For a rapper who once joked about raping Goldilocks and murdering Bruno Mars, it seems out of character to hear Odd Future ringleader Tyler, the Creator say “you’re my girl, you’re my girlfriend” and “I like when we hold hands, I’m in love” on his new album, “Wolf.”
“Wolf” is Tyler, the Creator’s most ambitious record and the third of a trilogy (succeeding his debut “Bastard” and 2011’s “Goblin”). The alternative hip-hop echoing elements of horror core and hardcore in his previous efforts have been replaced with jazz piano and soulful vocal melodies. Focusing less on rapping and more on production, “Wolf” takes cues anywhere from the late J-Dilla, producer Flying Lotus and fellow Odd Future member Frank Ocean.
“Wolf” captures Tyler’s producing talents, yet goes very little from there. As good as piano-led tracks like opener “Wolf” and “Treehome95” go, the album drags without progressing. It’s as if every song shows promise but ends up going for the same minor-key, mid-tempo vibe. The one or two hype tracks (such as fiery lead single “Domo23” and “Jamba”) are reminiscent of his earlier, more cathartic songs but are lost in a sea of sleepy pseudo-jazz. Several standout tracks such as “Bimmer” or “Rusty” recall early Eminem, with RZA-inspired beats to back. Other than that, the final half of the lengthy 18-track record begins to blur together. No one song is as punishing as 2011’s “Yonkers,” which meshed Tyler’s distinctive lyrical imagery with consistent, memorable hooks.
The shock value that reined in many an Odd Future fan from both his solo and group releases seems completely absent. Tyler once bragged “rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome.” “Wolf” begs for the poetry of previous lines like “I cut my wrists and play piano ‘cause I’m so depressed” and “kill people, burn shit, fuck school.”
The humor and excessive anger has died out completely. Understandably, the angst of Tyler’s younger years will have certainly subsided following Odd Future’s seemingly overnight success. Yet, there is something a lot less interesting about hearing about his girlfriend, his big house and all the money he has made. He hints at the loneliness of his new-found fame, lamenting on how growing up fatherless will still supersede any happiness in the public image. Moments like these, on songs like “Answer,” give a sort of depth that feels absent on previous efforts but lingers on without going anywhere. Perhaps with a more concise track listing, “Wolf” would not feel so tame.