As I sat watching the NFL Draft the other night, I began to think about what the future holds for these players. Everyone drafted has a high level of natural talent, and they had to have shown flashes of brilliance at some point in their college career to make it to this spot. But in the end, only a handful of them will become stars, and many will spend their careers on the bench. However it comes to be, the waste of such talent is a frustrating thing for fans to watch. This isn’t exclusive to sports either. The same occurrence happens all the time in music. Tyler, The Creator is a great example of this. With his third album, Wolf, Tyler shows those flashes of brilliance, but is bogged down by his other choices and is forced to toil in mediocrity.
With this album, Tyler promised a lot of jazz influence and he certainly doesn’t disappoint. The production and musicality of Wolf is incredible. The title track acts as an intro, consisting of soft piano chords complemented with bouncing bells and a pounding snare. It is a beautiful way to begin the record, but is effectively ruined by Tyler’s off-key droning of the word “Fuck” over and over. It is the beginning of what will become a trend throughout the album. “Cowboy” and “Awkward” feature simplistic drumbeats with sparse synths and guitar over them, creating a soft glow about them. “Slater” and “IFHY” take that same minimalist approach and beef it up a bit, all while still generating a stunning, dreamlike aura to the tracks, something that really shows his growth from 2011’s bloated Goblin. Overall the beats on Wolf are magnificent, and at times deservedly overshadow everything else on the tracks. Even the bad tracks have incredible instrumentals. They are often the most redeeming quality throughout the album.
The album does feature some of the best songs Tyler has made in his career. “Answer” is where we see perhaps his biggest growth, both musically and lyrically. His R&B ambitions are fully realized in the chorus, with him crooning over a moving arpeggiated guitar line. Lyrically, we find Tyler at his rawest and most personal. He strips away the outrageous lines that litter most of his other songs and comes across as a vulnerable kid wishfully pleading to his biological father. The behemoth three-tracks-in-one “The Party Isn’t Over/ Campfire/ Bimmer” further expands on his musical experimentation. A dark ambience lingers over the track, which weaves in and out of R&B, jazz, and even a touch of synth-pop. “Rusty” is an absolute beast of a song, with Domo Genesis delivering one of the best verses on the album as well as a captivating hook, and Tyler addressing people who criticize him and his music head-on. It proves he can still make a strong, in-your-face song while actually adding some substance into his lyrics. The stand-out track on the album though is “Colossus.” The beat is extremely minimalistic (the drums don’t even appear until the last minute) and that is very effective in the song’s overall feel. And again we see Tyler in a more exposed position lyrically, as he deals with the awkwardness of his ever-growing fame. These tracks are a huge step forward, and they represent everything great about Wolf.
If Wolf has some of Tyler’s best songs on it, it also has some of his worst. “Jamba” is a weird choice to lead off the album after the intro. It’s not terrible by any means, but Tyler’s dull flow drags the song down and the weed-inspired outro seems forced, especially with Tyler’s self proclaimed straight edge lifestyle. The track does have the best guest appearance however, with Hodgy Beats absolutely going off on his verse. First single “Domo 23” has the most dancey beat on the album and is extremely catchy, but feels so out of place that it is jarring. Compared to the subtle intricacies of some of the other tracks, “Domo 23” seems like it was specifically made to be the party song of the album. “Tamale” finds Tyler mixing up his delivery a bit, but combined with the sophomoric lyrics, it just comes across as grating and immature. But at least it’s not “Trashwang.” I understand that it is a pseudo parody of trap rap, but “Trashwang” has no redeeming qualities and might be the worst song of the year.
Wolf could have been a great album. It has some great songs. If it was cut down to about 10 tracks, it could be an album of the year contender. But Tyler’s incessant need to riddle the album with outrageous nonsense really hurts him. While it isn’t as overblown and draggy as Goblin, Wolf comes across as inconsistent and unfocused. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here. Tyler has mentioned several times that he doesn’t really want to rap anymore, so maybe he will follow through on that and give us an album that properly showcases his talent. Or maybe he will continue down this road and give us another mundane album in the same vein as the last two. Tyler has so much potential to put out a truly remarkable record, it’s just a matter of whether he decides to or not. Here’s to hoping he embraces it and doesn’t have to spend the rest of his career on the bench.