Tyler, The Creator’s success has always depended upon how many or few people take him seriously. Depending on one’s stomach for his shock-and-awe tactics, opinions ranged from favorable to dangerous, but that’s the only thing that mattered in catapulting Tyler to success: that people actually took the time to form an opinion about him at all. Call his raps tasteless or whatever, but he’s the first rapper since pre-Relapse Eminem to smartly exploit our thirst for sensationalism through Hip-Hop. And on his second studio album, Wolf, he creates an interesting paradox: he might have made his most-listenable album yet but only because he’s toned down everything that made him relevant in the first place.
Where Bastard and, to a larger extent, Goblin slogged through long, tiresome tracklistings, Wolf’s succinct. Tyler still crams 18 cuts onto the LP, but only three run over five minutes, including the three-part jam-fest “Partyisntover/Campfire/Bimmer.” With a trimmer runtime, Wolf’s production takes center stage, varying over the album’s course. The slinky sparseness of “Jamba” is a more pleasant album-opener than “Seven” or “Yonkers”; “Treehome95” and “Parking Lot” benefit from jazzy synths and riffs and uptempo cuts like “Rusty” and “Domo 23” use propulsive grandness to buoy some of the better lyrical displays on the album.
But it wouldn’t be a Tyler, The Creator album without highlighting what he actually says. The greatest difference lyrically between his two previous efforts and Wolf are the moments of sincerity. He opens up to his dad on “Answer” and, although he strings along his favorite buzzwords, calling him a “f*cking f*ggot,” laments, “but if I ever had the chance to ask this n*gga, and call him, I hope he answer.” And “Awkward”’s exactly what its name implies, a somewhat touching love song that mirrors Tyler’s guest verse on Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE bonus track, “Golden Girl,” utilizing vocal distortion to rap semi-obscene but meaningful lines: “I f*cking love you, now treat my palms like a bowling ball and grip and keep holding, girl.” It’s a rare intimate moment from Tyler that’s incredibly uncomfortable, but also beats rapping about pregnant golden retrievers.
So it sounds better and Tyler’s growing away from the temper tantrums of his previous albums. Then again, listeners and Odd Future fans aren’t looking for introspection from Tyler. They’re pining for the recluse oddball from the “Yonkers” video (the very people Tyler derides in “Colossus”), someone with the gall to initiate B.o.B’s death up to the point of actually meaning it.
With Wolf, Tyler’s stuck between sincerity and listlessness, and fans can tell the latter from his mumbling the opening “fuck you”s on the eponymous track. At this point, playing in the same league as the “popular kids” like Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky, he’s lost: who is he and how does he keep his identity fresh without falling into obsolescence? Because, despite the interesting use of the Nas sample in “48,” he’s not the drug dealer he pretends to be. And he’s not King Louie or Chief Keef (Hip-Hop’s new young sh*twreckers), making “Trashwang,” even in jest.
Hell-raising only gets an artist so far, and fans only need to look to Eminem’s career arc to realize that. Wolf’s slightly more honest and easier to listen to than anything Tyler’s released previously, but that doesn’t mean it’s his best work. Which is a shame because he might need to inevitably discover that material in order to ensure people keep listening.
Label: Odd Future, RED Distribution, Sony Music Entertainment | Producer: Tyler, The Creator