Two years ago, relative unknowns Odd Future carried on a grand lineage dating back to The Who blowing up drums and Elvis gyrating – shocking people via television performance. Donned in balaclavas, Tyler Okonma (the Creator) and Gerard Long (Hodgy Beats) performed ‘Sandwitches’, a claustrophobic composition of stuttering drums and lurching synthesisers, its lyrics of sexual violence and paranoia delivered in Okonma’s deep, stern tones. It was an incendiary few minutes. Okonma baited listeners, the press, fellow musicians – with a fresh blend of rapper braggadocio, frat boy flippancy and punk antagonism, his effectively managed image, coupled with impressive debut album Bastard, gave him major label deals, international touring and his own TV show.
Recently, the group’s status quo has shifted. Okonma’s latest Kimmel performance was a deeper affair; he showcased his piano talent and eclectic taste on ‘Treehome’, alongside the more conventionally ripping ‘Domo23’. We’ve witnessed the rise of Grammy Award-winner Frank Ocean and the formerly-missing Earl Sweatshirt, whilst newfound competition has arisen in the likes of Pro Era, A$AP Mob and Raider Klan. After the blistering debut of Bastard and the lukewarm reception to Goblin, Wolf may be the last opportunity Okonma has to stay ahead of the pack.
Opening on the title track, it soon becomes apparent where the album is flawed. The instrumental is triumphant; buoyant piano-work, well contrasted with machine gun samples and lush backing vocals. Instead of the Frank Ocean croon it deserves, the listener is treated to Okonma’s usual ‘ism’ rhetoric. However, what was passion is now perfunctory. In Okonma’s desire to craft nice beats, he’s subdued the self-aware humour which lurked beneath his words. This track ends on a ‘therapist meeting’, the concept which has connected Okonma’s past albums. Whereas it was an innovation of ‘Bastard’, it became a crutch for his second. Thankfully, it’s reduced here. ‘Jamba’ is a cut which wouldn’t be out of place on Goblin, or indeed an N.E.R.D b-side; popping drums, sexy vocal samples and funk-driven bass. ‘Domo23’ is almost identical to the charmingly titled Goblin track ‘Bitch Suck Dick’; pounding drums, fast rapping from Okonma and a processed-vocal hook. Indeed, what becomes unfortunately apparent is just how stylistically close Wolf comes to Goblin, as opposed to Bastard. These range from the calm and sparseness of ‘Slater’ and ‘Her’, the melancholy of ‘Lone’ and ‘Window’ and the Diplo copying of ‘Tamale’ and ‘Radicals’.
The album only succeeds when Okonma almost entirely departs from hip-hop. For instance, the upbeat and charming ‘Treehome95’ sparkles with the singing of Erykah Badu and Coco Owino; it proves to be the best track of the album. Furthermore, the three-headed ‘Partyisntover/Campfire feat Laetitia Sadier/Bimmer feat Frank Ocean’ proves other great ideas, sadly stunted by the lack of length. The yearning of Okonma on the first part is complemented well by sugary synthesisers and echoed vocals. The second’s tripped out sound, calm guitar riffing and children singing, could’ve been stolen from Tame Impala. The third, ‘Bimmer’, has all the sheen of a pop hit; fitting, considering it was allegedly written for Justin Bieber. Funnily enough, the track where Okonma most involves Odd Future,’Trashwang’, is abysmal. There’s a simple reason why the lesser heard Jasper Dolphin, L-Boy and Taco have stayed lesser heard- they just aren’t much good at rapping.
Overall, Wolf is an album documenting indecision. On tracks such as ‘Treehome95’, ‘Awkward’, ‘Cowboy’ and ‘Partyisntover…’, the growth of Okonma as a musician is audible. However, his personality proves to be his own worst enemy, as he just can’t quit being the character he’s spent so long building. With Frank Ocean finding success with his soul-bearing R&B, Earl Sweatshirt with his heart-wrenching return to form on Chum, perhaps it’s time for Okonma to show the world who he really is.