Cherry Bomb is my album of the year. By and large, I listened to it more than anything else this year from the moment I heard it. As figurehead of Odd Future with his constant run-ins with press and advocacy groups, he’s provocateur in the purest form. But behind his brash boyishness, resides a comfortable and confident creative genius and, what’s scary is, he might be getting better with each record.
With Cherry Bomb, relative to its predecessor Wolf, it’s clear Tyler continues to push forward and upward with this, easily his most ambitious and cohesive output yet. This coming as the pop spotlight seems to be dimming on him as a person and on OF, which has all but fully dissolved here at the end of 2015. It’s often said it takes a lifetime to make your first record and six months to make every record after, explaining the typical falloff in an artist’s career after their first record. However, Tyler’s improving with each outing, making this trajectory even more remarkable. In a genre riddled with lack of longevity, Tyler could truly be evolving into one of hip hop’s true visionaries.
But if that’s true, than why did most year-end lists completely miss Tyler’s Cherry Bomb? It’s absent from every list that I’ve seen thus far which is beyond perplexing, it’s downright troubling. Rolling Stone, Complex, Pitchfork, Paste, The Guardian, Consequence of Sound…all of them over 50 albums each and not one solitary mention of Cherry Bomb. Once the sweetheart, but now he is on the outside looking in. I shouldn’t be so surprised. The Machine is quick to move on. Perhaps OF’s success was too much too fast. But who could blame them? Young, savvy, every record label was drooling over them like top prospects. OF was calling the shots at each juncture and had the whole industry wrapped around their fingers.. But the circus has left town and Tyler is quietly retreating.
Except for this record, of course.
Cherry Bomb is an absolute explosion of sound and fury. It shapeshifts in a way that most hip hop albums simply can’t as it manages to force a balance between the grime and grit and the soulful and serene, echoing N.E.R.D.’s finer moments. It has similar qualities that lure me to Mingus, blending the beautiful with the despicable seamlessly into a very palatable work. Every revolution through the record reveals these small moments of greatness that are strung together by Tyler’s greater vision.
What is that vision?
Well, it’s hard to describe. Tyler’s comfortable formula of crass and obscene lyricism subverting his increasingly mature approach to musicianship is very much still evident. He’s breaking no new ground behind the mic, but his production and songwriting work is quietly skyrocketing. Whereas, on Wolf, a solid album that still feels often disjointed and tries to do too much, Cherry Bomb is more carefully guided from one exposure to the next with gentle transitions and interluding, giving the album a needed backbone and coherency. Effortlessly, Cherry Bomb blends the hardcore punk sentiments with beautiful and lush soulful compositions.
The album wastes no time getting started with the first three songs coming out throwing haymakers. “Deathcamp” and “Buffalo” both are frenzied and frenetic, but “Pilot” turns into something completely different. “Pilot” is an example of such blending where it begins with these pulsating drums of death, but smoothly transitions into this exquisitely arranged silky soulfulness. Similarly, “2Seater” bares Tyler’s soul tendencies with its many transitions, boasting rich string arrangements and jazzed-out vocal contributions. The back half of the record certainly takes its time, but that’s precisely what makes it more likable. In the impatient, “just gimme the single” world we live in, “Fucking Young,” “Okaga, CA,” and “Smuckers” (which features both Yeezy and Weezy) take the pace down enough to let Tyler shine as a composer. Tyler’s continuing to make his own mold for long-form hip hop not built for radio, but rather built to last.
And, in the continuing evolution of Tyler as an artist, Cherry Bomb is much less reliant on the contributions of his OF posse with the only noticeable guest being Syd Bennett lending her sultry vocals throughout. With appearances from Roy Ayers, Boyz II Men’s Wanya Morris, Charlie Wilson, as well as Pharrell among others, Cherry Bomb thankfully feels much less like an OF showcase, than a legitimate solo flight.
This, however, fails to answer why everyone seems to have missed this album.
In the same way that De La Soul was born into a scene ready to receive them in 1988 Long Island, Tyler bursted onto the scene that was looking for a new rap hero just five years ago. He was the villain that kids loved, parents hated, and the press misunderstood. But just as De La continued to pursue truer identities out of that which put them on the map, so too Tyler has been making these works that capture this creative essence that might’ve been missed if you were too busy reading headlines and not hearing his work. And, now, as it appears the market is might shifting away from him less than half a decade later, he might be making his best work and, thus, Cherry Bomb might very well be his Buhloone Mindstate.
Part of me thinks that comparison feels completely absurd, but after listening again to Goblin and Wolf, this album is the next stage in his creative evolution. Each album we learn more about who Tyler truly is or who he’s becoming. Perhaps, it’s because in this quick-to-forget, this-music-will-self-destruct-in-ten-seconds world we live in, we’re less concerned with watching artists evolve. We want them to show up readymade for consumption. We don’t have time to progress, but rather want perfection the second we rip off the wrapper. And because Goblin and Wolf were not perfect, we don’t have time for the third act. Problem with this approach is Cherry Bomb is likely his finest work and, maybe even, the promise of future greatness.