After receiving plenty of recognition for his work as the Odd Future leader over the last few years, it was time for Tyler, The Creator to deliver yet again, this time without his entire hip-hop collective. Wolf was the logical next step for the young rapper, however with lots of hype surrounding the release, the album comes across as a disappointment and never really takes off. Tyler, The Creator announced on Twitter recently that he’d like for critics to give the album some time (four weeks to be exact) before reviewing the album, so the album may still grow on us; but from the first few listens, the album seems too long and lacks any clear singles to launch Tyler through further successes.
The album begins with some pleasant chords on the piano accompanied by the crooning of a Justin Vernon wannabe, and this at first sounds like some welcome maturity to Tyler, The Creator’s work. However, the remaining two minutes of the album opener “Wolf” is simply composed of the words “Fuck you” set to repeat. This introduction to the first track may be a microcosm of the rest of the album. Throughout Wolf, every time you begin to sense that Tyler, The Creator has grown up and is taking his art seriously, the moment seems to be immediately dashed by an immature objectification of women, and unnecessarily crude language. Rap has a long history of offensive lyrics, but that language is welcome when it is part of the art, not when it is thrown around pointlessly, like an elementary school kid learning to swear for a first time. This treatment of language is highly noticeable on tracks like “Rusty” and “Colossus”, where every woman is referenced to as “bitch”, and every guy Tyler, The Creator doesn’t like is called “fag”. If Tyler, The Creator wants to expand his brand further, he would be wise to take a page out of Lupe Fiasco’s book and smarten up with what he’s saying.
There are many themes that run through Wolf that are familiar to fans of Tyler, The Creator’s past work, including references to his absent father and being one of the rare straight-edge rappers. Both of these ideas are explored on ”Jamba”, where Tyler puts down those who find their daily highlights in drugs, along with lines hinting at daddy issues. “Awkward” features a guest spot from fellow Odd Future member Frank Ocean, however the cameo comes in too late to save the song. The song sounds like it was a last second addition to the album, and a song about the awkward stumblings of a first relationship feels out of place next to the other album themes.
Tyler, The Creator manages to reference both Justin Bieber and One Direction on “Domo 23”, but don’t let your fourteen year-old daughters or younger sisters listen to this song. Featuring more lyrics that objectify women, the song’s highlights include a line about smoking sherm with Bieber, and then aiming guns at the British boy band. It is overall a strange track culminating with a bizarre rant against lettuce. “Answer” features more personal lyrics about the lack of relationship Tyler had with his father growing up. Bashing his absent father for leaving his mom when she was twenty, Tyler, The Creator states “dad isn’t your name, see faggot’s a little more fitting”. In one of the more personal songs on the album, Tyler speaks of wanting to contact his father and confront him about what transpired in his upbringing.
The two strongest tracks on the album are “48” and “Pigs”. Tyler, The Creator takes a lesson from one of his elders on “48”, with the untouchable Nas stealing the song with strong verses on the intro and outro about the detrimental effects that crack has had on some of the people he’s known. The song is about crack dealing in 48 different states and the money that the drug can bring in, but balances this with the toll it takes on loved ones and relationships. Nas provides the most insightful and truth-filled lyrics on the album. “Pigs” is set by a sweet beat, before touching on themes of depression and feeling like the underdog. Tyler, The Creator goes back to high school on this song and raps about everything from bullies to asthma pumps in one of the most organic song son the record. “Treehome95” is barely a Tyler, The Creator track as the rapper is only featured for roughly 35 seconds on the song, however it is one of the most unique and satisfying. Led by Erykah Badu and Coco O, it is a jazzy number and is the most mature sounding track on the album.
Overall, Wolf’s main drawback is its length. The album is too heavy on filler and lame attempts at early-Kanye-style skits, and this is most evident on the seven minute long three-songs-in-one “PartyIsntOver/Campfire/Bimmer”. There is no reason why these three songs have been linked together, seeing as there is no running theme between them and uncomfortable pauses between each. The only thing all three of these songs have in common is that they are all pure filler. This is definitely not your rap equivalent of “A Quick One (While She’s Away)”.
Tyler, The Creator shows glimpses of being a highly intelligent rapper, but in his future work he must decide if he wants to continue catering to the MTV crowd with words that are light on substance, but heavy on profanity, or if he truly wants to let his inner artist free and focus on the glimpses of insightful lyrics about poverty, families, and drugs present on Wolf. Wolf shows signs of growth for Tyler, The Creator, but his main accomplishment here is his high quality production. Tyler, The Creator may ultimately be a better producer than he is a rapper, and you’ll be hard pressed to find an album that sounds as good as Wolf in the year 2013. Even though many of the Odd Future cast members make cameos on the record, Tyler, The Creator clearly misses his friends on the album, and his talents may be better served leading the collective as opposed to this solo mission. Fans of MTV mainstream rap will eat Wolf up, but for those expecting a bold leap of maturity from Tyler, The Creator, they’ll have to wait for the young rapper to grow up.