Tyler, the Creator, ‘Wolf’ – Album Review
Tyler, the Creator doesn’t rap a single line on ‘Wolf,’ the eponymous intro of his third studio album. But, in its two minutes of overblown absurdity, that track defines this 22-year-old provocateur’s overall musical identity: swirling psych-jazz keys, bombastic trap-kit blasts, pointless button-pushing and profanity-laced showboating. “I think you’re a f—ing fag,” Tyler sings — in a guttural, tuneless moan — igniting a parade of tired F-bombs. One track later, on the Neptunes-aping sprawl of ‘Jamba,’ he begs a skank for fellatio — seconds later, he’s begging for his inhaler.
As the figurehead of Odd Future, aka OFWGKTA, Tyler’s proven simultaneously unknowable and unignorable — a mixture of hyper-active idiot-savant and attention-starved genius — and he’s done so by tweeting nonsensical homophobia, directing surrealistic movie videos, starring in his own goofy sketch comedy series and recording loads of thought-provoking, infuriating music. ‘Wolf’ further extends his trademark lunacy, particularly with its shape-shifting, multi-hued production. Somehow, he wrangles more intrigue from an approach that, in theory, should have already exhausted itself.
By this point, Tyler’s Neptunes worship is distinctly at the forefront of his music: Where his previous album, 2011’s ‘Goblin,’ was eerie and sparse, ‘Wolf’ is consistently lush, full of fusion-styled keyboard changes, soulful guest vocals (everyone from gang-mate Frank Ocean to Erykah Badu to Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier), wide-screen beats and subtly warped orchestral layers. From the champagne glitz of ‘Lone’ to the M.I.A.-styled worldbeat of ‘Tamale’ to the post-rock atmospheric of ‘Cowboy,’ it’s Tyler’s most sonically engaging batch of material.
Most evocative is ‘Rusty,’ a jazzy dirge with a breezy synth-flute likely lifted from an ’80s sitcom theme. But, as usual, Tyler isn’t quite comfortable with prettiness, and he juxtaposes these glowing arrangements with some of his brashest lyrical tirades. ‘Rusty’ moves from rapper trash-talk to critic-basing to psychological confessions, concluding with a spree of random profanity and sarcastic gangsta gunshots.
Few artists can pull off a song as ridiculously self-fetishizing as ‘Colossus,’ a demented love letter from an obsessed fan. As it turns out, Tyler isn’t one of those artists. As he’s proven on Odd Future’s various collaborative mixtapes, he works best as a capital-R rapper when the mood is loose and playful. ‘Trashwang’ is the album’s posse-boast anthem, a delirious barrage of side-splitting punchlines and rhythmically intense non-sequiturs.
But ‘Wolf’ is equally intriguing when Tyler shifts into therapy mode, dropping his guard to reveal an actual human pulse. ‘Lone’ closes the album with a heartbreaking play-by-play of experiencing his grandmother’s death; ‘Answer’ is another hypnotic “f— you” to an absentee father. (“Mom was only 20 when you ain’t have any f— to spare,” he raps in a trance-like flow. “You Nigerian f—, now I’m stuck with this shitty facial hair.”)
‘Wolf,’ like everything Tyler touches, is an album of exposed nerves and superficial stupidity — a messy clusterf— of “sharting” and candy bars, death threats and family tirades, extreme beauty and exhausting ugliness. For better or worse (and usually both), Tyler — hip-hop’s self-anointed outcast — has never sounded more like Tyler.