(Originally written for Reverb1)
Odd Future busted onto the scene in late 2010 with a buzz as sweeping as any in the Internet age. At that point, all that was known about the group of teenagers could be gleaned from their expletive-laden Tumblr, outrageous YouTube videos and hodgepodge of macabre mixtapes.
At the center of it all stood Tyler, the Creator, Odd Future’s de jure ringleader.
With “Bastard,” the group’s first great album, under his belt, about a hundred production credits for the group’s output, a penchant for antics and a hate for drugs and alcohol, Tyler was also the most intriguing and promising of the bunch (Odd Future honorary Frank Ocean not included).
“Wolf,” Tyler’s second major-label LP, is more of a test for him than most other artist’s sophomore efforts. Without a “Yonkers” to propel it and the diminished pull of Frank Ocean’s guest vocals (since “Channel Orange” dropped last year), it’s an album that has to stand on its own merits more than its forebear.
Whether it succeeds really depends on what your looking for — or maybe how much you can relate with Tyler. First, if you’re looking for beats, “Wolf” can be stellar. There’s a good bit of smooth jazz here, with obvious influence from Tyler’s buddies BADBADNOTGOOD, mixed in with his own gritty beats. The album is at its best when Tyler turns the gravity off and just goofs around, like on “Jamba,” “Tamale” and “Bimmer,” AKA the last-third of track 10. It’s no coincidence these three showcase the album’s best beats, either. “48″ is a different beast altogether, a stand-out not because the song is silly (it’s not) or its instrumentals (though they’re pretty), but its story (think Tyler’s version of Ocean’s “Crack Rock”) and execution. An entirely different — and refreshing — direction that doesn’t last long.
Because although he isn’t rapping about murder and rape anymore, lyrically, most of “Wolf” is still adolescent. And go figure: the meat of it is an unabashedly self-concerned album from a kid that can barely drink a beer legally.
Examples abound in the first half of the album. “Awkward” tells the title-appropriate story of teen love, with all the self-doubt and melodrama that goes with it and cringe-inducing repetition of the phrase, “lips locked.” “Answer” starts off like the sequel to “Awkward,” with the chorus, “I hope you answer,” but turns out to be a comparatively poignant song about his estranged father. On “IFHY,” or “I F**king Hate You,” Tyler raps about possessive and jealous love and nails what’s been going on in the album to that point: “This isn’t a song / I just happen to rhyme when I get emo.”
All the harping he does wouldn’t be so glaring if it weren’t for “Colossus,” a song mostly from the fan’s POV that exchanges the sorrow of Eminem’s “Stan” for annoyance. On it, Tyler gets annoyed when a bunch of kids approach him and profess their love and regale him with obsessive knowledge of everything he likes.
These kids, though, are “Wolf”‘s target audience; these are the kids who will relate closest with the aforementioned emo rhymes, the confusing life-and-death of your first crush and the once-unimaginably difficult time had in high school. While Tyler can gripe about 13 year-olds harassing him in public all he wants, he’s asking for it through most of “Wolf.”