Wolf Haley is (sort of) back.
At the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, Tyler, the Creator won “Best Rap Album” for his fifth studio album Igor, an album that Tyler himself prefaced by saying, “Don’t go into this expecting a rap album.” Despite its genre-bending nature and heavy pop aesthetic, Igor was shoved into the rap category and was crowned victorious, a misstep that the Grammys appeared to try and atone for by awarding Nas the win for King’s Disease earlier this year. Tyler, the Creator — while openly grateful for his Grammy — spoke about how the win felt like a backhanded compliment and wondered aloud, “Why can’t we just be in pop?”
Two years after Igor, however, Tyler, the Creator has taken a detour from his revered genre-fluid output and transitioned back to rap, a complete stylistic shift that he revealed was actually inspired by Westside Gunn. The result is CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, a 16-track album that returns the experimental artist to his raw, Hip-Hop roots. During the first ten seconds of the album opener “SIR BAUDELAIRE,” Tyler proclaims that Wolf Haley — the alter ego that dominated his first three projects: Bastard, Goblin, and Wolf — is back, but CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST doesn’t really mark a return to form for the once-polarizing artist. Instead, Tyler, the Creator’s sixth studio album showcases how much he’s grown since his angst-filled early output, as an artist and as a human being.
Tyler is full-on rapping again, but the gratuitous outlandish subject matter is replaced with absolute bars. “LUMBERJACK” still remains one of the best executed and pure rap tracks from the album, but songs like “CORSO” and “SAFARI” boast some of Tyler’s hardest verses to date. While there are some questionable bars sprinkled throughout the album, Tyler’s lyrics across the board are more focused and insightful than they’ve ever been.
Tracks like “MASSA” “MANIFESTO,” and “WILSHIRE” are CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST’s shining examples of Tyler’s maturity. On “MASSA,” the Golf Wang creator documents his journey as an artist and dives into an intense stretch of self-reflection, and “MANIFESTO” literally serves as a bold confrontation with his controversial past. Yet, it’s “WILSHIRE” — an uncharacteristically minimal eight-minute and 36-second track about falling in love with his friend’s girlfriend — that illustrates Tyler’s extraordinary growth. A decade ago, a song with subject matter similar to “WILSHIRE” would have been plagued with surface-level lyrics and references to rape, but now, Tyler is able to tell a prolonged story in a brutally honest and captivating way without hiding behind “shock factor.”
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With that said, as much as Tyler has grown, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST does expose the fact that the Grammy award-winning artist has become somewhat set in his ways. From habitually releasing an album every two years to making the tenth track of his albums a two-part song, the multi-talented artist can be frustratingly predictable, and songs like “HOT WIND BLOWS” and “SWEET/I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE” fall short of their full potential. “HOT WIND BLOWS” is a middling collaboration between Tyler and Lil Wayne, who have proven in the past that they can strike gold when teaming up on wax together. Then there’s the collaboration with Brent Faiyaz. Surprisingly, the first half of “SWEET/I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE” is one of the weakest and sonically jarring moments on CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, and Tyler’s signature jazzy and synthy production style — which used to feel grand and experimental on previous projects — now feels uninventive.
To be fair, however, Tyler’s knack for sticking to his creative guns yields far more amazing moments than lackluster ones, and quite frankly, with the arrival of CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, it’s time to admit that Tyler, the Creator has mastered the art of creating moments.
Throughout his career, he has had at least one insane or unexpected moment on each album, whether it be a six-minute therapy session with the voice in his head on “Bastard” or an unexpectedly beautiful and well-balanced Playboi Carti and Charlie Wilson collaboration on “EARFQUAKE.” CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST shows that Tyler has not only figured out how to craft those lightning in a bottle-esque records, he has figured out how to flood his projects with them.
Hearing NBA YoungBoy randomly storm onto “WUSYANAME” for the first time is an unforgettable experience, and if it weren’t for Tyler, the Creator, who knows if listeners would have ever heard YoungBoy so wondrously out of his element. Only Tyler could have tastefully pieced together a nostalgic 90s R&B-inspired cut that samples H-Town’s classic song “Back Seat (Wit No Sheets)” and features both NBA YoungBoy and Ty Dolla $ign. And while that song alone is in the running for one of the wildest Hip-Hop collaborations of 2021, Tyler’s sixth studio album is filled with several more just like it, from the blaring 42 Dugg-assisted track “LEMONHEAD” to the otherworldly 14th track “JUGGERNAUT” that features Pharrell and Lil Uzi Vert.
Furthermore, Tyler, the Creator’s decision to enlist the services of DJ Drama has arguably made his whole sixth studio album a moment in itself. Like many of DJ Drama’s most notable Gangsta Grillz mixtapes, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST has its own identity, and it is utterly entertaining to listen to, from Tyler’s unprecedented commercial freestyle over Westside Gunn’s “Michael Irvin” to the former Odd Future artist fully embracing his past, present, and future on “SAFARI.” Tyler, the Creator — a.k.a. Wolf Haley a.k.a Flower Boy T a.k.a. Igor a.k.a Tyler Baudelaire — has a Gangsta Grillz mixtape, and if you take the time to fully listen to it, you’ll never forget it.