April 2, 2013

Jonah Bromwich is anti-OF-thinkpiece

I followed the original conversation about Odd Future from a distance.  I was too young to shake my head with the herd of conservative progressives and too old to get swept up in the rabidity of their newfound cult.  I wish I could make like an anti-war pundit ten years later and obliquely reference my spotting of Earl amongst the weeds. Instead, I was unimpressed by the group’s grunge-rap asesthetic and  nonplussed by the controversial lyrics that Eminem had surpassed (in terms of shock value) when I was 11. So I skipped the conversation altogether.

I first became genuinely interested in Tyler the Creator as a guest rapper. On other people’s songs, he kept the melodrama to a minimum, which allowed you to focus on his nuts and bolts approach to verses and one of the most ferocious voices you’d heard since early Ruff Ryders.  Returning to Bastard, those fundamental shards were what stood out, and it’s that partly that ability, along with a fantastic selection of beats that elevates Wolf far past the tedious mess that was Goblin. In fact, it’s Tyler’s most impressive effort to date.

There’s a snarl to Tyler’s voice that makes you hang on to his every word, so when those words are compelling it’s the fulfillment of a promise that his voice suggested from the on-set.  “Domo 23″ finds him still exercising his Eminem fetish. It has the listenability of a Marshall single and the deranged energy that feels home on Adult Swim.  “Colossus,” another Em-worshipping track which splices Tyler’s troll persona into the ‘Stan” dynamic.  It’s a straight concept-jack to be sure, but it’s not an easy track to forget or put aside. It shows that Tyler’s imagination is prodigious to get away with borrowing the occasional concept.

Besides, Tyler has always had other idols. There’s the experimental muddied Pharrell fetish that leads him to create warped, rattling beats that the Neptunes aren’t interested in any more. The Pharrell blueprint is really just a base to graft things onto. Domo Genesis and Earl shine on “Rusty,” and Hodgy does his thing on “Jamba” — but the real strength is those ideal rap drums, somehow sharp and grimy at the same time.  And Tyler’s disco-funk obsession—fueled by listening habits which include the gravely underrated James Pants, Toro y Moi, and fellow OF members The Internet—brings a light to everything from ‘Trashwang” (on which he outshines a gang of OF extras) to “Parking Lot.”

People always want to talk about the feelings—particularly the anger and the hate—and luckily for those people, Tyler still wants to talk about them too.   But there’s been an improvement in that regard: the vulnerability on Wolf is no longer treated as something quite so shameful. “Awkward” shows that maturity off best—it’s a desperate, straightforward puppy love song that refuses to temper emotion by throwing hate into the mix.  And even “Pigs,” which harnesses that good old FLOGGNAW energy is more comfortable expressing solidarity than it is expressing rage: he rides for his set more convincingly than he does anything else on the entire song.

The death of Tyler’s grandmother (which I’ve seen dismissed, absurdly, as just more grist for the angst mill as opposed to an incredibly shitty thing to happen to someone who still pretty young) hangs over the album. Though Wolf is a couple of tracks too long, it’s worth it to get to “Lone/Jornada,” a “Song Cry” that’s not halfway maudlin but is sad and honest as hell and shows the best of what Tyler can be.  He’s courted attention to the point where you can’t really classify him alongside rappers like Serengeti and Jonwayne, but his emotion, imagination, lyrical fundamentals and taste in beats mirror those guys. 

Of course, there was the rage and the rape — the shock of which initially drew in many listeners. But those instincts have become more submerged in the talent that was always there. Wolf is what you hoped Tyler might eventually start to become.

 

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