Album Reviews

Album Review: Tyler, the Creator – Wolf

on April 01, 2013, 12:03am
tyler wolf cover C+
Release Date
Label
Formats

A reoccurring image on Wolf is a house, one whose deed belongs to Tyler Gregory Okonma. He doesn’t talk about waking up in a new Bugatti, he talks about waking up in his new home, where he’s got to climb “eight sets of stairs just to see where [his] fucking roof be.” The fame, isolation, space, pride, and loneliness are represented in this house that Tyler, the Creator references many times on the album. In just three years, he’s gone from sleeping on his grandmother’s couch and making blown-out angst rap with shock lyrics about rape, necrophilia, and misogyny to paying the mortgage on a four-story symbol of responsibility at the young age of 22 and making an album about the trappings of an overactive imagination. If you can imagine how small the six-foot-tall rapper looks in his mansion, you’re getting a good idea of what the scene looks like on his third solo LP, Wolf.

Upon first crossing the threshold into Wolf, it seems like an all-too-familiar portrait of Tyler’s macabre, solipsistic worldview. At over 70 minutes, it’s once again too long, girded with IDGAFs and “fag-” baiting, and so much self-reflexive lyricism that it feels like you’re watching Tyler yell at himself in a house of mirrors. That would explain some of the alter-egos that crop up on the album: Wolf, Sam, and Salem. The album is loosely based around these three characters and their experience at Flog Gnaw, a fictional summer camp with the same name as the Odd Future Carnival that took place in L.A. last year.

And much like real summer camp, there are moments of adventure, immaturity, boredom, love, self-discovery, and, of course, an underlying feeling that you don’t really want to be at summer camp anyway. To Tyler’s credit, Wolf is a stark contrast to some of the endeavors he’s undertaken since 2011′s Goblin. Watch how much fun he has in the posse cut “Oldie” from The OF Tape Vol 2. tape and compare it to the laconic, self-serious jealousy note of Wolf’s “IFHY” that sports the hook, “I fucking hate you / but I love you.”

He’s a trope unto himself: a garrulous puck when he’s around his friends filming outrageous music videos and sketch comedy shows for Adult Swim, and a manic depressive when he’s alone. That’s the house that Tyler built for himself, and spending time with him can be an exhausting, frustrating, singular, and impressive experience.

True to his personality, Tyler is at his best when he’s entertaining guests, and Wolf is stacked with them: Pharrell’s turn on “IFHY”, Lætitia Sadier (of Stereolab) on the Funkadelic-on-lean “Campfire”, and Frank Ocean, whose croon is peppered throughout the album to aerate Tyler’s growl. His asthmatic, baritone cadence sounds most dynamic when paired with someone else, and like “Sandwitches”, Hodgy Beats’ verse on “Jamba” completes one of the most streamlined, caffeinated tracks from the Odd Future catalogue.

If you buy into the rickety summer-camp narrative of the album, Tyler hardly gives anyone else a role in the story, even though they do much of the work on the album (Ms. Erykah Badu all but saves the day on the neo soul redux “Treehome95″). His production helps shoulder the burdens of the album, too, with these jazz fusion chords that mist up behind every track, coupled with dissonant piano lines or a lone guitar riff in some musical mode that doesn’t play well with others. He’s more RZA than Neptunes throughout, favoring slick, backseat funk over cranium-splitting synths. Even when he’s lampooning Lex Luger on “Trashwang”, or channeling some scorched ’60s psych on the heartbreaking “Answer”, he maintains that busted economy in his beats, and carves out a detailed and dynamic aesthetic for the world of Wolf.

Tyler is his own worst enemy, of course. But the buoyancy of the production and the overall intrigue of hearing him struggle with his idle hands prevent the album from getting mired down in too much vanity. And just like the devil’s playground of his Twitter feed, Tyler’s diarheic subconscious on the album is mostly concerned with pleasuring himself. When he deals with anyone other than himself, like super fans on “Colossus” or young love on “Awkward”, he handles it with all the grace and class you’d expect of someone who falsely equates being a gay ally with having Frank Ocean on his record, despite his persistent use of the word “faggot” throughout.

It would be ignorance for ignorance’s sake if Tyler weren’t trying to unpack all these contradictions, too. His pernicious verses exhibit more pathos than pity, more agency than just shock, and those moments of lucidity in the closing track “Lone” when Tyler states that he’s just “using these negatives to develop a portrait” are the glue that keeps this mosaic of mirrors together. At his best, he grapples with how we interpret language with the same kind of “I say that shit just clownin’ dog” defense as Eminem — death threats to boy bands and fart jokes included.

At his worst, he’s an immature egomaniac whose insufferableness comes from being too aware of his own faults. For a guy who was tempered in internet culture, whose personality was always reflected in some digital form or another, it’s an understandable tack to take. Thankfully he’s done a fine job of making the journey to the center of his id a curious and engaging one. Even when he wanders aimlessly around on “Slater”, you know he’ll get bored soon enough and call up Earl Sweatshirt and Domo Genesis for a late-album defibrillator jolt on “Rusty”. He’s an increasingly enigmatic young rap magnate who struggles with self-expression to the point of continuing to play his own therapist on his records. That’s the life of his mind, and inside his house, there’s plenty of room for him to succeed and fail. It’s still compelling to watch him do both.

Essential Tracks: “Answer”, “Lone”, and “Rusty”

12 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Christopher Aizen
April 1, 2013 at 1:14 am

Definitely an interesting review. My experience with this album was kinda scattered, I went from “Lone” to “Answer” and then “PartyIsntOver”. I love the album, it’s real. He’s not trying to impress anyone, he’s just doing him, which we can all appreciate.

Binder Pannu
April 1, 2013 at 1:54 am

The good thing about this album is that it’s genuine. It’s not him portraying himself as a gangster throughout those 70 minutes, moreso him talking about what he thinks about the subjects of life, love and the death of his grandma. It makes you laugh, get hyped and even cry at the end (Lone) when he’s being cold about his grandma when he wants to let it all out, but can’t due to the fact that his father took all the tears from him. Best album of the bunch.

Dan Fratoni
April 1, 2013 at 2:07 am

Wow. This record sounds dope. Looking forward to it! http://smarturl.it/TCWolf

Tyler, the creator supporter
April 1, 2013 at 2:48 am

There isn’t any gangster rap in the album, this albums production, genius, and lyrics triumph all other rap albums that have ever come out or will ever come out in the future.

You also spelled gansta wrong Faggot.

http://i48.tinypic.com/2eg8rr9.png

jake
April 1, 2013 at 3:22 am

Angst is a real word though. Angst is a feeling of anxiety or apprehension often accompanied by depression. And its spelled “Gangsta” not “gansta” -_- but eh carry on tyler the creator supporter.

Brian
April 1, 2013 at 4:51 am

hahaha good job at making tyler fans looking like idiots. how did you feel when you went through the process of screenshotting this and posting that comment? smart? clever? superior?

Wraith Timid
April 1, 2013 at 5:06 am

This is a great review, and I agree with the author and with the people below in the comments, I think he’s evolved a lot as a composer. The beats on Wolf are very well structured, the melodies especially. And although a lot of the synths sound a bit flat and the drums can be simplistic and repetitive, over the years I’ve just come to accept that as one of the staples of OF’s sound. I’ve always seen past the braggadocio Tyler throws around and have known that deep down, he’s just a depressed guy longing for attention and communication with others. And on Wolf, that comes right to the forefront. What I love about him is that he’s so brutally honest, to the point of even openly criticizing himself, or sharing deeply personal aspects of himself and his life that other artists probably wouldn’t feel comfortable with. But that’s part of what makes him so interesting, and to me, it’s what makes his work so relatable. Could he improve on a lot of shit? Sure. But seeing the evolution he’s made from the start up until this album, I can see that he’ll probably continue to progress. Tyler has that hyperactive hunger that makes him stand out. Wolf is a gleaming reminder of why I dig his work so much.

Vaughn Scioli
April 1, 2013 at 7:09 pm

OMG it IS scattered slighlty and the review was off. im sorry, but he got the characters wrong. and who gives a fuck about how he formerly acted… take this as a 3 piece ensemble …… go back and seriously listen to all 3 albums in a row while going for a long walk or something. sitting on your computer listening to it while quickly searching images or videos of him and the rest of OF just to come up with some quick grand view is absolutely absurd…. and the features are simply there to help the story. He doesnt need to spend time reminding you of each feature. pretend they arent there. they are more voices in a story.. bad review for the fact that Jeremy is over thinking tyler and the ablum way way too much. thanks and no im not a dick rider. Just listened to it 3 times while laying on the jetty in OC and trust me, this review is off. it is solid music through and through. plus it is Packaging of the year

Jarrett David Grimes
April 1, 2013 at 9:56 pm

3.5??? GTFO

Jax Teller
April 3, 2013 at 2:27 am

Great review..check out the splash page for Tyler http://smarturl.it/TCWolf

Greg
April 10, 2013 at 7:29 am

Tyler is very talented, however very ignorant at the same time if that makes any sense. Maybe when he gets a lil older and realizes that words do still have huge power on people regardless of how his opinion may view it then he can grow to being one of the best artists now and forever. But hey, alot of artists can be immature. I can put my feelings to the side enough to listen to his music but I kinna don’t like him as a person thus far

your moma
April 15, 2013 at 1:03 am

The Author should definitely focus on things that he is familiar with, and not critique music. Reviewing Music is clearly not this authors forte, because the author writing sucks… Wolf is a part of a trilogy, starting from Tyler’s first album Bastard to Goblin and now #Wolf. Its, obvious he/the Author knows nothing about the genius work that has been put into this production. Tyler is nothing less, than an exceptional artist that prides on his body of work, and pissing people off. He is extremely smart. and clearly knows what exactly is he’s doing. He/Tyler is just mis-understood and people often times choose to be offended. If negative bloggers would just really listen to the album first before passing judgement maybe they would have a better understanding of why wolf is so good and why they should stop hating on a kid that is good at self expression. Also, maybe the Author should actually purchase the CD, listen before writing an unfair articles based on his/her personal feelings/hate and other bloggers articles before pressing the send button and judging his music unfairly, give it a fair chance before placing it into a box. He’s telling a story, follow it and you will have a better understanding of who this kid really is. Its obvious, not very many bloggers actually listen to the Album before writing their story, because if they did, they(bloggers) would rate it an solid “A” Congrats Tyler! he produced the entire Album. He’s 22 with a lot more room to grow.