Review Summary: Wolf offers some great flashes into the maturing mind of Tyler the Creator, but if he's not rapping about rape and murder, 70 minutes is just way too long.
At least Tyler the Creator made it nearly impossible to deliver a disappointing album in Wolf
. After Bastard
and subsequently “Yonkers” set expectations at near astronomical levels, Tyler released Goblin
, the uniformly boring, overlong, and laborious 2011 album that nobody expected. It marked the beginning of Tyler’s transformation from a horrorcore rapper whose calling card was clever word play (“It’s not a figure of speech when I tell you that I dumped her”) and controversial shock rap (“Jesus called he said he’s sick of the disses/ I told him to quit bitchin’ this isn’t a fuckin’ hotline”) to a more restrained musician who shied away from rape and murder and began devising concepts and spitting more about his daddy problems. The trend only materialized further on Wolf
, which is almost entirely devoid of the elements that gained Tyler and the entire Odd Future crew notoriety a couple years ago. The album is constructed loosely around a concept involving a struggle between the characters Wolf and Sam (both of whom are represented by Tyler and are competing alter egos), particularly in wooing Sam’s girlfriend Salem. What is most interesting about the concept is the way it entwines the threads that have been woven by Bastard
, and the track “Sam (is Dead)” from last year’s OF Tape Vol. II
(theories are readily available across the internet, and the idea that Tyler masterminded an entire story here is both likely and ingenious), but within the context of the album it’s a simple idea that is referenced enough to be lucid, but not overbearing to the point that the songs suffer.
The good isn’t much; the really good anyway. His short tenure in hip-hop has made it abundantly clear that Tyler the Creator makes good music when he’s acting like a kid. Disregarding convention (see: any song in which Tyler discusses rape), making brash statements towards those who care too much (“Somebody tell [T]egan and Sara to come suck a–”), and making clever references (“Dress my little dick as Ike, twenty says I hit your wife”) is what made him stand out, and when he goes dumb on tracks like “Domo 23”, “Rusty”, “Pigs” – even “Trashwang” gets some love here just because it slaps in the whip – Wolf
really shines. Failing that, Tyler has a penchant for making soul-baring tracks; we saw it a little on Bastard
and progressively more on Goblin
, but now it seems like a section of every song is dedicated to his chagrin towards his father, and the connection to his audience made from these evocative moments is a huge plus. “Answer” is dedicated almost entirely to his father, and “IFHY” is a Neptunes-inspired ode to Salem, as Tyler walks us through his troubled mind and relationship. It’s compelling; it’s interesting; it’s one of Tyler’s greatest assets as an artist – he even acknowledges it on “Stan (Remix)” with comments like “‘but Tyler you’re my hero, I used to be bullied /Until I heard ‘Radicals’, the last part got to me’” and “‘[‘Bastard’] drew me in like predators carrying treats /Then I said to myself, fuck, is he speaking to me"’” And the fact that the stronger tracks are interspersed throughout the album makes it much easier to listen to, because the tedium of the filler becomes mitigated by bookended bangers. But this is really where the high praise for the album stops.
In typical Tyler the Creator fashion, the album opens with the title track; however this time it’s not a lengthy search into the mind of Tyler as its predecessors were. Instead, he leaves the therapy session for album closer “Lone”, which is an unfortunately truncated iteration of “Bastard” and “Goblin” before it, which allots Tyler only enough time to tell the story of his late grandmother’s passing. And though the “therapy sessions” with Dr. TC have traditionally been stellar due to their mixture of clever bars and tormented honesty, “Lone” really seems like it could have just been spoken as a story rather than rapped, having only a meager, clumsy element of BADBADNOTGOOD wordplay to declare itself as a legitimate song. Actually, quite a few of the tracks on this album (as was the case with Goblin
) are pretty weak but we’re forced to accept them because despite their tedium they either compare favorably to the drivel that perpetuated Goblin
, or because once the meat of the song is finished, we’re given a 20 or 30 second flash of the story’s progression (“Parking Lot” being the best example). For the most part though, even the throwaway songs are enjoyable: “Answer” is fairly binary in its drab, traipsing beat and humdrum hook, but the first verse is a nice peek into the broiling anger that Tyler feels for his father, calling him a faggot and a “Nigerian fuck” before settling into “but if I ever had the chance to ask this nigga, and call him, I hope you answer”. “Awkward” and “PartyIsntOver/Campfire” are some of the album’s slower moments, but in their comatose state they do still have some purpose – though this could be achieved with a quick skit instead. And then there are songs like “Tamale”, which add nothing to the story and seem almost wildly out of left field (“Treehome95” is also guilty of being a random addition, but to be fair, it’s a creamy lavender hymn to Erykah Badu’s brilliance and should have probably been a bonus track). What I mean to say is, that Wolf
has a lot of comparatively dull moments – when every song has to compete with “Jamba”, “Domo 23”, and “Rusty”, it becomes difficult to pull off the more somber, subdued tracks – but unlike Goblin
it doesn’t feel so overlong and boring because nearly every song has something to tie it to the overarching concept, and most of those are at the very least enjoyable as standalone songs as well.