It's been two years since Tyler's second studio album Goblin, and a lot has changed since. The Odd Future leader's sophomore album was one of the defining products in a series of releases that saw the alternative hip-hop collective rise from underground notoriety to mainstream fame alongside The OF Tape Vol. 2, and Frank Ocean's universally acclaimed channel ORANGE, judged by many to be the finest album of last year. So now that Tyler and co. have sufficiently shocked the world into taking notice, how does he respond to the fame and fandom that he so clearly craved from his earliest recordings?
Wolf is an intriguing album, and one of greater complexity than it's two predecessors. Tyler has always been a talented producer, mainly through his use of menacing, droning synths and minimal percussion, but here things have stepped up quite a bit, as the rapper fills these 18 tracks with richer textures and atmospheric beats. The results of this are most profitable on tracks like 'Answer', a melodic, accessible indie rap song, the like of which was first hinted at with 'Inglorious' on Bastard, and 'Slater' through it's use of strings and Frank Ocean's always welcome gorgeous guest vocal. Speaking of vocals, 'Awkward' must be heard to be believed as Tyler croons 'you're my girlfriend, you're my girl' over the outro, a shocking admission from the controversial artist for exactly the opposite reasons that made him such a polarizing figure previously.
That's not to say that the depraved individual we all know so well is completely gone though- there's plenty of typical OF tunes to go around in the shape of 'Rusty', containing what is probably Tyler's best verse on the album, a flowing attack aimed directly at his critics, while 'Domo23' makes for an obvious lead single, and could easily be joined by potential releases 'Jamba' and 'Cowboy', both of which make for a strong start to the record. Other highlights include 'IFHY' (I Fucking Hate You, as can only be expected on a Tyler album), an intense love song during which the rapper sounds genuinely hurt, and Colossus, a meditation on growing fame and fanbase, a tired topic in the rap community (seems almost pointless to write about it after 'Stan') but the comedic execution and lyrical prowess of the song makes it one of the finest tracks on the album. There are lowlights to the brand of hyper-rap that OF sometimes overload on as per usual, with songs like 'Trashwang' that would sound more at home on the group's releases and 'Tamale', an unnecessary inclusion that only seems to be there to prove the point that Tyler can still be disgusting as he spits 'they say I've calmed down since the last album, well lick my dick, how does that sound' in the telling first line.
Overall though half-baked lines such as this are in the minority and incredibly, Tyler seems to be growing up. There will be Odd Future fans who feel like Tyler is leaving them behind by not cramming every song full of murder and sexual innuendos but they were always the wrong reasons to be listening anyway - exceptional lyrical skills and wordplay, production values, and unmistakably unique delivery are Tyler's main strengths and they're all in abundance on Wolf. Perhaps I'm in the minority for saying so but I felt Goblin to be a slightly overrated sequel to Bastard, mainly due to the fact that in parts it felt like Tyler was trying to accommodate to those fans that only wanted hear about blood and guts.
Ultimately, Wolf is destined to age better than Bastard and Goblin simply because it's the easiest to listen to even though it's not necessarily a better product than the raw, unpolished, brutally honest debut that first introduced us to the disturbed 18 year old mind of Tyler. But the reason why Wolf is so important is that it's the beginning of the end of that era, and shows us there is serious potential in him after it. The misogynistic, hate-filled teenager is slowly turning into a deeper artist and right now, that makes him one of the most exciting hip hop talents on the planet. Whether he can deliver on his unlimited potential only time will tell, but you'd have to suspect great things judging from this material.
Review by Andrew Lambert