Album Review: Tyler, the Creator, Wolf (Deluxe Edition)

Tyler, the Creator

Wolf (to be released April 2, 2013)

Today’s hip-hop history lesson: Movements.

There have been a ton of rap crews in the history of hip hop, but few of them have triggered actual movements – a shift in hip hop culture itself. For better or worse, those movements transcend music.

For example:

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Wu-Tang Clan brought Asian culture to the streets, along with incomprehensible slang.

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Dipset brought pink the hood, along with … American flag ponchos, or whatever Juelz is wearing.

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G-Unit had grown men wearing spaghetti straps and turned us into stutterers. G-g-g-g-g…

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A$AP Mob – I still don’t get what they’re supposed to be but it involves a lot of purp.

And then we have Odd Future. Odd Future is like a living Family Guy episode – wildly swinging from crudely hilarious to infuriatingly annoying. Much like their animated doppelgangers people either love or hate them.

Frontman Tyler, the Creator bears the brunt of that love/hate relationship – praised for his sketch(y) comedy show on Cartoon Network (like I said, real-life Family Guy) and reviled for his eyebrow raising lyrics and antics.

But give the devil his due: love or hate him, Tyler’s third album, Wolf, will make you respect him.

Wolf is a bizarre combination of lush, beautiful production, disturbing lyrics clearly intended for shock value and surprisingly meaty concept tracks. It’s like a nutrient-filled smoothie mixed with motor oil and poured it into a wine glass – and it somehow still tastes pretty good.

Lil’ Wayne fans took me to task when I claimed his acclaimed stream-of-consciousness flow flopped on his most recent album. Tyler shows ’em how it’s done, like making off-the-wall comparisons to Kelly Price and even Grady on “Jamba.” “Cowboy” has even more bizarre punchlines, saying his mind is “darker than the closet Frankie (Ocean) was hiding in” and that he “ain’t been this f**king sick since brain cancer ate my granny up.” Geez, dude. First single “Domo23” knocks so hard it “sounds like midgets in the speakers” and he ends the track ranting and raving about lettuce. No, I don’t get it either. But you’re not supposed to.

Wolf’s strengths are not it’s cartoonish insanity, but the nuggets of reality mixed in. “Awkward” details a meaningless kiss Tyler shares with a girl. He gets so excited about it leading to a future relationship that he practically starts picking out his tux for the wedding. Fellas, don’t front like you never did that back in grade school. It also features the worst falsetto since 808s & Heartbreaks but the whining adds to the track’s naivete. “Answer” also goes much deeper than you’d expect – what starts sounding like a stalkerish love song is actually an angry cry for his attention, cursing his father and his genes for leaving him “stuck with this sh**ty facial hair.”

“Colossus/The Bridge of Love” is Tyler’s version of Eminem’s classic “Stan,” enduring the stress of fame and fanatic fans. “Pigs” sees him going to war with  the establishment and “Lone/Jornada” is a heartwreching tale of his aforementioned grandmother’s last days. It’s shockingly captivating.

Tyler even takes the back seat so his guest can shine, allowing Erykah Badu and Coco O. to inject soul into Wolf with “Treehome95.” And while the three-for-one set of “Partyisntover/Campfire/Bimmer” is mostly a miss, Frank Ocean’s vocals ignite “Bimmer.”

Tyler’s creativity may have won me over, but let’s be real – this is still Tyler. And like that Pixy Stix-fueled little cousin you find funny in small doses, things can get annoying quickly, especially when all his hoodrat friends star running amok. Odd Future has more members than Sounds of Blackness and good lord, ALL of them show up here. Trust me, these guys don’t have the lyrical dexterity of Wu-Tang. Plus, at 18 tracks, the deluxe edition is just much too long. All the ranting and self-loathing starts to get old after awhile.

But you can bet Tyler doesn’t care. On “Rusty,” he strikes back hard at critics who have labeled him a misogynistic, Satantic anarchist. He makes a very convincing argument too, but it’s not like he has to convince his fans. This album will be their Illmatic.

And for the rest of us? Honestly, this album isn’t for everyone. Fickle hip-hop heads will write off Tyler as a gimmicky late-90s Eminem clone. But if you look deeper, there really is a method to his madness.

Wolf is proof there is true artistry in the Odd Future movement. I’m as shocked as you are.

Best tracks: “Awkward,” “Answer,” “Domo23.” And props to “Bimmer” as well.

4 stars out of 5

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