Tyler The Creator - Wolf

Is Tyler, The Creator really all that famous? I’m not sure that he is. He’s internet-famous, certainly, and underground-popular, but he’s not Jennifer Aniston. To hear Tyler himself tell it on Wolf, though, he can’t walk through an amusement park or a Target without being mobbed by fans who want to take pictures with him. Or maybe they’re not fans — maybe they’re “fags” who “didn’t even hear Bastard, they just bandwagon-jumping from a pogo.” This sentiment, and others like it, comes up over and over on Wolf, Tyler’s third album. “I wanna quit, but I can’t / Because mother and sister can’t pay the rent.” “Hated the popular ones, now I’m the popular one / Also hated homes, too, til I started copping me some.” “You’d think all this money would make a happy me / But I’m ’bout as lonely as crackers that supermodels eat.” Wolf, in its entirety, plays out like an album-length extended version of Kurt Cobain’s opening line on In Utero — “Teenage angst has paid off well, now I’m bored and old” — but now, it’s coming from someone who only just stopped being a teenager himself, and who’s more anxious than bored anyway. All of which is to say that it’s an album deeply up its own ass.

Tyler’s debut Bastard, barely three years old now, was an out-of-nowhere blast of teenage angst and confusion, one laced with so much violence and sexual rage that every anti-gay slur stung like a slap. It was easy to get lost in the rape and the homophobia, but the whole thing was so raw, and it came from a kid of such obvious and surpassing talent, that it was impossible to dismiss out of hand. Instead, all the risible sentiments scanned as defensive red herrings, blasts of hate from a fatherless child who was still figuring out the right places to channel his rage. Goblin, the follow-up, was all over the place, but its best moments were animated by a sort of fearful euphoria. This nameless kid suddenly had more attention than he knew what to do with, and he knew he’d touched a whole lot of kids as lost as him. He’d made himself and his friends rich, and he felt impossible expectations from all angles, including from himself. Then he ate a roach, pretended to hang himself, and became an instant skate-rat icon. The final verse of “Oldie,” Odd Future’s massive and ecstatic 2012 posse cut, felt like the culmination of all that — Tyler suddenly, finally embracing the idea that he’s an important people, that entire throngs of high school kids are rearranging their own self-images around him and his ideas. But triumph isn’t a feeling that anyone associated with Odd Future can maintain for long, and Wolf, sadly, seems to be the moment it all crashes down. As with everything this kid does, there’s a ton here to unpack. But after a day and a half of constant rotation, it sounds like a sad, small album, a willful retreat that leaves behind way too many of the things that made Tyler’s music powerful in the process.

Tyler’s on-record homophobia has always dominated public conversations about his work, but all that faded away last year, with Frank Ocean’s beautiful Tumblr self-disclosure. Either Tyler had been playing around with shock signifiers, a secret crusader for equality all along, or he was about to undergo the same sort of public conversion as that Republican congressman with the gay son. Nope! About 70 seconds into Wolf, Tyler is crooning, “I think you’re a fuckin’ fag” over smooth-pop pianos and chintzy orchestral fanfares. A couple of songs later, he makes his first reference to Ocean’s coming-out moment: “Life ain’t got no light in it / Darker than the closet that nigga Frankie was hiding in.” Before the album ends, he’s practically using Ocean as a get-out-of-jail-free card: “Look at that article that says my subject matter is wrong / Claiming I hate gays even though Frank is on 10 of my songs.” What Tyler doesn’t seem to realize, or what he’s defiantly refusing to acknowledge, is that nobody’s saying he hates gays; people are simply saying that he shouldn’t be throwing around words that make people feel terrible and small, especially when he’s already a hero to so many kids who feel terrible and small for so many reasons. So of course he keeps tossing that word around throughout Wolf. That’s not the saddest, smallest thing about the album, though it will almost certainly get the most play. The saddest, smallest thing about the album is the story-song “Colossus,” a cry-me-a-river narrative about fans hounding him for autographs at Six Flags. He devotes most of the song to rapping from the perspective of a “Stan”-type strawman fan who whines about how much he identifies with Tyler, eventually escalating things to that same imaginary fan wanting to be just like Tyler, to keep Tyler hidden in his basement, to be with Tyler forever, before Tyler himself explodes that he’s sick of hearing about “Yonkers” and that fine, he’ll go ahead and take the fucking picture. That’s the moment where Tyler’s mockery and dismissal of the people who love him becomes rank and rotten.

Elsewhere on Wolf, Tyler remains resolutely trapped in his own head, but through different reasons. He devotes a couple of songs to the spurned-obsessive-boyfriend feelings he’s already thoroughly explored elsewhere. He mocks his own success: “Bitch, I ate one roach and I made a lot of money.” He spends all of “Pigs” rapping from the perspective of a high-school mass shooter, almost fantasizing about being in that role. He demands oral sex, constantly. It’s grim.

Tyler has said in interviews that he wanted Wolf to be an album less about rapping and more about production, about making music for kids to get high to (even though he doesn’t actually get high himself). Tyler’s Neptunes fixation is well-documented, and Pharrell himself shows up to coo in falsetto on the album. But the Neptunes period Tyler most imitates here isn’t the late-’90s “Superthug” era, when Pharrell and Chad were Triton-abusers who turned empty space into brick-throwing incitement; it’s the early-’00s “Change Clothes” era, when they discovered cheap cocktail jazz and made everything sound like that. Tyler’s version of that sound is even cheaper and stickier and more seasick than the original article, and that mostly keeps Wolf from being musical immersion-material. Some of the guests, like Ocean and Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, barely register, and others are completely wasted. Erykah Badu, for instance, gets to sing expertly over dinky synthetic hotel-lobby music, and Trash Talk’s Lee Spielman gets to grunt and roar deep in the background on a head-knock posse cut. Tyler interrupts a pretty great Earl Sweatshirt guest verse with a shotgun blast and a “shut the fuck up!”

Wolf isn’t an altogether bad album, and some moments remind me of why I cared so much about this guy in the first place. For a while on “Lone,” Tyler raps about his grandmother’s death, laying out the hospital-room scene with admirable openness: “”Our conversation’s brief / Couldn’t even make eye contact when we speak… She died that night.” And his still-absent father remains a constant, heartbreaking presence. The first rapped line is this: “Pop ain’t call even though he seen me on TV.” “Answer” is a song about hating his father but wanting to hear his voice anyway, and it’s easily the most affecting song on the album. Late in the album, when the beats turn hard and the other Odd Future rappers show up, we get hints of the old anarchic euphoria that they once brought. For the most part, though, Wolf finds a brilliant young artist thrashing around, looking for ways out, wishing everyone would turn away. As a public act, it’s mesmerizing and scary, and I hope he finds a way out of the honest-to-god depression that seems to have produced the album. But as a piece of music, it’s mostly a painful trudge.

Wolf is out 4/2 on Odd Future Records.

Comments (50)
  1. I think you are missing a word in your second sentence. A “sure” would work.

  2. >”I’m not that he is”

    Do you even reread these things before you post them?

  3. album of the year. this is gold.

    OƒWGK†ΔDGΔƒ 卐卐卐

  4. Fuck Tyler, Earl’s the only one with talent. Tyler had his moment with Yonkers; it’ll always be a fine story to tell to his grandchildren, but I think he should step back from the forefront and focus on production and guest spots from meow on.

  5. Ughh. Well, thats disappointing.

  6. So he hates people who approach him for autographs? Rap Game Russell Crowe.

  7. What a fucking whiner. You have more than so so so many people. You asked for everything and got it. I like your music Tyler, but really- get some perspective dude.

  8. Tyler isn’t a homophobe. He just doesn’t care about a lot of things, including word choice. Their is a difference between saying a word with hate and saying it in a different context.

    That being said, based off the leak, Wolf didn’t really do much more for me then I thought it would. It didn’t suck but wasn’t really special either.

    • woozefa  |   Posted on Mar 28th, 2013 0

      they’re’s a big difference.

    • Ignorance can be as harmful as hate, even though there is no malicious intent in there. In fact, no matter what your intent is, you can still cause harm and spread poison through the culture. If your intent is to not care about how you affect other humans, then that’s not too far from being hateful.

    • There was a Huffington Post article called “Tyler’s Favourite Word”, where he denies alleged homophobia. But that’s the same thing as 50 Cent denying that his lyrics intentionally promotes violence. Your intentions do not matter.

      That said, Wolf was alright. Certain tracks were good, but I was mainly bothered with the pacing. The whole nihilistic rap thing he’s perpetuating is still interesting. I hope he takes more musical departures in the future.

  9. I like it.

  10. It sounds like this kid is ultimately just a pure Eminem ripoff who doesn’t get flack for it because he isn’t white. He made it big by being a controversial scumbag, and I guess little has changed. I guess maybe it’s just hard to appreciate this stuff since I’m not in middle school/high school any more. This would have made a perfect addition to listening to Eminem/Mindless Self Indulgence/ICP back in the day, but…this kid’s just a dumb kid with a bad attitude. Fraid I’m not gonna support that.

  11. You make it one full sentence before you begin talking about yourself.

  12. I think the production is pretty great. I think he does a good job here of mixing the darker sides of his production with the goofiness that is Tyler. I actually really enjoy the hotel lobby piano he’s got going on here and I think most of the beats are executed pretty damn well.

    I think you’re focusing in a little bit too much on what Tyler is saying. I’m not so sure a ton of thought went into his lyrics here, stuff isn’t too deep, mostly hitting on stuff he’s already hit on, but for some reason it doesn’t take away from the album too much for me.

  13. I always knew this guy sucked. What Blink 182 was to Greenday, he is to Eminem.

    And yeah there’s a difference in being homophobic with your personal dealings with gay people – and making homophobic music which you then distribute to thousands of others (millions?). In the mass moral equation, this guy is on the losing end. Fuck him.

  14. On first listen, I found Wolf extremely mesmerizing and fascinating, but as Colossus and the second half hit, I found it horribly depressing, so much so that I was tempted to just turn it off already. But that mere fact does so much for me already.

    What I’ve always appreciated about Tyler is that he’s true to himself and fucks around a whole ton. Main focus here is that he’s a very real person. And his depression says more about his unique position than it does his angst.

    I read up somewhere that just about every major rapper is miserable as fuck. And I find that this sort of saddened reality that Tyler’s been thrown into, and as Tom pointed out that, “how famous is he?” can be answered by the fact that he rolls crew, locally, in LA where who he considers “everyone” probably knows him by now, makes me pay attention to him even more. It’s very Kurt Cobain in that we know we could be seeing a downfall, but it’s worth paying attention to.

  15. Listening to this album felt like watching an episode of Loiter Squad. I feel like in order to enjoy it I have to be an obsessive high school kid who has the time to keep up with all the social media in jokes and references that define the weakest material out of the Odd Future camp. I can’t keep up anymore and now Tyler is so deep in his own world and fanbase, I feel like I can’t get through to what I used to like about him.

  16. well you knocked this review right out of the park

    i really wanted to like this album. I was excited for it. then domo23 came out and was a goof ball fart fest of a video/pretty standard blah blah track.

    tyler clearly knows which of his beats hit the right spot. He clearly loved analog and au79, which i would argue are his best beats. but this stumbling / circus / music box / drunk snare / imac mic chorus / pirate acoustic beat shit has got to go. why did this direction start? shit is exhausting. this album is a fucking JOB to get through. the front end of it drags beyond anything i’ve ever heard. most of these beats sound like he just turned on garageband and played the shit straight out on the keyboard once and then just looped the shit. these beats are yawning. how the fuck can your flow ride the beat when the shit sounds like its got a broken wooden leg.

    also, tyler’s a perfect example of how money keeps you stupid. still hasn’t gained enough perspective to move beyond the “fag” and fan hating and all of that shit. colossus OH MY GOD it’s like if Hailie wrote Stan for eminem back when HE wrote Stan. The beat doesn’t even exist on this track. it’s painful like growing. shiiiiiiiiiiiit

    bimmer has promise. made an album of those and we’ll talk

    • Lmfao …
      And yes I agree Bimmer is cool…different…nice beat…

    • agreed. bimmer is pretty good actually. gotta say though, worst thing about this album is the promise of an earl verse, delivery on a fantastic guest appearance, only to be shadowed (solely in length) by domo and tyler? NEEDS MORE EARL

  17. I don’t know what stick was shoved up your ass while listening through it, or maybe it’s just a way for you to sound cool and try to be Pitchfork by doing the review the way you did.

    Nonetheless, Wolf is actually a fantastic album. Tyler has progressed as an artist and lyricist since Bastard and it’s for the best.

  18. First off I would like to say I love reading comments and its nice to see some really good thoughtful comments dealing with this album. Pretty much all of you guys that criticized this album hit it right on the head.

    It’s also funny that Tom feels the exact same way that I do. I was first introduced to Odd Future by Tom when he did that great lengthy write up at Pitchfork. It pretty much explained who Odd Future was, the best artist out of the group, and their discography. That’s where it all began for me. After doing some research and finding the key players, Tyler and Earl, I became a fan. I liked the weird but awesome videos. I liked 2 particular mixtapes, Bastard & Earl. And I felt they had potential to take over the rap game. Yonkers videos releases and the buzz goes through the roof. I felt excited because I wanted these guys to win. Then comes GOBLIN. Eh. It wasn’t the best album but for what it was I enjoyed it. I still think Earls mixtape is the best thing to come out the Odd Future clique. Now we have this album.

    Wolf. Not impressed. Not impressive. Ultimately tiring. But why? I think I have the answer. It’s the guy who’s doing all the rapping. Tyler the Creator has become a childish, annoying, pretentious, immature celebrity figure. He feeds off of endless attention that he claims to hate on “Colossus”. He thinks he’s a underrated producer as you will see if you look at his Twitter timeline. His raps haven’t matured he’s still talking the same old nothing. The beats like Tom said sound very cheap and are knock offs. Not to mention all the beats sound for the most part similar(distorted). When you have a massive ego like this you better be able to back it up(Kanye West) but in this case Tyler doesn’t. At all. Wolf just might be the last howl for Tyler’s appeal.

  19. Honestly, I like many of the songs on this album a lot. Songs like “Answer” and “IFHY” are amazing to me. The production alone on this album is all around great to me, and I feel like I listen to Tyler more for his production than I do his rapping. Now here’s why I didn’t say “I like this album a lot”, it’s because I can’t listen to this album from front-to-back. It’s a lonnnnng listen and tends to blend in the background. Overall, I’m glad I listened to this album.

  20. I think you spent too much time focusing on what he was saying, which let’s be honest you don’t really care about as much as you let on because you praised Chief Keef (does he even use words?).
    The only reason I listen to stuff by Tyler is actually similar to the reason I listen to Kanye: production. I certainly don’t put him anywhere near the same level, but I’m saying that’s what they excel at.

    I personally like the hotel piano shit and I like the way he vocalizes but I don’t really take the lyrics into deep consideration. If I wanted lyrics I would listen to Nas or Mos Def.

    All in all, it’s nothing special as an album, but there are at least 5 songs that I will keep long term, which is all I’m looking for from someone like him.

    End thoughts: I fuck with Bimmer (kids are saying that, right?), was hoping for stuff more like Sam Is Dead or Analog, and I foresee Earl’s new album getting him near Ocean level of acclaim.

  21. Every generation gets the Fred Durst they deserve.

  22. Out of all three album covers for Wolf, is it strange that I like the inhaler-cuddling cover the most?

  23. I do think its a little silly to launch into a tirade on Tyler’s lyricism and then turn around and shower Chief Keef with praises.

  24. Not to say that I think this album is great but Colossus was definitely a highlight. It might serve as a wake up call to those fans that the part of Tyler’s “philosophy” of being “yourself” isn’t looking at him and mindlessly emulating everything he does.

  25. I feel that too much of this write up was centered on attacking the idea of Tyler The Creator. Like he’s not fulfilling some sort of fantasy you have of him. I’m not a huge fan, but I find some of his work really interesting and don’t really listen to him for lyrical insight. I think this was much better than Goblin and there are at least five songs which I will definitely be going back to, which as a previous person put it is all I’m really looking forward in an album like this.

  26. Chief Keef > Tyler The Creator

    • wut??? chief keef is the most retarded rapper on the planet right now.
      such mediocre gangsta shit idiot just should not exist.

      • The difference is that Tyler at least does his own production so he does something worthwhile, while Chief Keef just yells incoherent shit over someone else’s beats.
        I’m all for bangers and trunk busters, but honestly at least make them listenable and give credit to the guys that deserve it, the producers.

  27. Lets face facts-anybody who gleefully without abandon or concern throws around words like “fag” or “nigga” and peppers their elementary education intellect with f bombs galore, doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously, let alone called an “artist”. Frank Ocean, not a fan of his music, but I can at the very least respect him as a man and an artist. This shock clown is absurdly hateful in his lyrics, in his posturing, in his “professionalism” conduct and it amazes me that people don’t treat it as harmful. I’m thankful people like Tegan and Sara and others had the gumption to hold ground against the tasteless harbingers of not only recycled trite music, but also of snotty, nihilism and absurd entitlement. All respect should be lost for a person who throws around hateful derogatory rhetoric. In the real world, you talk like that, you lose your job, you ostracize yourself and duly so. Why do semi-well known shock-rappers think they deserve a free pass? And God bless grumpy Steve Albini for putting this tactless “rapper” and his entourage in their place. Steve may be a dick, but he’s got principle ( and talent). I only hope music journalism realizes that there is a clear line between voicing opinion, even snarky dissent ( Johnny Rotten) and peddling songs of necrophilia, bestiality, murder, homophobia, rape and all the other disgusting things that journalists inexplicably ignore because he’s a rap “star”. Sign O’ the times I guess.

  28. “He spends all of “Pigs” rapping from the perspective of a high-school mass shooter”- Nice. Glad to see favorable reviews of his record while neglecting “issues” like that, Any other person in the real world saying things like that would/should be shackled and committed.

  29. “For the most part, though, Wolf finds a brilliant young artist thrashing around, looking for ways out, wishing everyone would turn away.”-Tom, ‘brilliant young artist”? Are you high? I’ve always respected your writing but whoa nelly! Frank Ocean got the talent from the Odd Future pool.

  30. yup, you are the first gay here.

  31. Didn’t know where to post this, but where’s the “Where’s the Beef” story on Talib Kweli and Rick Ross

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