He’s the man who earned fame for chewing up a cockroach, shouting homophobic slurs and generally just stirring shit up. But Tyler, the Creator was only 20 years old when he catapulted to stardom, and his public profile and immediate popularity put him squarely in the spotlight. Unsurprisingly, critics and advocacy groups alike derided Tyler as a homophobe, misogynist and proponent of rape.

Wolf

B+
Tyler, The Creator
Odd Future Records


Tyler is an odd bird, though. While he tosses gay slurs around pretty regularly, he was extremely supportive of Frank Ocean when he came out as bisexual, and the DJ in Odd Future, Syd tha Kyd, is a lesbian. People know him as an anger-filled rapper, but he also spends much of his time addressing his loneliness and vulnerability in his raps. He’s a man of contradictions, and this depth of personality is on full blast on Wolf, his newest release.

Last year, in an interview with “Spin,” Tyler expressed the urge to grow up a little bit: “Talking about rape and cutting bodies up, it just doesn’t interest me anymore. … What interests me is making weird hippie music for people to get high to.” Did he achieve this goal, though? Not quite.

Tyler goes 30 seconds without offending anyone on the album’s first song, but, in quintessential Tyler, the Creator style, the first two words he utters are “fuck you.” Admittedly, Tyler spends much less time describing his perverse fantasies this time around, but not too much else has changed. If you were offended by him before, you’ll likely still be offended, just this time you might only dry heave, not puke.

Surely there are people who only like Tyler for his NC-17 lyrics, but others appreciate the candidness with which he raps. He’s never been shy about his lack of a father, emotional issues and what seems to be at least a mild case of depression. His rap is his therapy, which becomes even clearer considering that he plays a therapist character on quite a few of his songs on Wolf.

“Pigs” encapsulates this side of Tyler. Half-misplaced anger and half-unresolved emotional issues, the song mixes a narrative about a bullied boy getting violent revenge with candidly depressing lines (“I got 99 problems, and all of them’s being happy”). The boy in the song, Wolf, is the main character throughout the album and may as well be named Tyler. He has no father, few friends and a twisted sense of what life is like.

Wolf also gives listeners insight into Tyler’s new life as a celebrity. On “Colossus,” which is essentially his version of Eminem’s “Stan,” Tyler tells the story of his meeting with an obsessive fan. Like Tyler, the kid gets bullied and has emotional problems, but adores Tyler to the point of infatuation and worship. The song will sadden you, but it illustrates what Tyler has come to represent for some people. He seems reluctant to accept his crown as king of the freaks and just wants a little bit of privacy.

Tyler produced the entirety of Wolf, and it contains a fairly consistent tone throughout. His attempts to mix his influences and create something new gives birth to a uniquely unhinged sound, something that can only be described as a vision quest through Tyler’s demented psyche. “Jamba” sounds like N.E.R.D meets New York boom bap, and slower songs like “Answer” and “Slater” showcase Tyler’s love for jazz and jazz-fusion. And one can never ignore the influence of angry rappers like Eminem and D12, as Tyler does his version of their abrasive beats and lyrics periodically.

Wolf won’t convert anyone who is easily offended, but Tyler has grown a lot from his last album, and it looks like he might be more than just a flavor-of-the-month fad.

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