There’s something you have to know before listening to Wolf, rapper/producer/director/actor Tyler, the Creator’s impressive yet offensive sophomore album: it is impossible to enjoy this album unless you like Odd Future. Tyler cares very little for legal boundaries or personal horror. He wants to offend you. He’s rapping for the kids who think cats are funny on t-shirts and the fans who have every line to “Bastard” memorized. To everyone else: Tyler doesn’t want your support.
Once you emerge yourself in a little OF culture and browse through Tyler’s mixtape catalog, however, you find in Wolf exactly what you hoped for: a lyrically strong album with improved flow, creative mixes and innovation that continues to blossom within the Odd Future ringleader’s songs. For someone who repeatedly told interviewers that his album “totally sucks”, Tyler didn’t do so bad.
For those of you Odd Future newbies, here’s a quick history of the up-and-coming LA rap collective. Tyler, the Creator and his buddies decided to put together a group of rappers, skaters and cool dudes a couple years back and to call themselves Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA). Their group began putting out mixtapes, many of which featured lyrics with homophobic slurs, unsubstantiated rape and overall offensive jargon. They soon attracted a near-ridiculous amount of attention. Fast forward a few years and the group’s popularity has taken off. They now have a clothing/skate shop in Fairfax, a TV show (Loiter Squad), their own record label and a lot more money than they did back in 2008.
When Wolf dropped on April 2, it’s no surprise that the lines to get the album had to be broken up be police outside their store in Fairfax. Aside from their cult-like popularity, the album itself is simply good. It is one of three “therapy sessions”, as Tyler introduced in the mixtape Bastard. This album may chronologically come before his first studio album, Goblin, in which Tyler has a psychotic break and thinks that he killed all of his friends, until his therapist, Dr. TC, informs him that it was all in his head (for more on that, there are plenty of online conspiracy theories). Wolf begins when a new guy, Wolf (one of Tyler’s many personas), is introduced to Sam (another Tyler persona), who warns Wolf to “stay the f— out of our way and we’ll stay out of yours. Capisce?” From there, the characters quarrel over Sam’s girlfriend, Salem, until they each vow to kill each other. Neither do the deed (although Sam does manage to “kill” rapper Earl Sweatshirt, who was not featured/murdered in Goblin since he was at boarding school in Samoa).
Sounds absurd, eh? I agree. But that’s the point. More importantly, the ridiculous “plot” is laced together with sheer lyrical talent and unparalleled innovation. Tyler experiments with mixing different songs in the album highlight “PartyIsntOver/Campfire/Bimmer”, three seemingly unrelated songs that are short, sweet and raw. His talented OF buds Domo Genesis and Earl Sweatshirt team up with Tyler in “Rusty”, a song that is a pure blend of lyrical flow and skillful wordplay with a flow that is shockingly smooth compared to most of Tyler’s earlier songs. In Goblin, Tyler seems incapable of successfully rapping about anything besides his own introverted thoughts. However, he proves in tracks such as “Jamba” (props to Hodgy Beats, who is lyrically impressive in this tune) and “48” that he has overcome this flaw and is ready to rap about whatever he feels like.
Lyrically, Tyler has risen the bar, but his ability to innovate within the field of rap remains at an all-time high. He infused a number of different sounds into his latest album. From the sweet sounds of “Treehome95”, which is reminiscent of a 1990s jazzy hip-hop thanks to Coco O. and Erykah Badu, to the darker melodies in “IFHY” with the Neptunes’ Pharrell (who is Tyler’s idol—how cool is it that he was able to rap with his favorite star?), Tyler continues to revamp his music with stuff that has never been seen before.
Even with a fluid stream of words, Tyler’s antics get a bit old after a while. For someone who claims to not care at all about what other people think, he spends a lot of time defending him and Odd Future’s actions. He gets personal in “Answer”, rapping about his father who he’s never met, but at times it seems as if Tyler is struggling to articulate his feelings: powerful stuff, but by no means easy on the ear. His self-proclaimed superiority over the kids who used to bully him in “Pigs” is admirable but trite; Tyler has many times before discussed how he hates the kids who used to make fun of him.
Above all, Tyler is getting better. He’s spent the last few years, to quote the OF song “Oldie”, “start[ing] an empire”, an activity that ranged from directing his own videos to cosigning with rappers to creating socks to designing his own cover art to starring in a TV show. His talent outside of rapping is unquestioned. Wolf, however, proves that Tyler is just as apt a rapper as he is emperor. 8/10
Natalie Barman / Opinion Editor