Tyler, the Creator – Wolf
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Record Label: Odd Future Records
Back in 2011, hip-hop collective Odd Future emerged from the underground rap scene and gained a decent amount of mainstream attention in a seemingly short period of time. Part of the increased attention was due to Tyler, the Creator's music video for “Yonkers,” off of 2011's Goblin. Tyler was, and arguably still is, the face of the group, and “Yonkers” embodies many of the qualities that made Odd Future so appealing to people. It's dark, twisted, vulgar, and controversial. His personality seemed to elicit as much hate as it did endearment, but people on both sides couldn't deny his raw talent. On top of that, he was only 20 at the time all of this happened.
Here we are two years later, where more than a few things have changed. Earl Sweatshirt (who went away to Samoa around the time the group blew up) made his return last year, and this seemed to eclipse the work Tyler and the rest of the crew put into their second official mixtape. Frank Ocean released one of the best records of 2012, further shifting the spotlight of the group away from Tyler. Still, talks of Wolf circulated throughout 2012, and there remained a good amount of buzz behind it.
The anticipation for Wolf, however, was always very cautious. Goblin ended up failing to deliver on the promise of “Yonkers,” though it still showed enormous potential and signs of an artist capable of doing something truly great some day. Tyler's work on the Odd Future mixtape didn't seem to expand or progress on his previous work all that much, but it was, at the very least, an enjoyable listen for the die-hard fans. While Wolf may not be his 'something great,' it is still able to improve upon Goblin in a few categories, though a lot of it comes across as more of the same.
First and foremost, the improvement on the production is one of the best things Wolf has going for it. Tyler has always been a capable producer, which he has proved not only through his own work but also by his work on projects released from other Odd Future members. Wolf sees him exploring new, lighter sound palettes and drawing a lot of influence from jazz, as Tyler said he would. Album highlight “Bimmer,” which appears on the back end of a three part song, incorporates an element of R&B that Tyler himself hasn't explored much before, which leaves a perfect pocket for Frank Ocean to give a predictably stellar performance. “Ifhy” features vocals and production from Pharrell, and the styles of him and Tyler come together perfectly for a colorful yet menacing song that becomes an immediate stand out.
Even with the strides and progression Tyler makes with production on the album, there are still a couple of missteps in that respect. Lead single “Domo23” is an absolute mess in every sense of the word, starting with the beat itself. The synth brass sounds as flat and thin as any audio program's pre-sets, and the random high-pitched synths during the hook are just about as grating as the hook itself. And this is where the real problems with the album begin: Tyler, as a rapper, lyricist, and songwriter, has simply not progressed. The hook here is just a simple “Fuck that/Golf Wang/Fuck that/Golf Wang/Fuck That” with random shrieks in the middle of the flat, uninterested voice muttering the hook. The lyrics of the song aren't much better, with more of his usual shenanigans of being young, immature and not caring about anything and showing no remorse for the things he says, a clear example being “So a couple **** threw a little hissfit/Came to Pitchfork with a couple Jada Pinkett signs/And said I was a racist homophobic/So I grabbed Lucas and filmed us kissing.” It's lines like these that make Tyler, the Creator a figure who is hard to like or empathize with.
Another problem with Tyler, the Creator's rapping is that he seems entirely disinterested with doing it. His flow rarely changes from what we're already used to from him, which makes the album feel a little redundant. It becomes easy to tune out Tyler's voice, which isn't entirely a bad thing, as its not like Tyler has anything all that interesting to say. He references the success of “Yonkers” enough times to really paint a picture of how much he resents that song, which is frustrating considering it's still the best song in his discography. He's still young and immature, and he seems unsure of how to handle his success. The problem is that the way he is handling the success makes it hard to care about his struggle with it.
Perhaps the biggest thing Tyler struggles with here, and something he failed to learn from with Goblin, is how to put together an album. Like Goblin, Wolf is dauntingly long and its a hassle to make it through in one sitting. The middle of the album drags on and on, though by the time you hit “Rusty” you're almost brought back in until the unforgivably atrocious “Trashwang” begs you to turn off the album. Sticking it out does prove to be rewarding with a pretty good string of final tracks, but the errors preceding them are still glaring. The one thing to remember when discussing Wolf is that Tyler is still very young. Sure, Earl Sweatshirt may be a bit younger and on his way to the top of the rap game, but that kind of prodigal talent is rare. Tyler sits at 22, a hell of a lot younger than most people with the kind of fan base he has. Wolf is still packed with signs of potential, and at this point it would be just as foolish to write Tyler off as it would be to call him one of the best in the game.
Pretty fair review. I thought you were gonna give it like a five based on your comments earlier. I agree, lyrically he hasn't really progressed and it does feel like he's sick of rapping. I really love the production on this.
I really enjoy this album, almost as much as I enjoyed Goblin. It is a bit lengthy, and I think the not including the three filler tracks ("48", "Trashwang", "Tamale") would greatly improve the overall listen. Aside from that, I really feel that Wolf is Tyler finding his own in fantastic production and beats. It's less juvenile. "Answer" is easily my favorite Tyler song. Regardless of my feelings, this is a really excellent and thorough review!