March 31, 2013

Album Review: Tyler, the Creator's Wolf


Three years ago, Odd Future’s de facto leader Tyler, the Creator was the hip-hop collective’s most obvious breakout star, but we’re amidst a sea change these days for the polarizing crew. Tyler now finds himself sitting shotgun to Frank Ocean at awards shows, prodigal son Earl Sweatshirt’s stint at a recovery facility abroad for troublemakers has thus far appears benefited his personal and professional maturity, punk pals Trash Talk are feeding off OF’s brand name recognition, and all the while, Tyler is still the same person he was when the Internet initially stumbled upon him. That might not be such a bad thing for any young musician who had their shit together from the start, but Tyler arrived onto the hip-hop scene as a divisive character equally inspired by teenage growing pains and challenged by his lack of filter, making him just as charismatic as he was unlikeable and self-entitled.

In spite of this, his sophomore effort Goblin still received a warm reception from the critical mass, debuted at #5 on the Billboard charts and garnered him a few moon men at the VMAs, putting him in good standing with the holy trinity of writers, listeners and poptimists alike. The potty-mouthed MC's third LP Wolf should be his biggest moment of grace, devoid of defensiveness. Instead, Tyler, the Creator unapologetically disses his success through a fit of f-bombs (of both crudely-conceived varieties), dwarfing mighty guest star appearances with his ego and tirelessly rant rhymes that collectively beg you to side with his haters by the end of his latest concept therapy session -- But shouldn't if you realize this is what you signed up for all along.

Tyler has massaged his shock value beyond a point of discussion. If you're still focusing in on curse words or that other f-word (that admittedly won't ever be okay to say regardless of how many gay friends you have,) I guess your reaction makes it understandable to see how he -- through his alter-ego Wolf Haley -- has become bored with millennials clinging onto his every banal tweet or professional scribe's writing their umpteenth thesis on his persona. Wolf is the self-realization that taking the bait might not be such a bad thing, turning the outside world's fascination of him and his apathy with it into inspiration, whether it be his lazy entrance in the title track or glorifying pettiness when brushing off overzealous fanboys during an uneasy Six Flags encounter on "Colossus / Bridge of Love." The breezy R&B in "Awkward" (featuring and sounding very much like a Frank Ocean track) and the deep bass beat of "IFHY" juxtapose his love life pre- and post-celebrity, with the former being naive and relatively optimistic while the latter finds our anti-hero in a far more hyper-cynical state of mind. There isn't an ominous overload of death threats or quease-inducing rape jokes to bring the mood down on Wolf like there were on 2-D listens Bastards or Goblin, but chalk it up to the same fame that has our protagonist inserting IRL footnotes about resenting money on "Cowboy" or hoping it reunites him with a long-absent dad to a simple yet painfully depressing guitar strum beat on "Answer."

Wolf is a step forward for Tyler, the Creator as far as his rap game and evolution as a storyteller goes, even if the production is as schizophrenic as the listen is in theme (the frenzied crew cuts in "Domo23," "Pigs" and "Trashwang" would likely serve better purpose on the next OF mix) or if at times he's stumbling when trying to fit TMI onto one LP with clunky results. Yet, Tyler's never been much of a flashy guy in the studio, with quiet percussion, hippie synths and ADHD making up a bulk of his understated soundscape. You can't criticize him for his use of brutally pessimistic honesty even if those self-important diatribes force their way to the front (possibly explaining why guest spots from heavyweights such as Eryka Badu, Pharrell, his fellow OF crew members and Trash Talk's Lee Spielman become blink-and-you-missed-it affairs.) It's easy on the surface level to see why some people find it easy to write this kid off, and Tyler, the Creator trolls a lot of their reactions here on Wolf, but seeing as that he's only getting better at doing exactly what we expect him to, can you hold that against him?


Tyler, the Creator's Wolf will be released on April 2, 2013 on Odd Future Records.

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