When Tyler, the Creator first emerged as the mouthpiece of Odd Future, his growl was layered. Most people experienced his projects in the reverse order, starting with the audacious "Goblin" (2011), before realizing 2009's "Bastard" kicked off Tyler's utilization of music as a form of therapy. His invented therapist set the stage on the first effort for what is ultimately Tyler's third album "Wolf." While Tyler probably didn't predict the future four years ago, there's a definite progression up to this point. "Bastard" acknowledged the issues, "Goblin" celebrated them, and "Wolf" is left to fix them.
Now in his '20s, Tyler grapples with some deeply rooted problems. From not handling the absence of his father to misunderstandings about his grandmother's death, and the beautiful nightmare known as fame, "Wolf" is incredibly dark. Always the "fuckin' walking paradox" though, Tyler weaves this intense imagery into upbeat sound beds. There is a wonky albeit brilliant balance, one that shows Tyler, the Creator's forced maturity yet highlights his desire to still be a kid. Here's a guy whose friends range from mid-teens to late twenties (the latter being a quiet genius, who contemplated suicide over his sexuality). Tyler has clearly picked up his friends' energies and channeled them into this project.
Fair weathered Odd Future fans might find "Wolf" to be another notch in Tyler's dysfunctional belt. However, with a closer listen, there is an obvious growth. This might be the last time Tyler attacks his issues on wax before spiraling off into another dimension a la Eminem. Regardless of what happens next, "Wolf" is a welcome addition to the Odd Future frontman's catalog. It is a tad all over the place, so if you're searching for a one trick pony, then perhaps you should try a different stable.
The keys and breathy intro suggest Tyler has gone soft, but as the cooing of "you" fades out, Tyler says an emphatic "fuck" to turn it into a graceful "Fuck You." The track sets up the return of the character "Sam," who addresses his demons and defies the "Wolf." It's of course a true Tyler intro, especially leading into a slight rant at the end.
"Jamba" feat. Hodgy Beats
While the crux of "Jamba" is supposed to be playful, Tyler's entry speaks otherwise. "Papa ain't call even though he saw me on T.V." he says before asking for his inhaler as he goes into detail about smoking weed. That is until Domo shuts it down at the end (Tyler is admittedly straight edge). Tyler's introductory daddy issues slightly feel out of place, especially with Hodgy's follow-up verse. However, it sets the stage for the rest of the project.
More darkness to the tune of a playfully simple beat. "Ain't been this sick since brain cancer ate my Granny up," merely scratches the surface. Tyler has some demons and he isn't afraid to show it: "You'd think all this money would make a happy me, but I'm 'bout as lonely as crackers that supermodels eat." Where Tyler previously had scorn for his life on the brink of success, it seems like he detests his new life even more.
"Awkward" feat. Frank Ocean
Tyler encapsulates the awkwardness of young love through chopped and screwed rhymes about his youth. It wasn't all that long ago, yet he's speaking about it like it's a distant memory. The message gets drowned out by the track sounding like it's sitting underwater, yet you can still make out a Frank Ocean cameo at the end.
Tyler runs the gamut of smack talk, starting with calling his manager Christian Clancy a slave master. He goes into the rumors of homophobia, talks about smoking sherm with Justin Bieber, after reminding everyone that he became rich off eating a cockroach in his "Yonkers" video. "Domo23" is made to be offensive but arrives in the least offensive manner. One Direction might not be too pleased by their mention though.
"Answer" feat. Syd the Kid
There's an obvious vulnerability to this track. Tyler is addressing his father (a common thread in "Wolf") to the tune of simple guitars and percussion, bragging about his success but then returning to theme that if he ever calls his father, he hopes he answers. It's bipolar and angry (like Tyler most of the time), yet proves he has some real feelings to work out. He then turns it on his friends and points out their problems. Welcome to Tyler's black leather couch.
"Slater" feat. Frank Ocean
We don't really learn that "Slater" is a bicycle until the very end when Frank Ocean declares, "Oh my God, I guess you're a cool guy. You're talking to a fucking bike. Loser." The track is more or less a mumbled stream of consciousness, sticking to the self-deprecation, but still knocking "Wolf" off its path a bit.
"48" feat. Nas & Frank Ocean
It's weird hearing Tyler insert social commentary into his formula. Nas' sermon about crack at the start and the close of the song is out of place, plus Tyler's sincerity is debatable. Here's a guy who would punch a puppy and now he's launching a D.A.R.E. campaign? He even takes the blame for the drugs. Hopefully he's using drugs as a euphemism for music, because taken literally would be totally questionable.
Picture Eminem's "The Way I Am" mixed with "Stan" on emotional steroids. A few minor instruments (including what might be a triangle) only accent Tyler's message about an obsessed fan. Tyler continuously switches the lyrics from being cutesy fanfare to sexually maniacal. It's demented, yet Tyler gets his point across. Fans or no fans, he's dying to lead a normal life.
"PartyIsntOver/Campfire/Bimmer" feat. Laetitia Sadier and Frank Ocean
The three songs melding into one are a little confusing, though the changes in production signify the start/finish of each vignette. Tyler is a great storyteller when he wants to be. And when he isn't dropping F-bombs (the three and the four letter kind), he can be charming. He doesn't let that last for too long before bringing the silliness again. All of that takes a backseat to a cameo from Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier.
"IFHY" feat. Pharrell
The hook says it all: "I fucking hate you, but I love you. I'm bad at keeping my emotions bubbled." The destructive beat sets the stage for another round of bipolarism, as Tyler confesses his undying love for a girl (Salem) before turning around and slapping her with words. Pharrell's cameo (like most of the appearances on the project) isn't overt, yet it's the perfect closer for the track.
Despite being in his '20s, this track is full of teen angst. Tyler calls his inhaler his best friend (because it won't let him cough) and brings his depression to the surface. By the second verse though, he takes revenge on his bullies and through police sirens, suggests he resorted to violence. Given the United States' history with situations like Columbine, Virginia Tech, and most recently Sandy Hook, this track comes in poor taste. Then again, when did Tyler ever care about being tasteful?
"Parking Lot" feat. Casey Veggies and Mike G
Casey Veggies' appearance solely on the hook is disappointing, given how grating Tyler's vocals can be at times. That's probably what Mike G is there for, but his verse is shorter than what feels like Tyler's twelve. "Wolf" is almost too long, and by the 13th track the work begins to drag. Subtractions of prior cuts would make this track sound even better than perhaps it does when played in consecutive order.
"Rusty" feat. Domo Genesis and Earl Sweatshirt
Over vibrating chords, Domo Genesis, Tyler, and Earl Sweatshirt host a strenuous lyrical exercise. Of course Tyler's verse is the longest, but he loses to Earl's cleanup bars. By the end of the track it's the return of Sam revisiting the Wolf and condemning him. But the overuse of the "other" F-word is a bit much at this point, and the story loses to unnecessary slurs.
"Trashwang" feat. Na'kel, Jasper, Lucas, L-Boy, Taco, Left Brain & Lee Spielman
"I want the black kids to like me for this one," Tyler says on what is perhaps the closest to Trap Rap that he's ever come. It's less about the content and more about the string production with gunshots that host a noticeable change in Tyler's cadence. He speeds up his flow considerably in parts, showing his dexterity. He should do more of this, because even in the midst of his posse attempting to sound like Waka Flocka Flame, Tyler still shines.
"Treehome95" feat. Coco O & Erykah Badu
This jazzy cut doesn't belong on "Wolf" and neither does the Erykah Badu cameo. That being said, "Treehome95" is beautiful post neo-soul/hip-hop. It feels though as if Tyler was too intimidated to contribute in the presence of FatBellyBella. He sings on the track for 30 seconds before leaving the rest up to Coco O and Badu. Sounds like he was hushed by mama's gun.
The tinny production on "Tamale" is almost as crass as Tyler's bars about getting fellated by someone's little sister. He was clearly reading from the Bible of Lil Wayne before laying the bars down on this track. This is a prime example of how in some instances on "Wolf," Tyler maturely comes to grips with his own personal demons and in other moments wants to still be the perverted kid at the mall.
This is the moment where the entire story comes together with another therapy session. Tyler is the Wolf, and this cast of characters throughout his trilogy has all contributed to his ups and downs that he attributes to the loss of his grandmother. It's a dense story – one that had you not been following along for four years you might miss. Still, it's one hell of a saga that's worth revisiting, and "Lone" is the perfect conclusion.