Tyler, the Creator – Wolf

Album Review by Bram E. Gieben | 02 Apr 2013
  • Tyler, the Creator - Wolf
Album title: Wolf
Artist: Tyler, the Creator
Label: Sony / Odd Future
Release date: 1 Apr

First things first  at least six of the sixteen tracks on Wolf are easily up there with the best of this year's hip-hop crop so far. And yet, on his third full-length offering, it seems that Tyler is suffering from the same exact strain of fatigue which has afflicted Eminem since The Marshall Mathers LP

The elements which made him famous and beloved by legions of disaffected suburban teenagers  his difficult upbringing, his battle with poverty, his obstacle-filled, rising path through the ranks of hip-hop  are now ameliorated by fame and unimaginable wealth. In several songs, including stand out cut Domo23, Tyler raps about how large his four-storey house is. For an artist whose relationship with his fans relies on identification and hero worship to such a degree, this is creative death. Arguably he does it in a tongue-in-cheek, satirical way, compared to other rappers  but it still leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

Colossus, a song about the pressures of fame and obsessive fans, has other parallels with Eminem - it's pretty much a re-run of Stan, but rather than creating a clever, melodramatic narrative which both satirises and engages with his fans' obsessive nature, Tyler opts for disdain and played-for-laughs couplets about the fan having papercuts on his balls after getting it on with a Tyler poster. It's a deeply uncomfortable moment, which could be perceived as exploitative, and most significantly, a bit of a whiny sentiment from mister "I've got a four-storey house." Yeah, you told us that already.

And yet, as a producer and rapper, Tyler is one of the most gifted in modern hip-hop – an intoxicating mix of Kool Keith's flat-out weirdness, Pharrell's feeling for soul and dirty funk, and the aforementioned Marshall Mathers' adolescent brag-rap and battle-rhyme insults define his lyrical concerns, while the beats lurch woozily from lo-fi boom-bap flecked with guitar and piano on Cowboy, to loose-limbed electro on Jamba, to mental, in-your-face brostep/trap pastiche on the hilarious, unforgettably infectious Domo23.

Nevertheless, quality control remains his greatest challenge – indie-rock loops limp through the tedious Answer, while Slater / Escape-ism, featuring Frank Ocean, feels like an offcut or a freestyle, with under-realised lyrics and unimaginative R&B licks. Partyisntover / Campfire / Bimmer makes barely any use of Stereolab's Laetitia Sadler; while IFHY, featuring Pharrell, is an under-produced half-step; not without its charm, but never truly captivating. Joining two or three tracks together into 'suites' could be considered conceptually adventurous, but here it feels lazy.

There are highlights – Rusty, featuring Domo Genesis and Earl Sweatshirt, has the swagger of cutting-edge underground hip-hop, unapologetically uncommercial. As always, Tyler's group emcee cuts shine. Tamale, featuring Tallulah, is throwaway, but its baile funk rhythm and vocal are at least memorable.The aforementioned Jamba features some of the best lyrics on Wolf, with Tyler calling out his critics - and displaying an awareness of the possible charges of homophobia and other judgemental interpretations of his art. Again like Eminem, he knows precisely which buttons he is pushing.

48 manages to almost nail the sleazy R&B stylings of the best moments of Ocean's Channel Orange and also proves that Tyler can still come with some of the nastiest put-downs in modern rap ("You want a tip bitch / Here's my dick for gratituity," from Jamba, which also features some spectacular weed rhymes), has a flair for the surreal ("Sounds like midgets in the speaker every goddamn time you play this shit loud," from Domo 23), and his jabs at celebrities offer cheap but satisfying laughs ("Fucking sick and getting bigger, like I sneezed on Adele / Bitches gettin' touchy-feely, like they reading some braille," from Rusty).

But when he addresses his father again (on Answer) it seems he's already revisiting old ground, and the low-slung likes of Awkward, Cowboy and Slater feel under-realised, the lyrics relying too heavily on cheap jokes, swearing for its own sake, drug references and silly voices. There's just nothing on here that touches the highlights of Goblin, and certainly nothing as finessed and original as the voice he spoke in on the magnificent Bastard.

The presence of guests like Sadler, Erykah Badu and Ocean obscures rather than illuminates Tyler's vision. Perhaps one day, the extraordinarily talented rapper will produce an album full of cuts as strong as Domo23, Yonkers or Rella – he is, after all, still very young. But unless he quits rhyming about how rich he is, and tightens up his quality control, he risks alienating his anti-establishment fans, and becoming as culturally irrelevant as Kanye or Drake. There's a pretty strong six track EP in here, but at sixteen tracks, Wolf is mostly flab and fluff. As it stands, Tyler's a singles band. Buy the good tracks and the collaborations with other Odd Future stars and ignore the album as a whole, and you'll see why he is so revered. 

Tyler, the Creator plays T in the Park, 12-14 July http://www.oddfuture.com