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Tyler the Creator, Trapped In A World He Never Made

“…Rappers got stylist cuz they can’t think for themselves …”
-“Rusty” (Tyler the Creator ft. Domo Genesis & Earl Sweatshirt )

Ever checked out old school “Howard the Duck”? No, not that horrible 1986 travesty of a movie (sorry, Lea Thompson). The awesome existential Marvel comic, created by the late Steve Gerber and illustrated by Val Mayerik. Snatched from his home dimension by the demonic Thog the Overmaster and dropped in the Florida everglades, Howard must navigate through this world of hairless apes. The book’s tagline ‘ Trapped in a world he never made’ gave credence to Howard’s overall attitude about this world and the bizarre adventures he got into. Writer and creator Gerber wove social satire and genre parodies into the stories, but Gerber was quick to add that the book is existential … and it’s main joke is that there is no joke.

“… that life’s most serious moments and most incredibly dumb moments are often distinguishable only by a momentary point of view.”
-exerpt from “Where are the jokes?” Howard the duck meets his creator Mediascene (25):4-7 May-June 1977

Tyler the Creator’s third album ‘Wolf’ drops us off in his new world. No longer couch surfing, Tyler has now tasted the “maggots in the mind of the universe” and he was not offended (I’m paraphrasing George Clinton kids, stay with me). A bigger crib and supermodels calling, this is the the time that has sent many a poor boy crazy. How do I keep my outsider status while I’m getting paid?

Introducing the voices inside his head, Wolf and Sam, Tyler jumps right into the issues at hand with ‘Jamba'(ft, Hodgy Beats); a jagged, trippy, updated G-funked vehicle that brings a mutant version of the boom bap in while joking about folks:

“…taking bets how quick Tyler can reach maturity”

Fully aware of this, he spends ‘Wolf’ navigating through his adolescent scars at the last Summer Camp before adulthood.

With songs like “Jamba” and the tongue and cheek “Domo 23” acknowledging his new rock-star status, “Awkward” ventures into new ground while retelling an all-to-familiar ode to first love, but with the conflicting synaptic sparks of a teenage boy fumbling to manhood. Likewise the heartfelt melancholy of the song “Answer” throws a couple of complicated questions up on the wall, while a disonant guitar strums over a quiet storm of a beat. These questions hang heavy in the atmosphere.

But the real revelation here isn’t Tyler’s balancing act between his anarchic past and his new found stardom. What’s truly fascinating is watching this young brotha fearlessly test his steps to his next evolution. “48” is an almost “What’s Goin’ On” era masterpiece framed by the narration of Hip hop deity Nas, and colored with textures of realness and regret as Tyler fills in the portrait. This is a compelling piece that is somewhere between a direct hit and almost miss, but feels like its supposed to be that way. Therein lies the brilliance of this hip hop hymn, a seeming declaration of not exactly knowing where we (hip hop) should go as a culture, but being absolutely certain we gotta move from here.

Frank Ocean lends his vocals over many a track, his voice soars on “Slater”; a bike-love song that comes off like a jazz-in-the-park slow jam. That said, neither Slater or the psychedelic beat-trip that is “Party Isn’t Over/Campfire/Bimmer” featuring Frank Ocean and Stereolab’s Letitia Sadler, prepare you for the lounge-like atmospheric coming-of-age experience of Coco and Erykah Badu on “Treehome95”. Bullseye. A new level of production maturity achieved.

Mischief will probably always be part of Tyler and there in lies his struggle. How do you keep yourself from becoming what you hate? “Rusty” is a call to arms, with first-round draft Earl Sweatshirt and Domo Genesis riding shotgun on a concrete-shattering banger. Once more into the breach they go. Then there’s “Pigs”; a violent revenge fantasy against bullies that feels like a Prince “Black Album” alternate version of “Boy George” filtered through the Pharcyde and Suicidal Tendencies .

In the end, you can’t fake being an outsider. It’s why Axl got so mad at Kurt and why Rick got mad at Prince. When the new kids come in, you can’t try to shut them down … it only makes them stronger. Linking up the old school with the new is hard enough, but navigating through a new world of hairless apes makes you angry.

So you provoke and push, but you can get lost that way. Hip hop has been in the news for its misogyny and homophobia again. This is not foreign to the Odd Future collective, Tyler is like Howard; an angry alien trapped in a world he never made and irritated at the hairless apes inability to get the ‘joke’.

The time however has come for Tyler and hip hop to change it up. “Wolf” is a good start.

About P.Downes

A Los Angeles-based Bajan, rude boy from Boston, P. Downes (Writer/Film & Independent Music Editor) is a card-carrying music and comic book geek with dreams of making movies. He's a published comic book writer, most notably "Killer Ape and Other City Stories," a collaboration with Greg Moutafis about a black, punk band who comes of age on the night of the LA Riots. Rumor has it that he types his articles in Spider-man Underoos for good luck.

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