*** (out of four)
When Odd Future first emerged, everything the L.A. hip-hop collective did seemed perfectly engineered to grab attention.
The group's bravado and distorted visual aesthetic excited rap fans looking for change, while its members' shocking lyrics became a lightning rod for controversy. But when the attention came, Odd Future mostly ignored it, doubling down on an underlying conviction in their own talent and unique sensibility. They adopted a punk band and a jazz group as their closest associates, started a sketch comedy TV show and put out a series of inwardly focused albums that, while generally solid, had little effect on the hiphop mainstream.
On ringleader Tyler, the Creator's second proper album, “Wolf,” this insularity is even stronger. There's nothing as immediately arresting as the songs like “Yonkers” and “French” that helped build the rapper's hype to a fever pitch. The guests are limited to a few idols— Erykah Badu, Pharrell, Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier—and frequent Odd Future collaborators. People unfamiliar with the group's lore might need a glossary to understand many of the lyrical references, and even those in the know may have trouble following the album's loose plot and web of characters.
If Tyler's past music reflected confrontational rappers like Eminem, the best analogues here are artists like MF DOOM, Kool Keith and Wu-Tang Clan, who complement dense lyrics with elaborately constructed mythologies. Like those artists, Tyler's tightly written raps reward close attention and total immersion. Highlights like “Answer” and”Lone” are nuanced takes on tough feelings, while tracks like “Rusty” and “Slater” are good, straightforward rap songs. Tyler's jarring, minor-key production has improved too.
Like “Goblin,” Tyler's debut, “Wolf” can drag and feel overly moody. Although the most vulgar elements generally are gone, it probably will do little for fans who aren't already committed to Tyler's schtick. But his well-crafted, self-contained world is something worth celebrating because it delivers on one of Odd Future's central promises that got lost amid that initial flurry of hype: It's committed to its own weirdness—and not just for the attention.
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor.
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