Vulnerability is the least desired act that any individual wants imposed on their bodies. Black male vulnerability is a double-edged sword of susceptibility to the will of others and the inability to express themselves out of the context of being a man without immediate backlash. Last week, Tyler the Creator released his song, “A Boy is a Gun*,” which is from his album “Igor” — which was released early this year. It is reminiscent of his previous album “Flower Boy” where he takes a step forward by evaluating his interior life. “Flower Boy” dealt with topics such as loneliness, sexuality, depression and fame while developing Tyler as a man. He has gone from being unsure of himself and looking for answers to blossoming into a man who understands himself and doesn’t fold into the box the world forces him into.
“Igor” continues this idea of Tyler not being afraid to take steps out of the ordinary of being a black male rapper. “A Boy is a Gun*” shines light on this as it is taken from a phrase, “a girl is a gun,” which means that women are more powerful than they appear to be and are secretly empowered and dangerous to the men around them. Tyler bends this concept and makes it where the “boy” is now empowered and he can be more than what society trains him to be. As a black man, Tyler is already assumed to be tough, strong, terrifying and emotionally barren. Then being a rapper, the assumed archetype is someone from the inner city who is misogynistic, illiterate, wears heavy jewelry and tattoos covering every inch of his face.
Tyler is none of these things. He is a goofy, perceptive musical genius, who wears sunglasses with his blonde bowl-cut and who talks about his sexual exploration and search for love even when it hurts. The song is about him wanting to grow closer to another man who is afraid to love him back. While in the car, Tyler and the man are looking away from each other creating a tense sexual awkwardness that is felt like a movie. Tyler sings out, “Take your hoodie off, why you hide your face from me,” because if his lover “gets out the closet,” the repercussions would be devastating.
Tyler knows his affection to the man is not good for him as he states, “How come you’re the best to me? I know you’re the worst for me/ Boy, you’re sweet as sugar, diabetic to the first degree.” He finds comfort and satisfaction with the man who is his “sugar,” but simultaneously suffering occurs out of this satisfaction which is the “diabetes.” Tyler’s fondness for the man is literally killing him, but Tyler feels empty and afraid without him.
A verbal fight, where Tyler is in tight shorts, occurs as he is yelling at his lover in a bedroom to leave, “Oh, you wanna go home? Cool, you better call you a cab,” is a very intimate moment that is like on-screen couples quarreling with each other.
The chorus throughout the song is “You so motherfuckin’ dangerous,” where Tyler is repeating to himself the problem of being in such a toxic relationship. In spite of knowing this, he feels safe with his partner, saying, “You’re a gun ‘cause I like you on my side at all times/You keep me safe.” When Tyler sings “Don’t shoot me down” it means that in the same way the lover brings security, he simultaneously brings torment in Tyler’s life.
Tyler’s ability to be vulnerable to his audience and express himself without the fear of scrutiny or intense retaliation is bravery. When manhood is still being deconstructed and redefined for many black men, Tyler has been a maverick of his own manliness. While others decide to continue to conform to the worldview of what a man is, Tyler has cultivated his own lane and has continued to stick by it even when the world is tearing him down.