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If you hear the term “GOLF WANG” and are convinced that it is a pseudonym for a new golfing practice where one tees off with their genitalia…well, I’d inform you that you are incorrect however I would applaud your sexual creativity; but since Tyler, The Creator has over the span of the past two years become a household name, it shouldn’t be that alien to you. After skyrocketing fame, the Odd Future front man – with an ever-expanding list of monikers such as Wolf Haley, Ace Creator, Tron Cat and Thurnis Haley to name a few – has returned with his third solo studio album Wolf.
First impressions will impress upon you one of two thoughts if you’ve heard Tyler before: “FUCK YEAH, GOLF WANG!!!”…or “Oh…he’s still doing that?” This initial reaction will be determined quite simply by how much of Tyler you have heard and whether you have grown so accustomed to his mannerisms that they simply do not pack the same punch as they did in his salad days, or if he has simply diminished in quality (though the latter is admittedly the less likely scenario). He retains much of the absurdest descriptions and depictions which made audiences tear their hair out over him and the rest of Odd Future, still possessing the quality of being so candidly comical to the point that you will throw up a little in your throat at one line, and be choking on it because of laughter at the next.
The album’s content may appear to be little more than a cluster of obscenities strung together merely for shock value, like on Jamba, Tamale, Pigs or Domo 23. But then you have songs like Awkward, a bittersweet but simplistic relatable recount of unrequited love, and so it is somewhat refreshing to see Tyler lyrically expose more of his heart. But the ultimate snafu with the subject matter is that if your listening to OFWGKTA is on a casual basis, then too many of the references and name-drops will fly over your head, and as a result you will have little to no sense of context or concept throughout Wolf, left to rely solely on your appreciation for Tyler’s rapping technique, lyrical absurdity and stepped-up DIY production aesthetic.
Though interpretations will surface of an underlying story, the most you would be able to chalk it up to is the venting of a 22-year-old about pubescent predicaments, references to an absent father, delinquent friends, over-obsessive fans and all the inconveniences of fame. It can be blissfully wacky and highly entertaining in its delivery, but you’re often left uncertain of when to take what song seriously, if you even should.
The production – handled almost solely by Tyler himself – has actually seen significant improvement since his previous album. 2011’s Goblin was heavily inclined towards an almost laughable array of stock synthesizers and drums, which did in turn contribute to a distinct sound of minimalist amateurism juxtaposed wonderfully by how radically daft the album’s lyricism was. Wolf simply sounds richer, and you can take that as both the sonic and financial. Granted that the cheap-ish DIY aesthetic which is so characteristic of Odd Future is still intact here, you can hear that Tyler has expanded his instrumental palette beyond default settings.
A fine balance is struck throughout between boom-bap and broken beats, with meatier kick drums, subdued snares, and bumpier buzzsaw synthesizers; quite simply, the album is more textured and more complex than his previous works. Not to make any bold claims, but comparisons can be drawn between Tyler’s reinvented production and that of 1990s RZA. However, tracks like Domo 23 and Trashwang suffer from the same obnoxious overproduction that seemed to have made songs like Kanye & Jay-Z’s H.A.M. and N*ggas In Paris so popular.
Where does the album fall flat aside from its identity crisis and instances of sub-par production? The guests. Not all the guests, of course, because I would sooner be typing with nubs at my wrists than fix my fingers to write anything untoward about the presence of Erykah Badu (on the warm and fuzzy Treehome95 with Coco O. of neo-soul group Quadron, and a silenced Tyler). The key complaint is Tyler’s tendency to put OFWGKTA members as collaborative cohorts, when their presence does nothing for most tracks…it doesn’t always diminish the quality, but when you hear Tyler and Earl Sweatshirt on Rusty, you wonder why the inferior Domo Genesis is put on the same track. Same deal with Parking Lot with Casey Veggies and Mike G. What you end up with is a fluctuation in quality which can only be forgiven on a posse cut; on that note, Trashwang is a complete mess of a song, cluttered by eight voices – eight egos – of incoherent rambling (yep, I had to bring out the oldest criticism of rap music in the book, because it was the only one befitting of such a description).
Yet Frank Ocean enjoys barely half a minute of track time on Slater (though this is made up for in spades by his presence in the third act of PartyIsntOver/Campfire/Bimmer). All that said, it was inevitable that the inferior members of Odd Future would get a spot on the album, but the line between the expectation (or obligation?) of putting your buddies on at the risk of their jeopardizing the overall quality of your album is not one that Tyler cared about, if he even acknowledged it. A good friend tells hard truths, and those truths of inferiority have been untold to too many of the members.
Despite the album’s shortcomings which remind you never to take the ‘skip track’ button for granted, Wolf is a tertiary triumph on Tyler, The Creator’s part. A loose sense of identity can be overlooked when you isolate each track and listen to it in its own context, but it’s easier to listen to than his previous works both musically and lyrically. It’s not helped by an arbitrary assemblage of amateur artists outweighing the professionals as guests, but that is a toll taken when “no” cannot be said to friends. Yet with the album clocking itself in at over 70 minutes in length, these shortcomings seem less intrusive and can be fairly easily brushed over, as there is much more to enjoy.