Really, what is there to say about a Tyler, the Creator album in 2013? Wolf is out tomorrow, and you’ve probably already made your mind up about it, whether you’ve heard it or not. For his part, Tyler claims he doesn’t care what reviewers have to say, and neither do his oh-so-charming fans. This is a record that exists as a fait accompli, the creation of someone who’s done a prize job of trolling the music industry for the best part of three years, whose entire career consists of professionally Not Giving A Fuck.
And yet, and yet. There’s something about Tyler, something that gets people like Stereogum and Consquence of Sound and, y’know, us, penning the sort of lengthy reviews of his work that they’d never dream of devoting to other artists at a similar level, because, let’s face it, he’s not that big. It’s not like he’s Kanye or Jay-Z famous. He’s not even Frank Ocean famous — as Stereogum’s Tom Brelhan notes, “[Tyler]’s internet-famous, certainly, and underground-popular, but he’s not Jennifer Aniston.”
There’s something about him that makes people care. Part of it is his undoubted talent as a producer — like, say, Kanye, he’s ultimately a great producer whose real talents lie behind the mixing desk, not behind the mic. This record sounds a lot cleaner and more polished than any of Odd Future’s previous output — a fact that apparently doesn’t please Tyler greatly — but the production is still top notch. It’s not just that, though. There are plenty of decent producers out there.
If you were to sum up Tyler in a few words, it’d probably go something like, “Great producer, decent rapper, utter cock.” The reality is more nuanced, perhaps, but Tyler himself isn’t really interested in nuance, and has been happy to feed the monster he’s created as much as the rest of the industry has. Music fans and writers alike love a rebel, of course, and Tyler’s warts-and-all personality has been a magnet for publicity and pageviews ever since OFWGKTA emerged, apparently fully formed, from the depths of the internet a few years back. His fans like him because he’s a dick, of course — unsurprisingly, since this technique has been working for musical provocateurs since before the Sex Pistols — whereas the industry at large is fascinated with him both despite this fact and because of it. All this means that the music is almost beside the point. And that’s a shame, because for all that it’s way too long and as tiresomely, predictably “offensive” as ever, Wolf doesn’t suck.
Happily, Tyler’s dispensed with the rape jokes here (although not, sadly, the word “faggot,” about which more later). He even essays a love song, the endearingly awkward, um, “Awkward.” The album’s most emotionally involving moments deal with its author’s family: “Answer” is curiously touching in its own nihilistic way, teeing off on Tyler’s absent father but also conceding, “If I ever had the chance to ask this ni**a/ And call him/ I hope you answer.” Later, on “Pigs,” he hints further at where some of his rage (not to mention his obsession with derogatory terms for homosexuals) comes from: “My stepfather called me a fag/ I’ll show him a fag, I’ll light a fire right up in his ass.” “Pigs” is ostensibly sung from the point of view of “Sam,” one of the album’s characters, but even Tyler admits that there’s more than a little of himself in his creation: “Who are you again?/ I’m Sammy, and that’s Tyler.” Closing track “Lone” is genuinely moving, dealing with the cancer-related death of a beloved grandmother.
Still, for every moment when you find yourself relating to Wolf, there’s ten where its creator wants to push you away. For every moment of vulnerability, there’s a disproportionate amount of corresponding juvenility and braggadocio. The best example is “Colossus,” which is basically Tyler’s own personal “Stan,” a song that deals with the alienating effects of obsessive fandom, of how awkward it is to be loved when you hate everything. It includes the rather revealing line, “I see you’re loving my shit/ And I appreciate the fact you’re sucking my dick/ But I’m not gay, so it’s awkward.”
And yes, the problem is, as ever, the word “faggot.” You’ll be delighted to know that the first “fucking fag” comes precisely 73 seconds into this record. Pretty much everything we said 18 months ago about his use of “faggot” applies here — we doubt that Tyler genuinely hates gay people, but he throws around homophobic slurs as much as ever, and apparently still genuinely doesn’t get/doesn’t care why it upsets people. (Amusingly, he apparently wanted Grizzly Bear to do a track on this record; we can’t imagine why they said no.)
It feels redundant to continue to discuss this point here — we’ve basically said all we have to say about it, and it’s been discussed ad infinitum in the music press without making any noticeable impact. Tyler’s entire schtick is that he’ll do what he wants no matter what anyone says: as he sings on the chorus of “Cowboy,” “I am the cowboy/ On my own trip.” It’s also perhaps telling that the record starts with a barrage of “faggot”s that dies away soon after — it’s like he’s trying to make a point of using the word, a brattish gesture that does him no credit at all. Not that he cares whether his tactics work on critics.
As with all Tyler’s work, Wolf feels like a door straight into its creator’s consciousness, a 70-plus-minute temper tantrum, a glimpse into the sort of incoherent rage that characterizes being young and angry and in love with your ignorance. Perhaps the most abiding image comes from “Jamba”: “Take bets on how quick Tyler can reach maturity/ Cussing out Siri like a waitress with no patience/ You want a tip, bitch?/ Here’s my dick for gratuity.” Yes, readers, here we have a grown man taking out his anger issues on an expensive mobile telephone. As a microcosm of the entire Tyler experience, you couldn’t really do much better.
Ultimately, you don’t need us to tell you anything about Wolf. It’s everything a Tyler record is and probably always will be: it’s too long, it’s self-indulgent, it’s angry. It’s like having a kid open himself up to you briefly and then slam the door shut again with a barrage of swear words and a whole lot of macho posturing. It’s a portrait of adolescent alienation, a reminder of how it feels to be an angry kid, lashing out at everything and anything. (As he raps on “Pigs,” “Music had nothing to do with my final decision/ I just wanted someone to come pay me attention.”) It’s five parts maddening to one part thrilling. It’s the creation of a talent both intriguing and infuriating.
But then, you knew that already, didn’t you?