Looking backwards to move forwards, BackRoad Gee is taking UK rap into uncharted territory
Tyler, The Creator’s third album ‘Wolf’ may not be his best outright, but it’s definitely his most accomplished. Matching the visceral punch of his debut is impossible, but it manages to take the energy of his breakthrough with the confidence to express himself without using overt shock tactics, as well as overcoming the burden of expectation that weighed too heavily on his second. The general tone is mellower than both ‘Bastard’ (2009) and ‘Goblin’ (2011) – not only less rapping about offensive subjects but less rapping full stop – but feels like a natural progression to a broader sound and a development of his earlier work rather than a departure. Still very much a big kid, he took an old Routemaster bus-load of journalists and fans to a paintballing site on the edge of East London on a grim Wednesday to play a skewed game of king of the hill – all thirty-odd of us against him and five of his entourage – and host a Q&A session. A cold and uncomfortable but fitting and informal way to do press before the release, here are some things we learnt from the day with Tyler and the new album.
1. Someone started by half-jokingly asking Tyler if he really made a quarter of a million dollars off selling Odd Future-branded socks like he claims on Earl Sweatshirt’s WHOA? “It’s probably more now” he replied with a slight shrug.
2. ‘Bastard’ was the introduction to a twisted teenage psyche and ‘Goblin’ an extension of that with grumblings about newly-found fame, but ‘Wolf’ definitely feels more assured and comfortable. That’s not to say that everything’s rosy – the album follows an antagonistic love triangle full of suburban boredom and teenage anger – but that the themes are handled with more time and care. This guide from Noisey argues that ‘Wolf’ is first in the chronology of a longer narrative that includes his other two albums and will end with an unannounced fourth in 2015. It’s an interesting read for the dedicated, but the key thing to remember is that Tyler has an auteur’s mindset.
3. Tyler is a funny guy and his sense of humour is grounded in the kind of stuff you’d expect: repeatedly muttering “Suck my dick” under his breath as a marshall earnestly explains the rules and doing forward rolls off wooden picnic tables were throwbacks to restless afternoons at school.
4. For all his hyperactive tendencies, what stands out most after spending time listening to his music or talking to Tyler is how singularly passionate he is about all his projects and interests: whether it’s ‘Wolf’, his show Loiter Squad, New York graffiti crew IRAK, cartoons or skate videos (“They don’t know what the fuck we’re talking about,” he grinned back at a someone after answering a question about his favourite part in ‘Pretty Sweet’: “That’s awesome!”)
5. It even sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy or a visualisation technique at times: he said that the Mark Ryden link-up for the ‘Wolf’ cover was a chance opportunity that came about through a friend of a friend but twice stated that he always knew he would end up working with him somehow or some way.
6. Despite Odd Future being very successful and having their own label, he has no desire to expand the roster globally and prefers to keep his circle closed.
7. But what about the outside features on ‘Wolf’? “Well, yeah.” he explains: “I do have outside features on the album but they’re all people like… I was five years old when I first heard Erykah Badu’s first album, I’ve been a Pharrell stan from since I can remember, I been in love with Stereolab since fucking high school. Like, I worked with people who influenced my music – I basically copied from them so I make sure that if I can get the chance to work with them and I’ve been copying them for years, I’m gonna fucking do it. The only people now are Roy Ayers and Eminem and I’m good.”
8. He has developed an identity of his own and can display influences and special guests well (particularly on the lovely TreeHome95) his approach is also limiting. Some songs are made in moulds – Colossus, for example, follows Eminem’s Stan very closely – and all three of his albums – from self-hating opener and the deeply personal closer to showcase tracks for his friends who can really rap and the goofy posse cuts featuring ones that blatantly can’t – almost sound like they were based on a fixed tracklist template.
9. That being said he does think it would be awesome if he inspired Chief Keef, and is a fan of King Krule and another British guy who he describes as a “rapper over really chill, almost jazzy beats”. I suggested that it might be Ghostpoet but he couldn’t remember the exact name. Whoever it is, he thinks they’re “tight as fuck”.
10. He doesn’t like British weather and thinks our snacks are no match for American ones (our bacon is like ham, our cereals have “different shit like almonds in them” and the caramel in Twixes don’t melt properly because of the cold) but he will be back to play some festivals, including Glastonbury, in the summer.
11. He likes all the songs on the album equally for different reasons but picks out Tamale because it’s “just three minutes of me jumping around and yelling for no reason.”
12. Fair play, but my favourite is probably Answer. It’s a pained attack at his dad with an extra verse about “this girl”, subtly hints at the specific loss at the album’s emotional core and lays a sharp guitar riff over his trademark vivid synth chords and heavy drums. Cathartic storytelling and expansive, melodic production are hallmarks of Tyler’s music generally and particularly of ‘Wolf’. Answer does both those things best.