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Wolf Lingers Between Old Habits, New Ideas

Arthur Augustyn, Managing Editor

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I don’t listen to Rap music and outside of Kanye West I barely listen to Hip Hop. So it might seem counterintuitive for someone like me to review Tyler the Creator’s new album Wolf, but I’d argue there is an element inside of Tyler’s style that expands his appeal past the typical genre junkies.

Oddly enough, it’s when that element is blossoming that Wolf is at its best, but the album’s lingering ties to conventional rap hold back the potential that could be achieved.

Anyone unfamiliar with Tyler’s style gets rapidly introduced to the sound he’s going for with the first two tracks on the album. “Wolf” begins with choir vocals and an angelic piano melody. Just as you’re about to check the track listing to confirm you’re listening to the right album, Tyler chimes in with the F-word, followed by “**** you, **** everybody,” while the piano and choir continue.

The second track, “Jamba,” is more typical of the genre with a fuzz 8-bit melody hook and predictable lyrics. Some gold lines include “but now my balls ball’s deep in his broad’s jaw swallow girl it’s just nut,” and a later verse by Hodgy Beats includes “like what the **** I’m drunk as ****, turn the ****ing music up.” It’s not exactly soul-piercing poetry, but it has a sophomoric appeal because of how silly it is.

A lot of the album thrives on this juvenile, but endearing quality of Tyler’s style. It works because he bears a level of self-awareness and doesn’t take himself very seriously either. Songs such as “Jamba,” “Colossus,” and “Rusty” capitalize on this self-awareness with success.

The problems arise when Tyler tries to stick to his simple beginnings, but attempts more serious themes as well.

For example the centerpiece “IFHY” (an abbreviation of the chorus “I ****ing hate you”) has a lot of potential for Tyler to reach deeper topics that listeners can resonate with, but the seriousness of the topic is diminished by lyrics such as “my bitch is the raddest.” It’s one step away from a high school student wondering if a girl “likes him” or “likes him likes him.”

Other tracks such as “Answer” or “Lone” cover Tyler’s struggles with not knowing his father or the constant pressures of touring have similar issues respectively, but share the same faults as “IFHY.”

Despite the lyrical turbulence, Wolf’s focus on high production value is what makes the album worth listening to. Piano, guitar and ambient tracks are more frequent than bass fuzzers or drum beats. This is most noticeable in “Treehome95,” which is arguably the best song on the album.

Other tracks that take advantage of more classical music melodies include “Answer,” “Campfire” and “Lone,” all of which represent Wolf at it’s best.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are a few songs that try to appeal to the misogynistic and dimwitted audiences who look for “sick beats” and power fantasy lyrics. “Domo23” and “Tamale” are prime examples of songs that I consider unlistenable. The melodies are brain-dead simple and you roll your eyes more than you bob your head. These elements are few and far between, but remain as a dark spot that mars the album’s potential.

For better or worse, Wolf chooses to depart from Tyler’s previous work in some ways but stays the same in others. It feels like an album that’s transitioning to a new sound, which means there are a lot of good ideas but nothing is chosen as the new direction. Tyler is still dark, depressing, violent and ridiculous but he shows another side with Wolf. I’d hope to see more of it in the future, but the album doesn’t make it clear which personality will prove dominant in future works.

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