There’s an old adage that says that there’s a thin line between genius and crazy. This couldn’t be any more fitting to describe Odd Future leader Tyler, The Creator. With his second full-length album Wolf, Tyler continues antics that will certainly be dismissed by some while praised by others. By now, though, with OF’s Frank Ocean gaining mainstream recognition, most listeners have become familiar with Tyler’s body of work, which is to say they are familiar with his vulgar, misogynist, sexist lyrics and his general proclivity for weirdness. On the bright side, while new and old fans can appreciate the odd-ball leader behind what has become known as the “absurdist rap” sub-genre, the merits of Wolf can be appreciated for their actual content, not Tyler as a contentious side-show.
Surprisingly, Tyler grows up before us lyrically on Wolf. Although there are plenty of songs that can be categorized as absurdist rap, Tyler also has poignant songs covering serious topics that show he’s growing up and taking his place as an artist influencing the youth serious. Production on the record is slowed-down boom-bap that sounds like it was done in a bedroom – which actually adds to its authenticity and feel, although Tyler records in big studios.
Although Tyler doesn’t pull any punches or make attempts to avert controversy – with lines like “darker than that closet my ni**a Frank was hiding in” on “Cowboy,” for example – there are other songs where Tyler is autobiographical and poignant. No artist since Eminem has perhaps managed to strike that balance. With “Colossus,” Tyler takes a page from Em’s “Stan” in addressing rabid fans and, although the track is filled with vulgarities, it shows his mastery of storytelling. There’s a cinematic feel to the record thanks to Tyler weaving the Wolf Haley character and his girlfriend Salem throughout the album. The fictional world gives way to the real world, as Tyler addresses his absentee father on “Answer” and drug-dealing on “48,” with the latter sampling a Nas monologue.
If there were any expectations that Tyler, the Creator would fall off with Wolf, they certainly aren’t going to be met. There is no sophomore slump for the Odd Future leader here, as he is fully in his element and succeeds, even if it means he has to let it be known: “I am a cowboy on my own trip.”