophobia were tiring, and as the mid-2010s gave way to powerfully conscious voices like Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples, Tyler was ultimately sick of being considered a lesser talent than those powerful voices or his Odd Future brethren.

Needless to say, after two stellar releases, there’s a lot riding on his sixth album, Call Me If You Get Lost. Some see it as the third entry in an unofficial trilogy that brings Tyler, the Creator back into the good graces. Call Me doesn’t share much in common with IGOR outside of a handful of repeated synths, and he does legitimately sing again, but Tyler mostly leans into his rapping roots, as evidenced on the leadup single “Lumberjack”, which acts as another reinvention of sorts. He’s ditched the garish costumes too, opting for a throwback to his juvenile image from the early 2010s, but doing so with a wink and nod.

Just like he did on IGOR, he’s playing and staying in ‘character’ while showing off this new extension of his personality. This new personality, Tyler Baudelaire, is a surprisingly apt reference to Charles Baudelaire, the French poet who was famously persecuted for Les Fleurs du mal, a collection that was banned or censored due to its sexual content. It’s 2021 though, and while no one’s persecuting Tyler for anything anymore, his career has never strayed from the provocative. Although, he’s now grown from that foul and clumsy shock rapper into a serious man with serious stories to tell.

The production on Call Me exudes this confidence even more. IGOR allowed its content to unravel slowly, even if it was a shorter album overall, whereas nearly every second of Call Me is filled with energy. Opener “Sir Baudelaire” plays it subtly, implying a darker tone at first while Tyler’s bars introduce the new character, but as the following “Corso” begins it’s obvious this won’t be anything like IGOR. There’s traces of the IGOR autotuning here and there, most notably on closer “Safari”, but it’s only a few dashes.

“Corso” also shows the album title isn’t just a reference to directions, it carries multiple meanings across the album; here its a diss to those who aren’t on this ride with Tyler and DJ Drama, “Give a fuck about you thoughts / call me if you get lost, bitch.” He’s not willing to wait around for any who might not be committed to enjoying this new project. Tyler’s working all angles for this one, pushing himself to his max potential. He’s not always confrontational, the extravagant centerpiece “Sweet / I Thought You Wanted To Dance,” finds him as personable as he was on Flower Boy; “Do you know how I feel ‘bout that? / Infinite / The Love I have for you, a diamond couldn’t put a dent in it.”

Tyler’s recession to producer and musical mastermind didn’t necessarily hurt his last two albums, but it is nice to see him resuming control of the project, rather than sometimes getting lost behind the larger-than-life assists like Frank Ocean on “911 / Mr. Lonely”. In fact, Frank returns for a brief appearance on the banger “Lemonhead” alongside 42 Dugg. Lil Wayne reunites with Tyler for the subdued “Hot Wind Blows,” Lil Uzi Vert hops in for some signature trap on “Juggernaut”, “Manifesto” displays a strained organ, but then flips the switch to a vacant hallway occupied by a fired up Domo Genesis. But none of them outshine Tyler; they deliver their bars but he takes the reigns back with ease.

Those who were put off by Tyler’s more serious tone on his recent releases may appreciate Call Me If You Get Lost thanks to its more lighthearted tone. Cuts like “Wusyaname” find Tyler playful again, feeling flirtatious – it makes the whole album feel like he’s legitimately enjoying himself. It lacks the desperation of Goblin, and tones down the sentimentality of Flower Boy without losing those influences. Most of the album features short tracks, delivering immediate satisfaction as on the celebratory “Rise!”, which might be one of Tyler’s hookiest tracks in some time; as he raps “When I rise to the top / I’m tellin’ you right now / I’m tellin’ you right now” it all rolls down the back with ease, grounded by breakbeat production.

Tyler hasn’t lost his sense of experimentation either. He took risks on Flower Boy and IGOR, which delivered spectacularly. He plays it closer to the chest here, but he’s still willing to diverge from tradition with songs like “Wilshire”, the eight-plus penultimate track. Recorded in a single take, and completely solo – there’s no DJ Drama or any other guests on this – Tyler gives it all away in the album’s most challenging section, and demands his audience follow him on it.

It never bores either; as proven by IGOR, Tyler’s softer side ultimately is more intriguing than the boisterous class clown he’s been known for in the past. He traverses the planet, as his pseudonym is known for, and touches on a flip of the triangle from IGOR. This time Tyler’s the one doing the woman stealing, but just like IGOR he’s the one left holding nothing in the end. It’s remarkable how a traditionally over-the-top personality like Tyler, the Creator can strip away all the flamboyance and expose himself in such a raw manner.

Call Me If You Get Lost finds Tyler freer than he was on IGOR. He’s managed to combine talents in front of and behind the mic, while amalgamating the serious personalities he used prior with the humor that trademarked his early work. He’s displaying lessons learned here – the fact that he can legitimately sing, that he can tell narrate without insulting a demographic, and that, most importantly, Flower Boy wasn’t a fluke.