Tyler, the Creator’s latest album, Call Me If You Get Lost, blends his unconventional early-days charisma with the warm melodies of later projects Flower Boy and IGOR. The record, a love letter to the DJ Drama mixtapes of the 2000s, finds Tyler reminiscing on personal histories and basking in the possibilities up ahead.
Like much of his discography, the album devotes a healthy portion of its runtime to self-reflection. Since introducing fans to imaginary therapist “Dr. TC” on his debut mixtape, 2009’s Bastard, Tyler’s music has cathartically yet creatively addressed the frustrations, passions and inspirations of his personal life. He took that theme even further on 2019’s IGOR, centered around the titular figure—represented by Tyler in a blonde wig—who embodies and reckons with heartbreak.
But where earlier projects used these characters to manage his music’s personal content, Tyler now speaks evenly to his audience through scattered asides. And as his accomplishments continue to mount—with IGOR going No. 1 and taking Best Rap Album at the 2020 Grammys—Tyler’s been manifesting his biggest dreams into reality.
DJ Drama, whose signature drops and yells place Call Me If You Get Lost in the lineage of the Gangsta Grillz mixtape series, realizes one of these personal goals.
“I WANT A GANGSTA GRILLZ TAPE SO FUCKING BAD GOT DAMN,” Tyler tweeted back in 2010, and DJ Drama’s inclusion on the album grants that wish with all its regalia. Since 2003, the mixtapes have hosted rap royalty, including Tyler’s idols Pharrell and Lil Wayne, who both appear on the record.
Drama also acts as the album’s narrator, filling the role of characters like Dr. T.C. by fueling and guiding Tyler through diverse content. Whether he’s calling out Tyler’s list of alter-egos (including the newly-minted, Wes Anderson-styled protagonist “SIR BAUDELAIRE”) or chronicling their oceanic escapades, he holds the listener’s ear as Tyler searches for meaning across the shifting landscapes.
As the travel-pass-inspired cover shows, freedom of movement (both metaphorically and literally) is essential to the album’s central message of personal growth. “The greatest thing that ever happened to me was being damn near 20 and leaving Los Angeles for the first time,” Tyler reflects on the intro to “MASSA,” which chronicles developments in his sound, lifestyle and attitude since turning 23. As the story continues, instrumental flourishes grow brighter and louder, overpowering the beat’s cut-and-dry drums as Tyler’s voice builds into a prideful snarl.
“Only thing we ain’t traveled is time,” DJ Drama boasts on “SAFARI,” a triumphant, Jay Versace-produced closer laced with passport-based flexes and name-drops of European breads and vacation destinations.
Like his friend and collaborator A$AP Rocky, Tyler has carved a space for himself in the luxurious world of fashion and design, releasing collections under the GOLF le FLEUR label and integrating his sense of style into his musical career through the lavish scenes of his music videos. And in the self-directed “LUMBERJACK” clip (helmed under the alias Wolf Haley, another alter-ego who became Tyler’s cinematic pen name), Tyler stands atop a cartoonish mountain of designer suitcases and roams a handmade backdrop of polyester fields and painted hills.
Though he could’ve gotten an actual pile of his luggage, or a video shoot on the Alps, the scene’s manufactured quality highlights Tyler as the storyteller, re-creating his exploits in usual exaggerated fashion. “BLESSED,” however, plays out the opposite: a quick count-up of his successes, as impressive as it is grateful.
The album’s greatest tension exists between these moments of dramatic effect and honest accounting, reflecting the growth of Tyler’s pen and rap persona. Where he once relied on fictional perspectives to ground his voice—on “Golden,” the final track of Goblin, it’s revealed that Dr. T.C. is Tyler’s conscience, and all other characters on the album are imagined—these caricatures are now a device to elevate the drama of his actual experiences. “WILSHIRE,” an eight-minute soap opera about chasing his friend’s girlfriend, provides a key example as his storytelling oscillates between reckless desire and sincere regret.
Call Me If You Get Lost tours these personal and physical landscapes from the perspective of an artist for whom the world has never been more open. Though not as brash as Goblin, nor as polished as IGOR, Call Me delivers consistent performances—and the artistic leaps Tyler’s made over the past four years are palpable in the album’s most boastful and somber moments. As Tyler Baudelaire, he seems unchained from the therapy and quiet sorrows of past alter-egos, imagining only the next destination.