Review: Tyler, The Creator – Wolf
Published on April 9th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
This sure is a bolt from the blue. Is Odd Future main man Tyler, the Creator a bit of a musical genius on the sly? A fine rapper, yes; an agitator par excellence, of course; but a musician? Well, going by the beautiful, blissed-out jazz that frequently lights up his third solo album Wolf, and the various reports indicating that these are not samples but in fact from his own mind and hand…well, yes: the man may wield some grotesque lyrics but he’s just staked a very strong claim for Album of 2013.
First up is the immediately arresting title track, which starts the album by sounding quite unexpectedly like a drunken Beach Boys. Tyler says ‘fuck’ an awful lot over the top of it, even sneaks in a “fucking fag” followed by a self-satisfied chuckle, but the music behind it is soulful and sophisticated. Yes, a drunken Beach Boys stumbling into the kind of enraptured, technicolour hip-hop that Kanye West nailed on “We Major”: this kind of thing features prominently on Wolf, and we couldn’t imagine it being acknowledged or anticipated any more perfectly than when Tyler’s fictional therapist Dr. TC chimes, in that ‘Frank from Donnie Darko’ pitch-lowered voice of his, in with, “Hey, your music sounds good. You’ve been practicing.”
Tyler’s flow remains impeccable and relentless, dropping internal rhyming schemes and pop-culture-hewn similes with a deftness that’s easy to overlook, what with the lyrical trees in front of the technical wood (Accidental Partridge alert). The excessive darkness of the lyrical themes ‘explored’ on 2011 predecessor Goblin is not replicated so much on Wolf; they’re not absent altogether, naturally, but they often make way for – and through counterbalance serve to enhance the impact of – softer moments.
One of the best moments on the record is a repeated refrain containing no bad swears or murder/rape fantasies: namely, “I am the cowboy on my own trip” from the also-deliciously-jazz-tinged “Cowboy”. “The party isn’t over / We can still dance, girl / But I don’t have no rhythm / So fucking take a chance with a nigga like me” may not fare so well in the ‘not swearing’ stakes but it sounds almost unbearably exquisite, perhaps the most perfect moment of an album teeming with them.
Some parts of Wolf see Tyler playfully hitting back at his critics while doling out pop culture references in a way that has to bear comparison with Eminem. Take this, from “Domo23”:
So, a couple fags 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
Wait a God damn second
I’m tripping balls, David Beckham
Will fall cause shit’s going down
Just like Rodney King’s swimming lessons
Now me and Justin smoke sherm and been talking ’bout freeing perm
And purchasing weapons naming them and aim them in One Direction
(wait a minute)
There are even actual, relatable, real life feelings: “Answer” is an (admittedly expletive-laden) imagined phone call to his absent father set to the dreamiest, floatiest jazz guitar progression imaginable, while heartbreaking closer “Lone” recounts with brutal honesty the passing away of his grandmother and the impact it had on him. “Colossus” is another to invite comparison with Eminem, specifically “Stan”, being as it is a narrative that starts with Tyler reluctantly posing for photos because he doesn’t want to seem like an arsehole, then shifts to the perspective of a hardcore fan quoting chapter and verse on why they love him and his music so much. We wouldn’t want it to end any other way than with Tyler saying “just take this fucking picture, man, shit”, so it’s a good thing it does.
The great lines keep piling up: “Hated the popular ones, now I’m the popular one / Also hated homes too, til I start coppin’ me some” (from “Rusty”, which also sees him rail Eminesquely against his detractors), “I’ve got ninety-nine problems / And all of them’s being happy” (from the lunatic rant of “Pigs”), his assertion that he is “the polar opposite of Smithers” (from “Parking Lot”, which begins with “Tall, ugly nigga / With lips bigger than Tigger’s”) and – in response to an accusing voice telling him “I thought you were nice” – “Yeah, I am, slut / I’m also half-assed and a racist who hates niggers / Yep, I’m a mixed mutt”. Those are but a few notable examples of Tyler killing it – that’s it, as opposed to ‘all of his friends’ like at the end of Goblin – in what just so happens to be one of the most compellingly grizzly voices going, not bad going for a 22-year-old.
He even namechecks Tame Impala at one point. Hey, anyone who listens to Tame Impala can’t be a bad guy…right?
That’s a moot point anyway, because it’s quite obvious that Tyler is playing a character, or at least voicing an exaggerated version of his brain’s darkest chambers. It’s up to you whether you interpret that as artistic expression or a genuine threat to society – whether to applaud Tegan and Sara’s stance, or laugh at Tyler’s response – but that’s all for another place on another day. Here’s for reviewing the album, which after six or seven listens is still sounding like a classic all ends up.
We haven’t even mentioned the cameo appearances from Nas, Frank Ocean, Erykah Badu and Laetitia Sadier. Not only is that a stellar cast, but not a single one of them was raped or murdered during the making of Wolf. Okay, let’s just get to the quailing before we well and truly put our foot in it.
Rocksucker says: Five Quails out of Five!
Wolf is out now on Odd Future/RED. For more information, please click here to visit the Odd Future website.