Better beats, deeper storytelling - and smoking PCP with Bieber
Creator’s got ’em. For all of Odd Future’s reputation as amoral rap hellions turning the nation’s youth onto rape and devil-worship, the music of Wolf Gang’s de facto leader frequently stews on things internal: the contents of his fucked-up head and heart. On his second album, 2011’s ‘Goblin’, he hit the mic like it was a psychiatrist’s couch, spilling his darkest thoughts in a feat of psychic exorcism. In the long run, though, the results were overlong, and the odd blast of “kill people, burn shit, fuck school!” came like sweet relief.
The shrink voice that quizzed Tyler throughout ‘Goblin’ pops up occasionally here, and at 71 minutes in length, ‘Wolf’ is nearly as long as its plodding predecessor. But this is clearly the superior record. Certainly, the beats have improved – Tyler’s devilish gurgle drizzled like honey over bright jazz-funk keys and thunking J Dilla-like percussion. In part, it’s deeper storytelling: days after ‘Wolf”s leak, the Odd Future forum featured a 100-page thread delving into the album’s detailed metanarrative, isolating characters such as ‘Wolf’, ‘Sam’, and ‘Salem’, and winding right back to Tyler’s 2009 debut ‘Bastard’.
Whatever, it’s smart enough that you can pretty much forgive that the first handful of tracks are business as usual. ‘Jamba’ is squeaky digi-funk laced with porno gasps and smart-skeezy rhymes – things like “cussing out Siri like a waitress with no patience/Oh, you want a tip bitch, well here’s my dick for gratuity“. ‘Cowboy’ takes a horror-flick tone, all suspenseful guitar and off-kilter drums, although as usual Tyler’s tossing wisecracks from the gloom: “Life ain’t got no light in it/Darker than that closet that nigga Frankie was hiding in“. ‘Domo23’, meanwhile, feels a rare concession to the kind of music that people think Tyler makes: a rage-filled stomp that sees him call his manager a “slave master“, namechecks One Direction, and raps about smoking PCP with Justin Bieber. The chorus, a chant of “Fuck that/Golf Wang“, is Odd Future nihilism at its purest.
But actually, ‘Wolf’ marks the point where experience becomes more affecting than juvenilia. ‘Awkward’ finds a chopped-and-screwed Tyler reminiscing about his first love, the girl he got but couldn’t hang on to, his heartbreak compounded by a sweet Frank Ocean coda. Guests often add a disarmingly pretty element: Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier sings beautifully over the backwards beats of ‘PartyIsntOver/Campfire/Bimmer’, while ‘Slater’ takes an excursion through the city’s ripped backside, Frank Ocean chorusing “her freckles look like candy bars/Hair blowing in the wind“. Of course, this being Tyler, infatuation occasionally goes too far. On ‘IFHY’, he’s torn by emotion, love twisting into hate and back again. By the close, as Pharrell croons sweet platitudes, Tyler’s pondering a murder-suicide.
Songs about strangling women, let’s be clear, are not especially cool. Nor are songs about how awful it is to meet people who like your music – although ‘Colossus’ does undergo an amusingly Alan Partridge-esque twist when one devotee reveals the extent of their fandom: “I’ve got your pic on my wall/With the mouth cut out/Now, paper cuts on my balls…” Tyler, though, does make a speciality out of untangling difficult emotions in verse. ‘Answer’, a message to his absent father, starts with him raging against that “Nigerian fuck“, but read between the lines and the pain of rejection hangs heavy.
The main thing that distinguishes ‘Wolf’ from ‘Goblin’ is that while its predecessor tailed off, ‘Wolf’ saves the best ’til last. There is ‘Rusty’, in which Tyler addresses accusations of homophobia (“Saying I hate gays even though Frank is on 10 of my songs“) and Earl Sweatshirt gets shot dead mid-verse. And there is ‘Trashwang’, a rowdy trap-rap homage featuring a whole lot of screaming from Trash Talk’s Lee Spielman.
It isn’t a masterpiece. At times, there’s the sense Tyler’s charisma outweighs his content, and as such it’s probably up to Earl to deliver the group’s first bona fide hip-hop classic. But ‘Wolf’ suggests Odd Future, far from being a flash in the pan, are set to grow and grow.