Tyler, The Creator – Wolf

tyler-wolf-new-3Tyler, The Creator – Wolf
Odd Future/Sony: 2013

Tyler, The Creator has made a career for himself in entertainment based on a psychological game of chicken he plays endlessly with his viewing public. Our fascination with the kid and his Odd Future cohorts began with 2008’s The Odd Future Tape, a half-baked serving of scattershot verses that failed to determine distinct personalities between members, but succeeded in introducing America to the heinous juvenile antics of a skateboard-loving, Supreme cloth-donning crew of Los Angeles rap misfits.

Since that fateful release, the rap internet has sorted out its archetypes from the 12 (or so) member OF pack: there’s the goofball hanger-on (Jasper Dolphin); the mischievous misanthrope (Hodgy Beats); the horny pothead (Left Brain); the burgeoning artiste (Frank Ocean); and the troubled boy genius (Earl Sweatshirt); among others. Team OF exists and operates under a dome of obscene benevolence as dictated by Tyler, whose job since his 2009 debut, Bastard, has been to bait a hungry blogosphere with a stream of hateful tweets, provocative music videos, and cartoonishly nihilist rap lyrics. This all culminated in 2011’s Goblin, an uneven and fairly unsatisfying sophomore effort that left this critic wondering what all the fuss was about in the first place.

Currently, Tyler has his hand in a lot of pots — touring with the crew, the Loiter Squad show on Adult Swim, OF-themed pop-up stores — but simultaneous to all of those he’s kept our attention by saying and doing off-the-wall shit thats ensures a forever-held interest by at least two parties: adoring fans who might believe Tyler is Millennial ontology incarnate, and staunch critics who hold him responsible for undoing 20 years’ worth of liberal progressivism. The game Tyler currently plays with this audience is one of zero sum: he acts, people react, rewind, and repeat. In this perpetual cycle of finger-pointing the only way for the 22-year-old rapper/producer/actor/director to rise above the din and allow his artistry to speak for itself, is to stop gazing so much at our reaction and start speaking to the man in the mirror.

Among the Tyler-fascinated there’s also a third party: the pop culture literati who collate all the swears, crunch the data, and churn out the reviews and thought pieces. The relative drought of online hand-wringing since Odd Future’s initial surge into the public conscious is a sign this group has started to lose interest. For those who’ve resisted passing judgement on Tyler in hopes of unearthing the complex pathos that undoubtedly lies beneath the bluster, the greatest gift would be for Tyler to step through his own looking glass. On his third full-length album, Wolf, he finally does — albeit partially.

The biggest issue with Tyler’s previous solo work has been how the seemingly frivolous anathema of his lyrics distorts our understanding of an underlying emotional desolation. If Tyler would just let us love him, maybe fewer of us would be offended, because after all there’s nothing we like better than watching a complex personality suffer emotional turmoil and nothing we dislike more than a blabbering homophobe. My crack team of one kept an unofficial scorecard of “offensive moments” during my review of Wolf, and through follow-up spins of Bastard and Goblin, and the very early data suggests this latest album is the “least offensive” which is, clearly, irrefutable proof that Tyler has matured.

But that’s not to say the record was strained through some sort of morality sieve before being released to the world. Tyler has always done an efficient job at chasing away would-be sympathizers and indeed the first thing we’re told on album intro “Wolf” is to “Fuck off.” So there’s that. There’s also obnoxious filler like “Trashwang” which, to be fair, is just a send-up of violent, shitty trap rap, but a violent and (again) shitty one at that. And then there are the joints only meant to get teenagers hyped and critics gnashing their teeth, “Domo23” and “Parking Lot”. But for every standard OF expectorant, there’s a song that finds Tyler dealing with his troubles head-on, or, at the very least, not using profanity or the threat of extreme violence as a defense mechanism. Even the school shooting narrative “Pigs” — replete with dated trenchcoat mafia references and pleading children’s voices — is the centerpiece to an ongoing storyline throughout Wolf about three characters presumably meant to compose the varying degrees of Tyler’s psyche.

Evidence of a young man with greater insight also appears on “Awkward”, the first love song we’ve heard from Tyler that doesn’t include a rape and murder; assuming you can see past the pitched-down vocals and vaguely foreboding production, it’s a saccharine portrait of two kids sharing their first kiss. “Lone” is Tyler recounting the events surrounding his grandmother’s passing, a complete dispensation of his absurdist lyrical tendencies in favor of simple, naked emotive rap. The kid making these songs is the same one who used to post anonymous skateboarding videos on YouTube and clips of he and his crew tormenting passers-by on Ventura Boulevard. Of course those types of stunts are impossible now given Tyler’s fame, which helps explain “Slater”, a nostalgic, in-the-wind glance back at a simpler youth featuring a playful, taunting Frank Ocean.

The type of isolation bred by fame might also explain the significant jump in the quality of production between Goblin and Wolf. Tyler has clearly been spending more time in the studio, refining the free-form, harried electronics that scribbled all over his past work into fuller-sounding, well-conceived compositions. Tyler’s admitted production idol, Pharrell, appears on “IFHY” where percussion explodes against Neptunes-inspired synth. “Jamba” is a spare, banging cut, a model for how the empty space between bass and rhythm can serve as the most vital component to a beat. The crack dealer’s lament, “48”, is Wolf’s most impressive track: a low end-heavy affair that rolls with mourning horns and keyboard; Tyler gives the hustler’s testimonial and a disembodied Nas vocal sample provides a first-hand account of the crack epidemic. “48” — along with oddities like the jazz interlude “Treehome95” (featuring a meandering Erykah Badu) and three-part furlough “PartyIsntOver/Campfire/Bimmer” (with Frank Ocean and Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier) — help hold the album together over its sprawling length.

A great hypocrisy arises from all the online rubbernecking directed at Odd Future and Tyler in particular: It’s that people are quick to throw stones at this specific crew of misbehaving youth, while ignoring or giving pass to other groups who remain just as guilty. Pop music literati are quick to revere a band like, say, NWA, despite the fact that that crew’s music contained just as abhorrent material. I think this is due to a couple of reasons: 1) the commodification of hip-hop has allowed for the kitsch-ing of certain aspects of its music (which effectively removes power from a sub-genre like gangsta rap); and 2) Tyler and company are striking a particular nerve among the liberal intellectual set who consider things like gender equality and LGBT rights the important issues of the day. It’s absolutely true we must value those things, but where we get lost is in the dichotomous translation of Tyler’s words as they’re received by the “enlightened” 35-year-old, white male music critic, and the 18-year-old disaffected young person to whom Tyler is primarily speaking. Like it or not, Odd Future speaks the language of the youth.

On “Colossus”, Tyler rehashes an encounter with an obsessed fan whose life experiences mirror the troubled ones of his own. For the rapper, it’s an uncomfortable brush with the fellow alienated and estranged. It illustrates the repercussions of being fluent in their language while finding common ground in a public sphere. Tyler already knows there are equal and opposite reactions from those who might oppose his viewpoint, but he may just now be learning what it means when his words act as a force of attraction.

★★★½☆
3.5 out of 5

RELATED: Our 12 Favorite Tyler, The Creator Songs

27 thoughts on “Tyler, The Creator – Wolf

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  1. Bastard may the best thing he’s ever going to do but this album is extremely listenable. His lyrical content may not have evolved as much as we were hoping but the production on this album is insanely lush and gorgeous. I think Wolf is a grower. I wasn’t in love with the album at first but now its hard to turn off.

  2. Mack Henry|

    much unlike the above review.

  3. But this is my therapy, Frank.

  4. Chul talk about the record, all other critical context and baggage is unecessary. It took 6 paragraphs to get to the actual music!

  5. MariaJordan|

    He made progress, but he’s still a shitty and unoriginal producer, and his flow sounds worst than ever. I loved bastard but this is at best a lesser version of it. Cant wait to see Earl’s album, he’s the real talent in the group.

  6. ^^^ Kid Nero this is not. ^^^

  7. Kirby Dicks|

    yes it is much better than that bullshit ASAP COPY put out. Tamale>>>>>>>>Wild for the Night

  8. KIRBY FUCKING DICKS|

    somebody does not get sarcasm, Mr. Reyneke. but seriously, no fucking yeezy?!?!?! WHY IS THIS EVEN BEING POSTED ON A HIP HOP BLOG THIS SHIT IS NOT FUCKING HIP HOP MORE LIKE SHIT-STOP.

  9. You’ve made some really strong points here.

  10. Mack Henry|

    this is one of the weaker reviews ive seen on this site

  11. Dan Hauge|

    I honestly think it has as much to do with the distance of time as anything. For whatever reason, we often respond differently, psychologically, to the same content differently after a certain amount of time has passed. I’ll bet a large sum of money critics 15 years from now will be outraged by the next new outrageous artist while praising OF

  12. Ren was kind of a suck-y rapper, I’ve always thought.

  13. It’s called getting old. I hope you enjoy it.

  14. “Going to illroots to listen to real hip-hop.” that sounds pretty contradictory doesn’t it?

  15. calmyotits|

    waaaaay too much content. jeeeeeeez

  16. Agreed.

  17. Yeah, it’s definitely two different worlds.

    Maybe my comparison is a stretch, but it’s definitely true that some people who (presumably) would have found NWA offensive for all the same reasons they now find OF offensive, have chosen to romanticize NWA. (There’s an annual “Dre Day” event in Williamsburg, for example.)

    Or maybe it’s that the people writing about OF weren’t around to live through the NWA backlash.

    In any case, there’s a hypocrisy going on and it’s making me grumpy, dammit!

  18. While I see your point, we didn’t have social media, blogs, and whatnot back then.

  19. Đ℞ΞV/|

    i think this is a good album. much better than goblin. in fact it really shows a lot of maturity and artistic growth. i even liked this better than Rocky’s album. this is well done.

  20. KIRBY DICKS|

    THIS SUCKS. THERE IS NO KANYE?!? NO PUSHA T?!?! NO FUCKING BIG SEAN?!?! FUCK WOLF IM GOING ON ILLROOTS TO LISTEN TO REAL HIP HOP HELL YEAH!

  21. Nathan Mercer|

    The difference between OF and NWA is that NWA actually sounded good doing their thing. I really couldn’t care less what either of them are saying. But OF just sound like ass. Their beats are crap and their flow is off. They just suck ass. Has nothing to do with the lyrics.

  22. Srsly. Who does this guy think he is??

  23. That’s a really good point.

    I was speaking more on the backlash specifically as it pertains to music journalists today: the instant reactions OF generate from writers who might give praise to NWA from the other side of their mouths.

  24. NWA received a much larger, much more negative reaction than any Odd Future backlash. Congress was flipping out, the FBI was sending cease and desist letters, Tipper Gore and co. were devising the Parental Advisory warning sticker on CD’s and tapes (remember those?), largely in response to Ren, Cube, Eazy, Dre & Yella. I see what you mean, but OF’s criticism is a blip in comparison. I think that’s just easy to forget after so many years. https://soundcloud.com/blast-famous/famous-grande

  25. Just so you know, you aren’t David Foster Wallace.

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