Tyler The Creator
, April 8th, 2013 08:47
Perhaps the most startling part of Wolf is the silence. Sure, the unmistakable clamour from Odd Future fans all but guaranteed a robust first week sales figure for this third full-length from Tyler, The Creator. Missing, though, in the lead-up to its auspicious arrival is the sort of critical outrage that surrounded 2011's Goblin, a horror house soundtrack boobytrapped with epithets, violent fantasies, and willful intolerance that recalled the discographies of Gravediggaz and Kool Keith. That glowering gorefest, not dissimilar from Hollywood's gleeful torture porn, incited disgust like any good bit of splatter cinema, yet somehow Tyler's unrepentant attitude and predominantly teenaged target demo prompted culture warriors and pop critics to take umbrage and pen righteous thinkpieces and furious review essays. Tyler, the eager villain, laughed it all off like so many of his punk rock and gangsta rap predecessors.
So where are the pitchforks this time around? Two years later, the moralizing music press has gone completely off the rails, barking for clicks at weekly controversies both real and imagined. Rick Ross's date rape fantasy bars on Rocko's 'UOENO' and Lil Wayne's since-redacted double-whammy on Future's 'Karate Chop' pale in comparison to the volume of brutality and misogyny of Goblin cuts like 'Tron Cat'. Yet both of those recent incidents have garnered more scorn than anything surrounding Wolf. Perhaps the implausibility of Tyler's persona ever practicing what he preached on that last outing has something to do with it, as has the gradual softening of his image via Loiter Squad, his late-night comedy series for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, and media-friendly photoshoots for everything from skater mags to GQ (where he memorably mugged in Supreme alongside Warhol scenester and greybeard Style Guy Glenn O'Brien), among other activities.
At no point, however, has Tyler sought fit to apologise, instead allowing his antics and stunts--like publically kissing OF cohort Lucas in a DGAF display of LGBT acceptance - to do the talking. With Wolf, however, he takes the irresistible one-sided opportunity to assail and dismiss his critics more lucidly than via his perpetually all-caps Twitter account or reluctant, petulant interviews. From the one-liners on boisterous single 'Domo 23' to the lengthy defensive diatribe 'Rusty', he's brushing off allegations of homophobia and sexism even as he continues to employ loaded terms like “fag" and “bitch." Both Odd Future's highest-profile member and its least transparently affiliated, Frank Ocean's appearance on two tracks here implies the “some of my best friends" defense, and Tyler essentially says as much on at 'Rusty'. Reduced to lowercase “c" controversy, this wrecker of civilisation appears to be boxing shadows, his perceived enemies seemingly having moved on.
The comparatively brighter tone of Wolf's production marries the undeniable lyrical shift away from distasteful topics like rape and gay bashing, Tyler now freed up to tell an album-length story of backstabbing and betrayal that will resonate with many of his listeners. Those willing to put in the work can find much to obsess over in the characters and narratives he's drafted into this reference-packed concept album. Given the already well-populated Rap Genius pages for Wolf, Tyler's youthful constituency clearly wasted no time in deciphering and dissembling its contents with a meticulousness that many wouldn't bother doing with their school studies. Odd Future means something to them, and it's hard not to see why. Barely 22, Tyler bobs and weaves better than most personality cult leaders, appearing too laidback and cool to care yet still congenially vulnerable to yet another damaged American generation in search of empathy.
More interesting than the fictional Salem / Sam / Wolf love triangle - the latest chapter in an apparent trilogy that dates back to the self-released Bastard debut - are the real-life concerns that make Wolf such an unexpectedly humanising and relatable record, especially compared to the sophomoric shock rock of Goblin. Daddy issues crop up so often that the Sears Portrait Studio quality cover art starts to make sense. 'Answer' takes aim at the absentee father with both awkwardness and venom, continuing the lopsided grudge-match from earlier records. Suffering from success, Tyler tries to keep his followers at bay with both sharp elbows and reason, to no avail. Dripping with warm pads, piano stabs, and cavernous echoes, 'Colossus' obliterates the line between fan and stan, a trip to Six Flags thwarted by an especially chatty disciple that pretty much takes over the track. With even the hardest of rappers popping molly, Tyler's professed sobriety seems downright subversive, even when he's singled out at the end of crispy electro-funker 'Jamba'. His casual chauvinism now at a rehabilitated level comparable to that of commercial rap radio killers, Tyler plays both sides as the embittered wronged boyfriend ('IFHY') and interloper ('Parking Lot').
Tyler's choice of guests spans well beyond the Odd Future clique, with contributions from Erykah Badu and his hero Pharrell Williams. Still, some of the best appearances come from those he's most comfortable with. 'Trashwang', Tyler's attempt at trap music, gives non-rapping crew members like Jasper and Taco a chance to shine on the mic, capturing the cartoonish chaos like lightning in a bottle. Domo Genesis, a rapper whose conventionality inadvertently makes him a comparative standout in this crew of misfits and weirdos, goes hard on 'Rusty', contrasting Earl Sweatshirt whose melancholy mumble closes out the track.
But in the end, Wolf is Tyler's album through and through, a mostly diverting document of juvenile delinquency that defines him better than any prior musical effort. Transformed from villainous wrecker of civilisation to misunderstood misfit, his now-endearing arrested development positions him as the next generational success to The RZA or Pharrell, provided everyone continues to feel comfortable in overlooking or whitewashing his unflattering past.