Perpetual pottymouth and contentious blowhard Tyler, The Creator leapt into the wider public eye with 2011s Goblin, channelling his Tron Cat alter-ego for pleasant ditties about "raping pregnant bitches" and murder. It was tasteful. In an interview with SPIN, he was clear about moving in a different direction for his third effort, Wolf: "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." This softening of Tyler is instantly evident, and instead of doom-riddled beats, this latest LP is brimming with sandblasted jazz, lounge sounds and Muzak. The noises and production are smoother, lighter even, but the lyrical content is infinitely darker than his previous bluster. There's a grand, overt maturation on display.
'Cowboy' openly discusses the death of his grandmother and loneliness. He's never been completely comfortable placed on pedestals and in front of baying crowds, but this record explores that self-loathing and self-consciousness in deeper detail. He's uncomfortable harsh on himself, where many rappers would choose to diss nemeses, he dissects his inner woes and the messes in his brain. It's at an almost-uncomfortable level of introspection, a kind of intimacy rarely seen in hip-hop. 'Awkward' delves into his not-too-distant-past, as he regales us with stories of his misspent teenage years. Drenched in self-deprecation, he reveals his experiences with an old flame, "I was 16 when we first laid eyes/ Scrawny little fucker/ Yeah I was that guy." 'Pigs' is a shadowy, siren-laced ode to anger and depression, probably summed up best via the closing line: "I got 99 problems and all of them is being happy." He's not afraid to show a little weakness, discussing his well documented daddy issues and the bullying he's suffered over the years. 'Answer' is similar, and Tyler vents his frustrations to a never-there father above calming 60s guitars and shuffling percussion.
Tyler is eager to display what's underneath his grizzly façade. Perhaps this drastic twist is a direct response to the shedloads of criticism he drew for misogynistic, violent and homophobic lyrics in his prior albums. It could be perceived as cynical to assume that the Odd Future head honcho has only torn apart his mind to keep stoic critics at bay, but hey-ho. Maybe he has actually grown a little – there are times on Wolf where Tyler is more elderly-man-on-his-deathbed than the sprightly 22-year-old he is; there's an awful lot of retrospection to a mere few years ago, a smattering of regret and all manner of things he wishes he could say to people face-to-face.
But there is a spate of the classic Tyler on offer. 'Trashwang' has glitchy Super Mario-esque synth backing and guest appearances by a multitude of his OFWGKTA cronies including Left Brain, Jasper Dolphin and Taco Bennett. It's almost a theme tune for the collective, with a huge number of variations on the theme of 'Wolf Gang'. There are surprise appearances by ex-Odd Future-er, Casey Veggies, Stereolab singer Lætitia Sadier and on neo-soul cut 'Treehome95', the iconic Erykah Badu. Back to his rage-filled ways, 'IFHY' features Pharrell, with grinding bass and clarion-call synths undercutting his f-bombs and edgy references to violence. On 'Domo23' Tyler speeds up his spiel, and includes dancefloor-ready hooks to craft potentially the most radio-friendly track of his career. It features many memorable rhythms and showcases why Tyler is one of the most impressive rappers of a burgeoning generation.
This is a bleak record, for the most part. From the anti-stan anthem 'Colossus' to the therapeutic 'Lone/Jornada', Tyler approaches the brink of recording his suicide note. This is hugely revelatory, and while there are moments of silliness that break up the intensity, this is very much an album stuffed with home truths and explorations into his own psyche that may be just too much for a casual listener. It's not exactly the "Music for people to get high to," (unless they want to suffer a particularly upsetting trip) that Tyler set out to create, but it does move on from his adolescent offensiveness, so kudos on that front.