Tyler the Creator is the Antichrist to pop music. Known for pushing and completely ignoring boundaries with regard to subject matter, his recently released album Wolf does not fail to shock fans and critics alike.
Since bursting on to the scene with his hip-hop collective Odd Future, Tyler has launched an impressive solo career. His debut album Bastard displayed Tyler’s promise of becoming a musical powerhouse while Goblin, his sophomore released in 2011, came out to great critical acclaim.
His hit song “Yonkers,” along with its discomfort-inducing music video, propelled him to mainstream recognition and a scrutiny previously not experienced. Since his rise to stardom, Tyler has faced much criticism for his lewd lyrical content and supposed demonic undertones.
Tyler uses Wolf to denounce the complaints lodged against him as narrow-minded. While the casual listener may only notice the initial shock value of Wolf, the sheer amount of work and dedication put into this album warrants a deeper analysis and second look. An infusion of smooth jazz eases the listener into this album with the title track, while Tyler’s chat with an imaginary therapist, his subconscious, initiates the theme of self-analysis. As the listener continues through the album, we hear different parts of Tyler’s life laid out, an invitation to listen as he picks his own brain.
Confronting his critiques head on, Tyler uses the track “Rusty” to tackle his problems. He opens up about his childhood and informs the listener of his hatred toward the popular crowd as a “drama club kid.” He uses this imagery of past isolation as a contrast to his newfound fame. Taking on the mainstream stance against his homophobic lyrics, Tyler slyly points out that his frequent collaborator Frank Ocean is also a good friend, and also a bisexual man. Domo Genesis and Earl Sweatshirt offer up guest vocals, each more complex and dense than Tyler’s straightforward message. Domo Genesis’ focus on the fiscal success of Odd Future serves as a contrast to Tyler’s idealistic goals for the music he produces. Earl Sweatshirt’s verse is almost an afterthought, as Tyler continuously interrupts him and interposes his control over the album.
“Trashwang,” a track filled with gun claps and violent lyrics, serves as a platform for Tyler to showcase the prowess of the Odd Future crew. Featuring Na’kel, Jasper, Lucas, L-Boy, Taco, Left Brain and Lee Spielman, this track highlights the powerhouse of a conglomerate that this group truly is. The violence plays directly into the misconstrued stereotype associated with their public image as rappers and juvenile delinquents. The name “Trashwang” is a nod to the group’s negative publicity, calling “Wang,” a nickname for Odd Future, trash. The track does not refute these criticisms, rather uses them as a muse to further advancement of the album.
If “Trashwang” is an acknowledgment of critics complaints, “Treehome95″ is a reaction of complete indifference. The mixture of a synthesizer and jazz piano provides a floor for Coco O. and Erykah Badu’s vocals to dance across, while Tyler’s presence is barely noticed. The calm voices inviting an “escape” into a “tree house” highlight the peace of Tyler’s childhood. This song sticks out as a moment of serenity in an album otherwise filled with angsts.
“Answer” offers up a subliminal look into Tyler’s personal thoughts about various people from different periods of his life. He discusses the personal problems that he knows his friends fight, and also offers up his heart for the woman that will no longer give him a chance. The painstakingly brutal verse highlighting his hatred for his father gives listeners a direct view into Tyler’s family and where he has come from. Even without a father figure who has been there throughout his young life, Tyler still notes he wants answers for the abandonment that he was dealt as a young boy.
As the low and deep production of “Slater” kicks off the song, Tyler uses the eerie beat to again display his childhood and his journey to becoming a rap superstar. He mentions the doubt that many people have offered up throughout his career, and the skepticism of his personality that deters people from respecting him. Frank Ocean contributes powerful vocals to the track, aiding Tyler in his exploration of his inner thoughts.
From cover to cover, Wolf will leave the listener intrigued as they are guided through Tyler’s world. While some of the subject matter is the norm for Tyler, the scattered themes are tied together by a nuanced jazz undertone highlighting his advancement as a musician. Tyler helped produce and write the entire set, carving out an album overcast by his personality but resulting in a truly personal work.
4.5 out of 5 stars