It’s been a busy two years for Californian rap terror Tyler, The Creator since his last album outing. With a late night surrealist sketch show (Adult Swim’s ‘Loiter Squad’) on screens stateside, an Odd Future clothing range to take care of and a set of new Mountain Dew adverts directed by the 22-year-old perplexing the world, Tyler’s empire has now grown way beyond the twisted, claustrophobic hip-hop glimpsed on 2011’s ‘Goblin’ and 2009 debut ‘Bastard’. Can he still cut it as an emcee? Here’s our first impressions of his hotly anticipated return, ‘Wolf’…
A slow trickle of piano and we’re off. But wait – is that glockenspiel? And what are those swooning choral coos and romantic swells of brass? Maybe two years out of the game has sweetened rap’s enfant terrible, the demonic Goblin at the wheel of his last album replaced by something a little cuddlier this time around. Or maybe not: “Fuck you,” goes the first lyric, sung with a mocking slur, ending with an “I think you’re a fucking fag.” Tyler may not have renounced his questionable language or provocative ways in his time out then, but he’s at least sharpened his production talents, layering together a luscious slow jam that gives way to a spoken-word skit. “The music sounds good, man!” booms one of Tyler’s demonic, down-pitched split personalities. “You’ve been practising.” Apparently so. Moral panic count: 13 “fucks”, one “fag”.
A snarly 8-bit keyboard hook carries us into three-and-a-half minutes of playful rhymes (“cussing out Siri like a waitress with no patience“) and crunchy beats, with help along the way from Odd Future associate Hodgy Beats, who steers the song away from Tyler’s father issues (“Papa ain’t call even though he saw me on TV“) and into a discussion of the merits of weed. A smooth, smoke-soak dance anthem, and one of the most cerebral moments on the album. Moral panic count: 17 “fucks”, one “fag” and Hodgy’s “scrotum on the Channel 10 news“.
No growly Clint Eastwood impersonations here, but instead a sparse, sinister moment of reflection for the young Californian as his disparate personalities – the good, the bad and the ugly – do battle in his head. “Knock knock motherfucks, it’s me, Mr Clusterfuck,” he raps sombrely, adding that he “ain’t been this sick since brain cancer ate my granny up.” The paranoid hangover to ‘Jamba”s stoned swagger trip, this is Tyler at his most intimate and bewitching. Moral panic count: 12 “fucks”, one “fag”, five “bitches” and one slandered president (“I’m never civil, fuck Lincoln!“).
A nostalgic nod to young love and teen sex, this simmering four minutes of hazy synth noises and screwed vocals recounts Tyler’s memories of adolescence with surprising tenderness. “Your name’s still my password so I’m always fucking reminded,” he raps softly, before a thinly disguised Frank Ocean falsetto takes us out. This is a richly enjoyable moment of vintage-sounding hip-hop, even if it does dredge up memories of accidentally head-butting Kirsty Mayers after the Year 8 school disco while going in for a kiss, breaking her nose in two places. Yeah. Moral panic count: 11 “fucks”, one “fag” and of course all that clumsy underage sex.
This is Tyler at his most cerebral and upbeat, going hard over a booming trap production, blasts of horn and bleeping keyboards. As compelling and violent as 2011 breakout hit ‘Yonkers’, entertaining the idea of “purchasing guns, naming them and aiming them at One Direction” in an echo of his promise to “stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn oesophagus“, it’s also the 22-year-old at his proudest, aiming barbs at his peers more interested in partying than professionalism and creativity: “While y’all are rolling doobies, I be in my bedroom scoring movies.” Moral panic count: 12 “fucks”, one “fag”, four “bitches” and two “dicks”.
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More father issues, this time over a melancholy beat and delicate chimes of guitar. The Tyler glimpsed on ‘Goblin’ and 2009 debut ‘Bastard’ was fun to marvel at, a raging ball of psychosis and deranged rhymes. Here, for the first time, he’s desperately human. “When I call I hope you pick up your phone… I’d like to talk to you,” rings its sad chorus, “I hope you answer.” Moral panic count: 16 “fucks”, two “fags”, a “dick”, a “bitch” and a broken home.
Tyler takes his bike out for a spin here, “bunny hop[ping], zoning out, listening to N.E.R.D” on this gloomy nocturne. Frank Ocean makes another appearance, crooning, “I just want to ride my bike” like it’s a sultry R&B update of Queen’s ‘Bicycle Race’. It’s not one of the more memorable moments on the album but hey, we’re all for the eco-friendly vibe, lads. Moral panic count: 4 “fucks”. We’re up to 85 now, in case you’re wondering.
’48’ sees Tyler stray out of his therapist’s office for a rare moment, discovering a world ravaged by drugs outdoors. With a monologue from hip-hop veteran Nas on the impact of crack on poor neighbourhoods threaded through and more subtle Frank Ocean backing, it’s an odd departure for the Odd Future man on an album that’s otherwise completely introspective, but an interesting glimpse at what else Tyler is capable of. Moral panic count: 11 “fucks”, two “bitches” and more ruinous drugs than you can shake a Wire season four box set at.
Remember ‘Stan’, Eminem’s dark epic that topped the singles charts in 2000? So does Tyler, who borrows its obsessed-fan horror-story narrative for this album centrepiece, detailing the nasty trappings of fame over lounge pianos and creeping string sounds. It doesn’t quite visit the same harrowing depths of fandom-gone-too-far as Mathers’ hit, but it still fascinates. Moral panic count: 20 “fucks”, one “bleeding cock” and one mall riot.
A seven-minute triple billing of dreamy synth-pop, drifting jazz and seductive hip-hop, this inventive medley showcases Tyler’s eclectic taste and versatile production talents. The rapper tried unsuccessfully to recruit Grizzly Bear for ‘PartyIsntOver’, and you can see why – its adventurous chord progressions wouldn’t be out of place of an album by the Brooklyn band. He did, however, manage to twist Stereolab singer Laetitia Sadier’s arm into an understated appearance. Indie points for name-dropping Tame Impala too, Tyler. Moral panic count: 10 “fucks”, plus a couple of “lynched and burned” “motherfuckers”.
Pharrell Williams drops in on ‘IFHY’ (“I fucking hate you“) but this is no N.E.R.D chart-bothering R&B jam. Instead, Tyler raps with angry, wounded conviction about his mix of emotions over a girl (‘Salem’) once more over a coruscating organ drone and snapping beats. Moral panic count: 14 “fucks” and a pledge or two to murder any rival lovers.
Written from the perspective of the Columbine school massacre killers, ‘Pigs’ plays out over a Snoop-indebted beat and noisy sirens. “Gather all the bullies, crush them motherfucker,” Tyler growls on its chorus, drawing on his fascination with anarchy once more. “Don’t start asking what’s packing in these trench coats.” With the dust barely settled on last year’s Connecticut elementary school massacre that left 28 dead, it’s pretty hard-hitting. Moral panic count: eight “fucks”, three “fags” and a couple of armed teenagers about to slaughter their classmates. Contentious enough for you?
Over another slow, sinister beat, ‘Parking Lot’ gives shout-outs to Tyler’s ‘Loiter Squad’ cronies, but without any of the show’s humour or zip. Featuring guest spots by Casey Veggies and Odd Future’s Mike G, it’s an interesting enough interlude, but its plodding pace causes the record to sag a little. Any chance of another ‘Domo23’, Tyler? Moral panic count: eight “fucks”, four “bitches” and a nod to global warming (“until the ozone leaves and the earth hot, Loiter Squad lurking in the parking lot“).
This is more like it, bringing in free-flowing regular collaborator Domo Genius and the hotly tipped Earl Sweatshirt for a verse on this early Wu-Tang throwback. Tyler takes the opportunity here to hit back at his critics, spitting: “Look at that article saying my subject matter is wrong, saying I hate gays even though Frank [Ocean] is on 10 of my songs.” A genuine defence, or is he using his friendship with the singer as a get-out-of-jail-free card to use whatever homophobic language he wants? Moral panic count: 24 “fucks”, 3 “fags” and 7 “bitches”. Phew.
Starring Trash Talk screamer Lee Speilman, ‘Trashwang’ might sound like a Nathan Barley-directed porno, but is actually a pretty stomping song, grinding through a couple of minutes of bruising trap before opening up into gorgeous pianos and rousing strings. Moral panic count: 17 “fucks”, one “retard”.
Tyler sings! Alright, when you’ve got sweet-voiced Coco Owino and legendary Erykah Badu backing you, it’s near impossible to sound bad, but the 22-year-old’s baritone, flitting in and out of this lounge jazz-tinged cut, shows yet another side to him. Moral panic count: ZERO! Not even a solitary F-bomb. Shucks, Tyler.
A fiery M.I.A parody, Tyler lets loose on his detractors with a blistering blast of his most depraved mall-rat shtick. “Why y’all so salty?” he asks, over Latin drums and wailing Spanish screams. As the Spanish might say, “muy bueno”. Moral panic count: 11 “fucks” and a couple of sex acts illegal in large portions of the world.
After all the spectacle and swearing comes Tyler’s most sensitive moment playing out the album, returning to his Grandmother’s passing in stark, lonely detail as muzak clarinets sound and jazz drums rattle. Like ‘Wolf’ as a whole, it’s a song that says: think you know Tyler, The Creator? Think again. (Moral panic count: 11 “fucks”. That’s 219 in total, by the way, profanity fans.)