Review: Tyler, the Creator’s WOLF Takes Step In Right Direction

WOLF is Tyler's third album, and second official release.
WOLF is Tyler’s third album, and second official release.

Tyler, the Creator is a rapper and producer who leads the rap group OFWGKTA. In 2011, Tyler exploded on to the scene when his music video for “Yonkers” went viral as a prelude to his first label release, Goblin. Since, Tyler has ranted in many settings about the pressure of expectations, and the neediness of a fan-base wanting something that Tyler doesn’t seem sure he wants to be.

I’m a fan of Tyler but ever since his popularity erupted I’ve been really interested in seeing this mellow side that he’s teased since his last release. Often Tyler has mentioned that people will think it sucks and that he’s going to lose a lot of fans. He may, too, because Wolf is certainly not much like Goblin. This isn’t to say that Wolf is the product I was fully hoping for, but it is a shade of it and a step in the the right direction (for my taste).

My reaction to opening title track, “Wolf”, can nearly summarize my overall feelings for the album as a whole. Piano chords slowly fade in decorated with chimes and angelic voices singing in harmony only for Tyler to announce “Fuck..,” and “You” from the angelic voices and crashing cymbals as an honestly pretty instrumental builds above marching snares. It’s actual beautiful music with Tyler’s eccentric personality spray painted on the face of it. This is often the case throughout the album, and although the tongue-in-cheek childishness works for me here occasionally spots of the album don’t pull it off as well.

The lowest points of the album are only when Tyler’s production takes the backseat to his rapping, like on “Domo 23”. Although it’s a fun track and I enjoy Tyler’s shocking personality, on something like this, it’s apparent that Tyler just isn’t as skilled in fluid word play as Earl Swearshirt or even Domo Genesis. Tyler has a pretty unique flow, bending his word inflection – at one point during “Colossus” he rhymes hero with churro – but at the end of the day, I just want to hear some more relaxed flows.

Despite points of tiresome rhymes, Tyler makes up for it in part with improved song subjects. Tracks like “Answer” and “Colossus” really grabbed my attention for their uniquely specific insight. “Answer” goes into detail of Tyler’s feelings for his m.i.a father, which may not be new ground, but this particularly feels more in-depth than ever before. Also, on “Colossus”, Tyler holds up a mirror to his crazed fans, pointing out his claustrophobic anxiety with being mobbed daily.

It just comes back to my highest compliment for Wolf though: Tyler can (and probably should) focus on his production because it is the shining achievement of the album. Through the earlier OFWGKTA releases, I’ve grown to expect a certain synth chord, bass-clap aesthetic from Tyler’s beats but here, he’s showing a range that is layered and matured. Along with the spacey, angelic opening track are other jazz-influenced sounds like on “Treehome95”, which features Erykah Badu and Coco Owino crooning along with Tyler (seriously!), and “Lone”‘s old fashioned, night club waltz. There’s your familiar yet revitalized cruisers like “Jamba””s buzzed out, drum kick beat and “Tamale”‘s Latin fire-dance, and even completely new sounds like the eerie guitar picking on tracks like “Answer”, “Pigs”, and “Rusty”.

At the end of the day, I’d argue that Tyler has improved upon Goblin with Wolf in every aspect. Some more than others, of course, with production reaching an all-time high but even the subjects alone improving is reason enough to celebrate a new Tyler, the Creator release. Who knows how the typical fan-base will receive the album; Wolf physically drops April 2nd, but you can stream it legally now here. Whatever may come due to this album, Tyler should be left with a strong fan-base, even if it’s one replacing those craving horror core.

-JC

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