Tyler, The Creator - Wolf

 7/10

Tyler is an enigma, in a genre that has produced precious few during it's lifespan. Certainly within the mainstream realm of hip hop music there have only been a handful of artists provoking such a response as this man does. Of course, I have to include the obligatory comparison with Eminem, raps truest and greatest enigma, but the truth is these two are drastically similar. Both are undeniable geniuses, with class leading levels of raw talent and a unique work ethic. I say unique because when we think about hard workers in the industry, we think of the Lil Wayne's, 2 Chainz, Rick Ross, Lil B, artists who are constantly giving us product and material at a prolific rate. Tyler and Eminem aren't prolific outputters. They are very talented, but they also work extremely hard at their craft. Eminem is a devoted lyricist and now a studied producer. Tyler is a damn fine producer, mature and cutting edge as well as technically outstanding, and this only comes with hours, days, weeks and months of hard work.

It is lyrically, though, where these two match up best. Tylers first two albums, Bastard and Goblin, were jam pack chock full of fantastic quotables that left you breathless at times. Tron Cat, for example, was just ridiculous, in the vein of Under The Influence or As The World Turns for sheer quotable, rewinding goodness, 'Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome
You got a fucking death wish, I'm a genie it'll get done'. The sheer lunacy and technical ability was what struck me and put me on to Tyler in the first place. Assmilk, with Earl, was an abomination, Tyler's first bars are 'I'm not an asshole I just don't give a fuck a lot, the only time I do is when a bitch is screaming Tyler Stop'. But it was so silky, the production so simple and yet menacing, the wordplay so skillful it was irresistable, and so strikingly reminiscient of mainstream hip-hop's other aggressive young guy. There's even a 'Stan' moment on Wolf, Colossus providing an almost carbon copy of Eminem's description of extreme fan behaviour.

Wolf expands and enhances the enigma. It begins in vastly different fashion to his previous two releases. Those saw him waxing lyrical about deeply personal matters in the form of a client speaking to a therapist. This track is instead saved for the final piece, Lone. A short intro in which Wolf is introduced to a new client, Sam, serves to remind us Tyler is still angry, 'Stay the fuck out of our way and we'll stay the fuck out of yours, capiche?' Oh he is still angry..

Where Bastard was more of a free-form explosion of anger and rage, spattering away at anything in its path, Goblin introduced a more conceptual approach, and Wolf extends on this. In the first bars of Jamba we discover that Sam, Wolf, and Salem (the love interest) are at Camp Flog Gnaw, Golf Wang backwards.  As the record progresses, the story stutters and starts in fits and bursts. Earl dies, a deadly love triangle emerges, and Tyler deals with the death of his grandmother on the brilliant Lone. This story forms a sort of runny, warm glue. It provides a touch point and a grounding for the record but at no stage is it caged within a particular method or voice. Tyler has given himself free reign yet again to explore his own psyche, almost in a strain of conscious thought mould.

To say he has matured is a redundant statement. He has grown older, and thus has altered his perspectives based on new experiences. On Cowboy, a menacingly simplistic beat that exposes the sublety that exists within him, he raps 'Rest in peace, or lie in it, life ain't got no light in it', before saying 'Had a blast out Europe, had a Swedish bitch lickin toes', before flipping again with 'You think all this money will make a happy me? But I'm about as lonely as crackers that supermodels eat'.The confusion and push and pull exemplifies the true nature of his chosen narrative for this record. Tyler is Sam and Wolf, two halves of his personality, constantly warring each other. At times this makes for a somewhat sterilised listening experience. The shock tactics, centred around rape, homophobia and mutilation are replaced with sobering thoughts and mindsets that continue to reveal this inner turmoil within his psyche. On Answer, the easiest of drum loops accompanies such simplistic guitar plucking Lil Wayne would be jealous. But it houses a brutally honest track about Tylers thoughts towards his dad, and how his childhood has impacted upon his current lifestyle and choices, 'And, if I got stranded had to man up and hold my nuts / And hope that I could live off salt water and fucking coconuts'.

More than maturity it's sparked a diversion in method. The internal struggles were still blatant on Bastard and Goblin,  he started each record as if he were in therapy. On Wolf, they are subdued within this castrated mould that Tyler struggles to break out of, like a bout of depression that isn't to be shaken off. On those previous albums his jokes about suicide felt exactly like that, jokes. Now though, you feel compelled to take him a little more seriously. Especially on closer Lone, a devastating peek in to his tortured mind after the death of his Grandma Sadie, 'Mom calling and calling, I'm on my way to a show / I answer, she crying, saying Sadie is dying'. Sincerity and desperation.

Funnily enough, the songs that stand out on Wolf are those that mimmick his earlier insanity. Trashwang is a straight up mixtape thrash number that finally sees Tyler pop out of third gear and go for broke, along with his Wolf Gang associates. Street to the core, he is surprisingly outdone lyrically by most of his counterparts but his delivery is so raw, it's such a refreshment from the dank spaces he inhabited earlier in the record. Likewise on Rusty, Domo23 and Tamale. Domo23 actually provides one of the odd quotable moments, 'Now me and Justin smoke sherm and been talking ‘bout freeing perms / And purchasing weapons, naming them and aim ‘em in one direction'. Finally! It's also no coincidence that these high moments induce that shot of adrenalin that comes with say, a Waka Flocka track or something by Ace Hood. A whole album of this is boring, a few tracks spattered amongst a deep and reflective narrative is genius.

I can't end this review here, because Tyler is the puppet master of this entire project, as he has been for all of his releases. He is rapper, producer, arranger. Constructor. When he first came in to the game, he provided something brilliant and unique. There were plenty of mixtapes doing the rounds of rappers engaging in up tempo shock rap. There still are. But Tyler set himself apart by producing everything himself, and bringing a distinct level of sophistication to his craft. From Just Blaze to Timbaland to The Neptunes, he managed to blend everything that was good about mid 00s production and add an odd touch of class (and jazz). Did he pioneer the sound we currently hear from guys like Frank Ocean, Major Lazer, Clams Casino? I wouldn't wager an answer, however on Wolf he faced his toughest sonic task yet. To keep the record fresh, he needed to stay ahead of the curve, but could not lose his inherent style and flourishes. The result is a stunning package. Tracks like Slater, Treehome95, and 48 are so smooth they could be on Erykah Badu's next record. Then there are things like Tamale, some crazy Costa Rican sounding romp that Tyler uses brilliantly to match his flow to. If there was a signature beat, I think the suite PatyIsntOver/Campfire/Bimmer provides, 3 lo-fi grooves that utilise strings, pads, synths, keys, unhurried percussion, spaced electronics and a smattering of horns. Sonically? He's still the master.

7/10. It falls away on wordplay and lyrical content, especially when compared to previous releases. However, it is a matured and considered album that also utilises boat loads of raw emotion and provides the listener with as much depth as they could ever need. Spend your life analysing the concept and Tyler's tortured psyche if you must. The package he presents it in is beautiful and ornate, as a producer this man is one of the best in the game. A fractured release in all but wholly listenable.

Best Tracks: Bimmer, Trashwang, Domo23





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