Legions of high school fanboys salivating over every Odd Future release aside, a lot has changed for Tyler, The Creator in the two years since the release of his 2011 breakthrough album Goblin.

The 22-year-old has branched out and appeared on tracks with mainstream hip hop artists including Game, Pusha T and Waka Flocka Flame. His buddy Earl Sweatshirt is back from Samoa, he’s got a show on Adult Swim and people have finally stopped using “Yonkers” as the only example of his work.

Tyler’s latest offering, Wolf, is not only a reflection of his growth as a rapper and producer but as a creative entity trying to hold on to his artistic integrity as his popularity continues to rise.

It would have been easy for Tyler to call on the talents of bubbling hip hop stars like Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky for this project but perhaps the most admirable quality of the album is its lack of star power features outside of Pharrell.

[one_half_last]There are, of course, the obligatory Odd Future collaborations with everyone from Frank Ocean to Jasper Dolphin stopping by, but this is still Tyler’s show and never has his vision been more clear and defined than on Wolf.[/one_half_last]

The album opens with Tyler on a sing-songy expletive rant over smooth jazz-inspired instrumentals on the title track before jumping into the tight electronic bassline on the Hodgy Beats assisted “Jamba” which is reminiscent of something out of the Neptunes catalogue only grimier and with more edge.

About halfway through Wolf comes the album’s standout track “Colossus,” a song about Tyler’s struggles with fame and how all he wants to do is get on a ride at Six Flags without being bothered but an overeager fan professes an obsessive level of love while taking a picture with him.

It’s a tragic hip hop masterpiece of sorts with a definite Eminem “Stan” quality to it except with darker comedic undertones apparent on lines like “See, if you can’t have her then he shouldn’t neither / And if I can’t have you then she shouldn’t either / No one should see you, but me in your t-shirt / I worship you until the fucking wrinkles on my knees hurt (what the fuck).”

Though the second half of the album doesn’t fully live up to the high standard set by the first especially with songs like “Awkward” and “48” appearing early on, “Treehome95” with Coco O. and Erykah Badu is a brilliant example of Tyler’s versatility as a producer and the featured singers sparkle over his lofty neo-soul beat.

If Goblin was Tyler’s coming-out party then Wolf is the long day after forcing the OF general to carefully consider the repercussions of all his actions while not necessarily concluding in any kind of life-altering epiphany. It’s a trip, one with many bumps along the way, but ultimately satisfying upon reaching its destination.

Simply put, Wolf is Tyler’s best album to date and one that no one else in the Odd Future camp could have succeeded in carrying out except the big-eared bandit. It’s beautiful, confusing, hilarious and often sad, an emotional rollercoaster that masterfully conveys the chaotic evolution of a hype magnet who never allows himself to truly admit he’s made it.

Get at me on Twitter @PatCwiklinski.

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