Tyler, The Creator
Wolf (Odd Future Records/RED Distribution)
If you were to click on Odd Future’s tumblr page back in 2010, you’d enter an absorbing microcosm envisioned by the LA based skate rat Tyler, The Creator, then just 19 years old. With around 10 free-to-download albums of original feeling, low budget but ambitious rap, an abundance of self-made music videos and skits that flaunted the collective’s electric chemistry and the ability conjure up scenes of total chaos, Tyler and his friends ignited a movement that’s continued to polarise but been impossible to ignore.
It was Tyler’s first album Bastard, Earl Sweatshirt’s debut tape and Mellowhype’s Blackenedwhite which formed the trinity of reference points for those who’d argue in favour of the group’s talents, often against vehement objections to the rape narratives and the relentless homophobia that was prominent in Tyler and Earl’s lyrics during this period. These debates are about a controversy which identically resembles that stirred by Eminem (one of Tyler’s main inspirations) over a decade ago. The ongoing debate around the moral ‘legitimacy’ of advocating this material is so multifarious that it’s only possible to scratch the surface here. But to crudely summarise, either you accepted that these words were figurative, fictional and used to (occasionally) successful artistic effect, you argued that it’s dangerously irresponsible to advocate Odd Future, or you felt that the boys’ immature desire to offend is a flaw they needed to grow out of in order to reach their full potential.
Then the phenomenal hype which followed the Yonkers video phenomenon made us all want Tyler’s second album Goblin to be a better record than it really was, to invest in it as some kind of monumental release. Listening back now, it feels exhausting. The beats are undercooked, and as a lyricist, Tyler sounds troubled by a post-fame dose of writer’s block, (also audible in his frustratingly lacklustre verses on high profile collabs with Pusha-T and The Game). Obscenity can only provide a short term buzz. Tyler’s redeemable characteristics are eclipsed, his slurs just feel tedious and mildly depressing. It’s a drag.
But Wolf is a much, much better record than Goblin. It’s an amped-up version of Tyler’s formula on Bastard, one that juxtaposes melody with distortion, obnoxiousness with sensitivity and prettiness with the grotesque. And although he champions ignorant, post-lyrical trap mono-flows, dismissing the technical proficiency of rap’s golden era like a first wave punk would’ve sneered at a bloated prog-rock guitar solo, on Wolf it sounds like he’s excited by the power of his own wordplay again. His gruff, asthmatic growl isn’t exactly agile, but here he’s ranting with more passion and tripping over his syllables less.
The grouchy, minor key rant of Slater seamlessly melts into the Frank Ocean assisted Escape-ism, a song that features jazzy piano chords and warm organ tones which reprise intermittently throughout the album. This colourful ambience is an overlooked side of Tyler’s production which contrasts with the aggression of his discourse and his more repugnant material, present here on the deeply unsettling revenge fantasy Pigs and the ignorant spoof trap single Domo 23. As Tyler’s demonstrated before on the Analog songs and a could-have-been-great, unfinished track with Toro Y Moi, he’s happiest when daydreaming of school holiday adventures in suburbia, all trips to the lake on a BMX and teenage sensations of lust mistaken for love.
On the melancholic Answer, Tyler addresses his absent father once again: “You not being here fucking fire-started my damn career”, he spits. He might just be right. When he’s on this subject, we see the emotionally vulnerable Jekyll side of his split persona, and it’s the anger which spawns his Hyde-like amoral alter-egos. Answer, along with Rusty are Wolf’s highlights. Over the latter track’s thick rumbling bassline and a poignant, reflective tone reminiscent of OF’s victorious posse cut Oldie, Tyler is joined by a galvanised Domo Genesis and the reliably impressive Earl Sweatshirt. It finds Tyler on the defensive; “Look at that article which says that my subject matter is wrong, saying that I hate gays even though Frank is on ten of my songs”, he pleads. It’s an argument which could be shut down from so many angles. But with two openly non-heterosexual members in his group and an eagerness to confront the issue, it’s a refreshing attitude in comparison to that of elder rappers who’d probably respond to the topic like an uptight 70s dad.
These days, it can be hard to utter the words ‘Odd Future’ without wincing slightly. Tyler’s presenting Punk’d, earning cheques from the Jackass-style show Loiter Squad and behaving in a way that’s attracted a fanbase which primarily consists of 16 year olds who scream ‘Golf Wang’ and wear ludicrously over-priced merch. But with his production style finally delivering on its early promise, and an ability to magnestise our attention with every line, here Tyler reminds us exactly why we started giving a shit about OF in the first place.
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Words: David Reed