Yeah, I didn’t expect this one either. I maintain a steadfast position: it’s not that I don’t like rap music. It’s more that I haven’t found much that tickles my fancy. I had a phase many many years ago (before the advent of my musical vocation) where I’d tune out to Eminem, and 50 Cent, and all the other chart toppers. Lately, I’ve just grown weary of the brag-culture associated with modern rap music. If we’re going to generalize, rock music can be just as brag-filled, but it’s typically been more of my scene. I was told Tyler, The Creator would be the one of the ones who’d open my eyes. I didn’t know much. I went into Wolf on blind recommendation, and I have a lot to say about it.
*Warning: This album review contains food for thought*
Tyler has a bit of a reputation about him. He’s definitely a personality that seemed a little “off the beaten path.” But my impression of him consisted of a few Vines, some Twitter posts, and an article or two. That’s not anywhere near enough for a full assessment. After having gone through Wolf, I have a better picture of Tyler. He’s a misunderstood goofball-turned-rapper. That’s not to say he’s a pushover that lacks an edge, but that alone is enough of a prelude to Wolf.
Here’s where I drop some knowledge. My background of audio work and composition has caused me to analyze music differently. When you’re responsible for recording an album, you concern yourself with blends: what the drums sound like, what kind of bass we’re using (is it melodic or rhythmic? How much low end should it occupy?), and how the vocals should suit the feel of the song. Typically, that leaves the lyrics themselves as one of the last things I’m listening for when I listen to music. But that isn’t to say lyrics aren’t important. Actually, they’re paramount. I worked with an accomplished Recording Engineer who described the lyrics as the story. Most people only recognize songs through the beat and the lyrics (and maybe the melody). You can tell a great story, but if the music behind it serves to prop up the narrative, it’ll further enforce the message, and tie the song together. Without lyrics, a song is just a soundscape. The challenge to myself for this week was to take in the lyrical content of this album and see what (if anything) Tyler was trying to say.
As it turns out, Tyler has quite a few things to say with Wolf. A shocking variety. I got it. Wolf is a real heart-to-heart. Over the course of 18 songs, I learned about Tyler as a person. There’s a lot to be said. An absolute standout track for me is Answer: a heartfelt, naked presentation of Tyler’s strained relationship with his father. The final track, Lone, is a gutwrenching tribute to Tyler’s late grandmother. It’s a pure display of powerful emotion that’s capable of catching anyone off guard. Tyler’s openness and direct delivery make for a chilling close to the album.
I picked up on Tyler’s intentions with Wolf. I listened to the single Domo 23, and originally wrote it off as his bragtastic radio-hit. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the modern rap beats that drone dissonantly save for incredibly simple melodic punctuation, but that’s not the point of this song. Tyler said that he wanted to do Wolf differently: “With Wolf, I’ll brag a little more, talk about money and buying shit. But not like any other rapper, I’ll be a smart-ass about it.”
Wolf can be summed up in that paragraph. Tyler’s not afraid to inform the world (repeatedly) that he’s straight-edge, and his own character. Most of Domo 23 shows Tyler dismissing his critics and having fun with them. There’s a crux with the lyrics, however. I’m not prude enough to chastise any excessive swearing, but there are moments on Wolf that feel like easy rhymes and cop-outs. I’m even less okay with the use of “fag” and “faggot” as derogatory terms on the album. I’m not one to preach social justice, but I feel there’s room for a more intelligent narrative without grabbing at the low hanging fruit, as it were.
I feel I haven’t even scratched the surface of Wolf. Tyler put enough effort and thought into Wolf to ensure its longevity. There’s a mature/immature struggle that’s forwardly recognized. If there’s one track that exemplifies this, it’d be Colossus: an account of Tyler’s dealings with the loopier side of his fan-base while just trying to be a normal, regular guy. It’s presented in somewhat of a crude manner, but the truth in which it’s spoken leaves a much stronger impact.
“In school I was the one that was thinking outside boxes
So everybody in them would say that I got problems
So when I heard you say it, I said it back like f— ’em
You’re an inspiration to n—– like me
Not the n—– who just like you just cause of lyrics and beats
I’m talking ’bout the n—– who don’t know what they’re going to be“
I’m actually shocked by how much I like Wolf. Wolf capitalizes on what rap was intended for: rhythm, rhyme, and a message. It’s all here. Wolf is about Tyler saying “I’m me. I’m going to keep doing what I want whether you like it or not.” If that includes dealing with past relationship issues, or struggles with friends, that’ll be included. About the only advice I’d want to give to Tyler for the future is to really improve on his diction. Word choice makes all the difference. It’s the final stepping stone from a kid who writes rap music to a professional artist. But maybe Tyler doesn’t want to be a professional artist. Maybe Tyler’s just like all of us, except he feels the pull to create, to inspire, and to manipulate music to his needs. If Wolf does nothing but display that, it’s an accurate caricature of Tyler as I’m sure he intended.