Call Me If You Get Lost is Tyler’s second consecutive album to debut at No.1 on the Billboard 200 chart. It also serves as an installment of DJ Drama’s expansive Gangsta Grillz mixtape series. While Tyler pays homage to the mixtape culture he grew up with, he revises several of its conventions, thus progressing hip-hop culture and the discourse that surrounds it. With a few listens under my belt, I love it and find it inspiring.
Essential to understanding the context of Call Me is the weight of DJ Drama’s presence on the project. Having put out over 150 Gangsta Grillz mixtapes, DJ Drama has become the central figure of mixtape culture in the last two decades. Drama does not produce the beats on these tapes, but instead connects artists with producers. He then hosts the mixtapes by compiling and narrating them. In his prime, he helped launch artists such as T.I. and Jeezy to multi-platinum fame, ultimately helping popularize southern hip-hop. After hearing Tyler’s project, I listened to several rappers’ Gangsta Grillz mixtapes in addition to Drama’s own Gangsta Grillz The Album for a sonic background. Much of my taste in hip hop is outside the sphere of DJ Drama’s work, however, and I only connected with a small fraction of what I heard.
Although I could only enjoy his mixtapes to a limited extent, I found DJ Drama’s appearance on Call Me to be humorous and well-timed. His presence was not “indispensable,” as Pitchfork stated, but it assisted the album’s flow and contributed to its mixtape feel. I find it worth mentioning that both Tyler and Pharrell respectively strayed from Drama’s signature mixtape sound. Tyler credited Pharrell on his album’s back cover under his Gangsta Grillz moniker, “Sk8board,” a nod to his influence. In fact, DJ Drama floated in an interview with Complex that this project is Tyler’s symbolic “ode” to Pharrell’s Gangsta Grillz tape, In My Mind: The Prequel.
Tyler’s Gangsta Grillz tape is the most sonically unique I’ve come across, likely because Tyler produced and compiled every track. Tyler establishes a colorful, emotional atmosphere within Drama’s braggadocio-laced mixtape format, reframing it to fit his experience and values.
Call Me, within the context of Tyler’s discography, marks his refreshing return to rap after years of venturing away from the genre. Tyler’s strong role as a visionary is apparent in all of his albums, even when his skills as a musician and lyricist were not as strong. This time around I was thoroughly impressed by his increased effectiveness as an artist and particularly by his lyricism and vocal delivery. As Tyler shares stories of travel, change, and love triangles, with each track he wanders further into a world without boundaries that denote who you can be, how you can live, and who you can love.
Vivid as ever, Tyler’s soundscape features a balance of accessibility and stylistic quirks, establishing a sonic allure suited for casual listeners and Golf-wearing stans alike. His prominent incorporation of woodwind and brass instruments contrasts with the predominantly digital Gangsta Grillz sound, and tastefully captures Tyler’s cinematic style of album creation. Furthermore, synth textures and arpeggios on “CORSO” and “SWEET” harken back to IGOR while the drums on “WILSHIRE” evoke scenes from Wolf, carrying a sense of familiarity into the album. Jazz chords strung throughout the project shape lush, colorful contours behind each verse. Part of what keeps the mixtape format engaging is Tyler’s ability to consistently shift the instrumental color palette with which he illustrated the album.
I especially enjoyed Tyler’s sample selection. After looking them up, I realized that much of my fascination with his instrumentals comes from his use of sampling. I believe this project exhibits Tyler’s best uses of sampling yet. Here were a few of my favorites:
- “2 Cups of Blood” by Gravediggaz on “LUMBERJACK”
- “Slow Hot Wind” by Penny Goodwin on “HOT WIND BLOWS”
- “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Babe” by Jimmy Smith on “MANIFESTO”
Beyond the album’s stellar production, Tyler’s diversity in musical styles exhibits his versatility, but takes away from the project’s sonic cohesiveness. Tyler’s incorporation of pop elements, for example, heightens the accessibility of the project while also feeding the playful, explorative character of the album. He particularly shines on the hook of “WUSYANAME,” which has been on replay in my mind. Tyler again expands his style on “I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE,” playing with the main theme of “Baby, My Love” by The In Crowd & Jah Stitch to create a danceable reggae groove. As the album enters its second half, the styles become more varied, the songs get longer, and so do the interludes. Call Me doesn’t top the cohesiveness and complexity of what Tyler achieved on IGOR, but it doesn’t try to. Tyler’s utilization of the mixtape’s flexibility of form enables him to frame the album’s emotional effect in a looser fashion than his two previous albums.
Another convention of mixtape culture is the commonality of features. There are twelve listed vocal features on the album with distinct verses. Most were masterfully incorporated thanks to Tyler’s skill as a producer, but a few performances were underwhelming. Tyler placed 42 Dugg’s verse on “LEMONHEAD” at a satisfying moment, but the track as a whole (and especially the lyrics) did not add depth to the album. Teezo Touchdown’s feature was also below average, but I enjoyed “RUNITUP” and his contributions nonetheless. It’s a bit strange to criticize these verses because they were still great, but within a project of this caliber the bar is naturally high.
Tyler’s heavy inclusion of burgeoning artists such as Daisy, Fana Hues, Brent Faiyaz, Teezo Touchdown, 42 Dugg, and Jay Versace was nice to see. Tyler gained traction in his early years with help from popular artists who featured him, and his reciprocal generosity demonstrates his maturity. I believe I speak for most hip-hop fans when I say that NBA YoungBoy’s verse in “WUSYANAME” was not only surprisingly beautiful, but also one of the best guest appearances on the album. I was also surprised to hear Daisy sing on “RISE!” as I am a huge fan of hers. For me it was truly a dream collaboration.
Tyler’s own vocal appearances showcase his refined skills as a rapper and lyricist, which are perhaps most crucial to the album’s overall effectiveness. Since his release of IGOR, Tyler’s intermittent features on Freddie Gibbs’ “Something to Rap About” and Brent Faiyaz’s “Gravity” hinted that his rapping abilities were improving. However, it wasn’t until the release of Call Me that Tyler was able to reestablish his presence as a rapper on home turf. His immersive storytelling, unique flows, and prevalent use of internal rhymes proved to be vital to the album’s emotional and sonic value. I had expected stellar production, but the work he put into his vocal delivery behind the scenes demanded my respect.
Call Me is Tyler’s most lyrically intimate, self-aware look in the rear view mirror. His mixtape persona, Tyler Baudelaire, embraces his priorities as a sensitive, emotionally in-touch artist exiting his twenties. On “RUNITUP” Tyler raps “He off the dope / We off it, we off the boat,” flexing his material possessions while implicitly making clear his undeterred will to live meaningfully in this world. Similarly, on “MASSA,” Tyler reflects on his twenties, outlining how he found his voice having grown up poor, Black, socially ostracized, and famous. Effectively utilizing the area he has carved out within popular American culture, Tyler smashes preconceived notions of how a rapper, or a Black man for that matter, should look or act. His music works to undo the historical misrepresentation of young Black men who are systemically stereotyped by white America through the lens of commercially successful hip-hop, essentially humanizing them on a global stage. Here Tyler taps into the self-love espousing, free-expression embracing traditions of Black music, cementing himself as an artist in the long line of greats. Fitting with Call Me’s title outside of its reference to travel, Tyler seems to have reached a newfound level of security in expressing his identity, thus extending his warmth and guidance to those who feel lost. He certainly did that for me when I was 16 with the release of Flower Boy, so I can only imagine the effect of his world-renowned message on marginalized teens.
His greatness on Call Me is not without its limits, though. Tyler’s mixtape-style braggadocio suits the album nicely and adds to its impact, although it skims off some of his lyrical depth. Sure, he’s making a mixtape, but some lyrics mask his core message. Call Me doesn’t masquerade as a concept-album or his musical magnum opus, however. It’s effective as an honest update from Tyler, it’s produced and mixed extremely well, and it’s a rewarding listen for most fans of rap. Most dissatisfaction among fans will likely stem from Tyler’s ability to unapologetically hop between completely different album formats on each project he makes, leaving fans who had alternate expectations longing for something different. But that’s what makes Tyler such an inspiring figure; he lives his life how he wants and he encourages his audience to do so as well. Call Me, faults and all, is inspirational, evocative, and poetic. It may have more trouble than Flower Boy and IGOR did topping critics’ year-end lists, including my own, but that’s antithetical to Tyler’s mission with this project. For a tenacious creative who found success, what’s dropping a Gangsta Grillz tape but taking a scenic route on the drive home?
As for rating this project, I agree with the critical consensus of around an 8/10. I currently view it as an 8.7/10. But rather than something to excavate, this project is something to cherish and grow with. I’m not concerned with an actual rating. What I love most about this project is its transportive ability rather than its merit as a formal album. Right now it’s my favorite project of 2021, and that’s about all I have to say for now.