Six days before a scheduled release date of April 2, Tyler, the Creator’s third album Wolf was leaked. Having seemingly anticipated this, the leader of the controversial rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All announced that he had uploaded the album to Soundcloud to stream in full.
He announced the stream on his Twitter, followed by a typically self-deprecating admonition: “YOU SHOULD WAIT UNTIL TUESDAY. THE ALBUM SUCKS THO. ME CRYING ABOUT MY DAD AND ALL THE BEATS SOUND ALIKE. BUT LISTEN FOR YOURSELF.”
Tyler and his Odd Future Gang Kill Them All companions burst onto the underground scene like skateboard-wielding knucklehead bats out of hell following the releases of Tyler’s critically acclaimed album Bastard, member Earl Sweatshirt’s Earl, and the group’s Radical, all uploaded for free. Since then, the group’s success has led to both a hugely dedicated fanbase and staunchly critical opponents. Throughout their journey, the group members seem to have an equal amount of resentment for both.
OF has since established a record label, a clothing brand and permanent storefront on Fairfax Avenue and a show on Adult Swim. The members have garnered numerous accolades, underwent the Delphian disappearance and return of Earl and experienced seemingly everything in between.
Cockroach-eating aside, Tyler has without a doubt established himself as an enormously talented enigma. Love it or hate it, Wolf demands to be heard.
The 2011 LP Goblin was composed mostly of a dichotomous celebration and indignation for Tyler’s newfound spotlight. And after Odd Future’s sudden shift from underground hype to international attention, there was an enormous amount of pressure put on the rapper/producer’s sophomore release.
There is an impressive amount of artistic growth between Goblin and Tyler’s newest release. Wolf sees the return of a matured Bastard aesthetic — accompanied by lush and intricate production. We are once more invited into the insular, deeply personal, often dark, humorous and always fascinating mind of the 22-year-old Tyler and his aliases.
Setting the stage for the 18-track album is the titular track, “Wolf,” in which Tyler’s alter ego/therapist Dr. TC is heard introducing Wolf Haley to Sam and other miscellaneous characters at the fictional “Camp Flog Gnaw,” one of many anagrams the group has established for Wolf Gang.
In the track, the character of Wolf (which presumably resonates most closely with Tyler’s own personality) states “So, are you guys into jazz?” to which Sam responds aggressively. The relationship between these two characters is developed throughout the album, weaving an intricate narrative arc that seems to serve as a fanciful distraction while Tyler copes with his more deeply rooted issues.
The second track, “Jamba” (featuring fellow Odd Future member, Hodgy Beats) introduces these issues. Tyler immediately sets the stage for the rest of the album’s lyrical project, rapping “Papa ain’t call even though he saw me on TV, it’s all good (f-ck you).” Clearly it isn’t “all good” — this is a deeply affecting and humanizing notion that we see continue throughout the album as Tyler grapples with his issues of abandonment and the absence of a father figure. Tyler again addresses his absent father in “Answer”: “Mom was only 20 when you ain’t have any f-cks to spare / You Nigerian f-ck, now I’m stuck with this sh-tty facial hair.” He then goes on to acknowledge that this pain has allowed him to be successful: “Stuck with a beautiful home with a case stairs / So you not being near f-cking fire-started my damn career.”
Thankfully, “Answer” is a stark and welcome transition in production style and content; the stellar track features a melodic guitar riff over a solid beat, lyrically echoing the vulnerability of Tyler’s similarly sentimental “Inglorious” from Bastard.
The following track, “Cowboy,” sees Tyler personifying himself as a cowboy, musing about the consequences of fame, insisting that he is the “cowboy on [his] own trip” over a dark jazzy piano riff and strings.
Frank Ocean is featured on the following song, “Slater,” singing a chorus of “I just wanna ride my bike” as Tyler continues to subject himself to dizzying and scattered psychoanalysis. He states “I stopped rapping and started asking ‘Where my f-cking passion is’” and admits that he “didn’t ask for this” and “did [rapping] out of boredom.”
The song is an enjoyable listen. The lyrics, however, seem to be a jumbled interlude into summertime naivete that takes away slightly from the album’s overall aesthetic.
Next is the strange anti-drug “PSA 48,” beginning with a recording of a Nas interview wherein he speaks of the damage that crack cocaine caused.
“PartyIsntOver/Campfire/Bimmer” seems to be a series of three vignettes (and, at the end of the day, serves mostly as a chance for Tyler to show off his production skills) — including a charming plea for a dance with a romantic interest, followed by the enormously catchy “Bimmer” which includes references to everything from R. Kelly to Tame Impala.
“IFHY” is a musically impressive track detailing a characteristically troublesome relationship with a love interest, aided by one of Tyler’s idols, Pharrell Williams. Even in the asinine “Trashwang,” Tyler’s agile and clever lyricism shoulders the silly, gunshot-filled Lex Luger-style production. “Treehome95” is a gorgeous nu-soul track in which none other than Erykah Badu steals the spotlight. Other OF anthemic tracks — “Parking Lot,” “Rusty” and “Pigs” — are filled with clever wordplay and are sure to please fans of the group’s more hedonistic work.
Wolf is the next chapter in the work of the “f-cking walking paradox” that Tyler once labeled himself to be, a mix of dark, moody synths, horns and retro jazzy keyboard chord progressions makes for gorgeous beats and shows impressive growth in production since Goblin. Many are inclined to blow off the rapper-producer’s efforts as flippant, childish and ultimately obscene. It’s arguable that his latest effort challenges the notion of Tyler as a braggadocious shock artist as he guides the listener on a tour of his complex id.
There are moments of exceptional delivery in virtually every track and impressive features from Odd Future co-conspirators. Even in the album’s characteristic vulgarity, there is artistic value.
References to a new home and stairs/staircases permeate the album lyrically, serving as a convenient metaphor for Tyler’s five-year journey since Bastard. Picture the tall, lanky 22-year-old standing at the foot of a long staircase in a home that he now owns, implored, as underscored by the voicemail on “Rusty,” to “grow up, don’t grow down. You know, like, you know, grow up! Don’t grow down, grow out.”
Ultimately, as described in the final track, “Lone,” Tyler struggles with the expectations placed upon him, the pressures of fame and the loss of his grandmother. Brutally honest, angsty, boastful and hopelessly self-deprecating, Wolf utterly humanizes Tyler.
The album as a whole is filled with both sonic and lyrical ingenuity and ultimately serves as a reminder that the Tyler’s journey up the stairs certainly didn’t begin with Goblin —and isn’t likely to end soon.