Today brings the inevitable review of young whippersnapper Tyler, The Creator's sophomore release (and first album available commercially), Goblin. It is expected to push the movement trumped up by his crew, the California-based Odd Future (also known as Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, or OFWGKTA if you prefer unpronounceable acronyms), into the mainstream, if you believe what the mass media has been writing about them for the past few months. Tyler and company have seemingly come out of nowhere to invade all of your favorite hip hop blogs with their (rather conventional) take on underground hip hop. Because Odd Future consists of many loosely-connected solo artists and groups, some lazy writers have taken to referring to them as “the new Wu-Tang Clan”, which is just fucking ridiculous: for one, the Wu-Tang Clan are still working today (and they probably secretly resent being used as a comparison point for a bunch of punk kids), and secondly, the Wu came out swinging as a solid front, while Tyler, by all accounts the ringleader for this Wolf Gang, took it upon himself to secure a one-off deal to release a solo album, Goblin, when most other people in his position would try to brand their empire by unleashing an Odd Future project first. (Apparently he also plans on releasing his debut, Bastard, on an actual label in the near future, which I guess is nice, but still doesn't answer my question.)
Odd Future may have come out of the virtual ether, but to their credit, they have been working their asses off for a bit now: all of their albums up to this point are available for free download on their website, having received varying degrees of critical acclaim. Tyler is the rapper-slash-producer (who a lazy writer would call “the RZA of the crew”) leading his charges: singer Frank Ocean, producers Syd and Matt Martians, rappers Jasper Dolphin, Domo Genesis, Mike G, and Taco, duo MellowHype (consisting of rappers Hodgy Beats and rapper-slash-producer Left Brain), and the “lost” member, Earl Sweatshirt, who has been missing ever since the last Odd Future project hit the Interweb (there's a whole story behind that, but I don't feel like going into it right now). With a roster like that, it's conceivable that this Wolf Gang could be around for quite a while. The match was sparked when Tyler sent the video for the first single from Goblin, “Yonkers”, to hip hop blogs: those that chose to post it (as opposed to the others who felt that it was just as shitty as all of the other bullshit videos they receive on a daily basis in their e-mail) exposed their readers to Tyler's world of stark, minimalist instrumentals floating underneath lyrics that touched on violence, horrorcore (although Odd Future denies that they are into that type of music), shit spoken out loud for shock value's sake (shades of Bizarre from D-12), and the occasional funny joke. The video portrays the same intense imagery that Tyler tries to convey in his lyrics: at one point he eats a cockroach (through obvious camera trickery, but still), and he even hangs himself at the very end.
Not every hip hop head bought Tyler as a legitimate creative force, but the media sure as fuck did: within minutes, stories were run both in print and online sources about the Odd Future movement and what it meant for the, um, future of our chosen genre. Complex even searched for, and found, the missing Earl Sweatshirt, who, as it turns out, was sent away by his parents to attend school in Africa as punishment after they caught wind of the shit he was saying on the early Odd Future projects. (And yet, nobody thought it was strange that a major magazine used its resources to track down an underage boy?) Artists were falling all over themselves to endorse the crew in weak attempts to prove that they were still relevant in the present day. Labels started bidding wars in the hopes of signing the entire crew: even Steve Rifkind, the founder of Loud Records who signed the Wu-Tang Clan in the first place, wanted in. The press started swarming their live shows, which in turn brought out both the tastemakers and the hipster crowd: their set at SXSW this past March was one of the hottest tickets at the festival. But through all of this, Tyler, The Creator (a guy who strives to be so annoying that he insists on placing a comma in his own rap name) remained the same: the band geek, art-school dropout with big dreams (he keeps talking about wanting to win a Grammy, and he might actually be serious about this) and a bigger mouth (aside from all of the demonic shit he spouts and all of the hateful rhetoric, he also goes out of his way to dis other artists, although it isn't immediately clear if he means this in a 50 Cent “How To Rob”-style or if he's really upset with his peers) who still lives on his grandmother's couch and isn't quite sure how to handle all of the pressure of being crowned the “next big thing”.
I feel I am in the perfect position to pose a unique point of view with my write up for the album formerly known as 6olden 6olfin 6oblin (clearly, the majority of the title was dropped after Tyler grew tired of all of the faux-Satan worshiper backlash), and here's why: I haven't listened to any of the other Odd Future projects. None of them. Not a single fucking one. I will admit that I downloaded all of them (hey, I like free music as much as the next guy), but they're all still sitting on my hard drive, patiently waiting to be extracted from their respective archives. Hell, I didn't even buy this album: I have a friend who actually digs “Yonkers” and agreed to loan me the album for this very write-up. I feel that Goblin would be the first time that the majority of Tyler's so-called “fans” would actually experience him for who he is and what he supposedly represents, especially the media, so that's the point of view I wanted to utilize: I highly doubt that every single writer that has talked up the Odd Future movement (please stop using that word!) has taken the time to actually listen to all of their work. Some of them, absolutely. But not every single one. This is in no way intended to be a slight against the rest of the Wolf Gang: there's just a lot of music in the world, and Tyler has made it incredibly easy to choose what should be the gateway drug into an Odd Future. And apparently a lot of people agree: Goblin was sold the fuck out at the Best Buy I visited yesterday.
So, about that Goblin.
The title track, which kicks off the project, features Tyler talking to his own distorted vocal, which is supposed to belong to...his “therapist”, I guess. (I understand this is a continuation of what he did on Bastard.) Not that it fucking matters: it's an old and tired gimmick, and our host uses it to present four verses in which he takes the piss out of himself before anyone else has the opportunity (he admits that he isn't that good of a rapper; he still lives in his grandmother's house; he knows that, even with his penchant for dark lyrics, nobody will ever take him seriously enough to actually think that he believes in what he's talking about). He also questions why critics have been all over Odd Future lately, as the music isn't made for them: it's purely for his own amusement, it seems. Which makes me believe that I'll hate Goblin automatically. However, the music lying underneath this song-slash-introductory track was actually pretty good, and it isn't often that you get to hear a deep, ominous voice stumbling over his words in discomfort, so at least that was kind of funny.
The first single from Goblin that caused all of the blogs to throw up their arms in immediate praise...except for the few that refused to post it, even going out of their way to proclaim that the outright wackness prevalent throughout “Yonkers” wasn't a good fit for the genre. I was torn when I first watched the video, which is all shock value and a nonexistent level of substance: am I supposed to be impressed that Tyler hangs himself at the very end? Tyler's random boasts, threats, and disses aimed at B.o.B., Bruno Mars, and Hayley Williams (of Paramore) all grow very tiring on repeat listens, although I will say that he isn't as poor a rapper as he thinks. And the bleak instrumental does bang in your car, so that was nice. (Tyler even went back and recorded a third verse shortly after the video hit the blogs, so it gets to bang in your car for a bit longer, I suppose.) Also, he does mention that he wants to sit back and watch Adventure Time at one point, and as I'm a huge fan of the continuing exploits of Finn and Jake, I'm willing to give this song a pass. The video is fucking weak, though.
Underground or not, there is no reason for any rapper to include a track on their album that is over seven minutes long, unless the song itself is three verses long and is immediately followed by some dead air and a bonus track. “Radicals” is hardly even a song: yes, there is a chorus (consisting of the commands, “Kill people! Burn shit! Fuck school!”), but Tyler himself informs the listener (during the goofy disclosure that opens the track) to not actually do any of that shit. The verses that sporadically appear during “Radicals” feature a guy who claims he isn't homophobic but sure is fond of the f-word, and is also suffering from daddy issues (this is the third song in a row where he talks about his absentee dad – even Jay-Z doesn't whine this much about that). This was some bullshit that could have been better placed at the end of the project, but it would have still sucked balls.
4. SHE (FEAT. FRANK OCEAN)
That title and the fact that the guest star provides an R&B chorus would lead you to believe that that Tyler finally caved and wrote a song for the ladies. And apparently he did. But, in a move that will probably make other critics believe him to be brilliant, this song is still fucked up: Tyler wants to spend the rest of his life with this woman, but won't hesitate to kill her if she doesn't return the favor, and Frank Ocean's hook is blatantly stalker-ish. The effect near the end, where our host switches back and forth between the speakers, is also disorienting. This is the type of song written solely for the wave of negative press that will surely follow, not unlike Eminem's “Just The Two Of Us” (or “'97 Bonnie & Clyde”, depending on when you first heard it). The first verse, where Tyler describes being attacked by a ninja while fucking his girl, includes some silly-ass imagery, though.
Our host dives into the current vampire craze by pretending to be Dracula: his Wolf Gang must be incredibly tolerant if they allow a bloodsucker of his caliber to mingle with them. “Transylvania” is the first outright ridiculous song on Goblin, but that was by design, and by that I mean Tyler (and his distorted vocals) manages to stick to the script while not taking any of his own words seriously (and really, just how mature can Odd Future possibly be, when they constantly shout out the phrase “Golf Wang”, which they made up by switching the first letters in “Wolf Gang”?): as a result, he seems to actually enjoy himself on here. The music doesn't fit the theme (is it a coincidence that Left Brain and not Tyler handled production duties on here?), and the lyrics were only alright (they got a bit funnier when he went off on a tangent about Buffy The Vampire Slayer), but this wasn't terrible.
This shit made me angry, but curiously enough, it's mainly because Tyler is being relatively honest. I suppose. Who the fuck knows when it comes to this kid? “Nightmare” is essentially Tyler's way of alienating himself from the rest of hip hop culture, especially the artists or label representatives who took notice of him (The GZA/Genius and Kanye West's boy Plain Pat are name-checked) and, most egregiously, any Odd Future fans who came in after the fact. Tyler sounds so fucking miserable about being popular with the critics (if not with any other authority that would actually mean something) that you're left wondering why he hasn't just killed himself already, because he keeps threatening to do so, and there are at least twenty other rappers I could find today that would love to receive a fraction of the press that Odd Future has somehow earned. Dude, you need to either stop complaining about your life or just shut the fuck up.
7. TRON CAT
This horribly-titled song is an unofficial companion piece to “Yonkers”, and it manages to sound fresher than that earlier track simply because I haven't heard it eighty times yet. Lyrically, it's basically the exact same song, although the bars aren't as sticky. Musically, it's boring as shit. But I think Tyler may have found his niche: “Tron Cat”, which has everything to do with its titular subject, is a collection of boasts, threats, and thinly veiled disses, a combination which our host feels most comfortable working around. I've had enough with the father bashing and the non-sequitur homophobic remarks, though: does Tyler really not have that much to talk about? (Let me answer my own question: the guy is only nineteen years old. Of course he doesn't have that much to talk about. But that lack of experience shines through on “Tron Cat”.)
The beat on this song is fucking awful, but Tyler's lyrics are actually among the best I've ever heard from him: his pining over a girl elicits something resembling actual emotion from him, as he describes how being with her could make him a better man, if only she were actually interested in him in that way. Longing after someone who can't (or simply won't) reciprocate those feelings is a deep well of sadness to pull from, and that's how Tyler legitimately sounds throughout this brief track: you want to reach out and hug the motherfucker. A rare moment of clarity for our host, and a successful showcase that proves that he might have more to say than what he originally presented on that “Yonkers” shit.
9. SANDWITCHES (FEAT. HODGY BEATS)
This would be the song that brought Odd Future to the “masses” (via their performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon). And that performance was energetic as fuck, I will admit. That energy doesn't fully translate to the album version (there's just something about seeing Tyler and his boy Hodgy Beats prompting Felicia Day and Mos Def, who were the other guests on the program that evening, to respond to them spontaneously), but the music on here is punchy enough to override Odd Future's curious creative choices (their hooks on Goblin all uniformly suck hippopotamus cock, and Tyler leads this song into self-indulgent territory toward the end). Not bad, but not all that good, either.
10. FISH (FEAT. FRANK OCEAN) / BOPPIN' BITCH
Our host distorts his vocals yet again to rap about pussy (at one point even fantasizing about fucking Taylor Swift: I mean, she's cute and all, I guess, but you couldn't pick anybody else?), managing to make the physical act of intercourse sound more repulsive than when Kanye West talks about it. (The blink-and-you-miss-it uncredited cameo from Frank Ocean was kind of funny, though.) The song ends halfway through the audio track, and then Tyler returns to take the subject matter even further overboard on “Boppin' Bitch”. He'll probably say that the overt misogyny prevalent on this track is supposed to be satire, but in reality, this song was just fucking lame. Goblin may be the project that causes the media to get the fuck over Odd Future already (as Tyler himself has already predicted).
11. ANALOG (FEAT. HODGY BEATS)
Hodgy's performance on “Sandwitches” was welcome because the audience finally got to hear another rapper's style on Goblin: up to that point, I was growing weary of Tyler, even though he made it a point to switch up his vocals throughout. He has the same effect on “analog”, which is, hilariously, a good-natured track on which both guys try to woo their respective chicks to a picnic on the lake (which makes its placement right after “Fish” even more confusing). Thanks to the ominous way Tyler instructs his girl to “bring a towel!” on the hook, I spent the entire run time expecting something horrible to happen, but no, everyone simply enjoys the day and watches the sunset. So that was weird.
12. BITCH SUCK DICK (FEAT. JASPER DOLPHIN & TACO)
The title of this posse cut is essentially how I thought “Analog” was going to end (well, that's what I thought the optimistic ending would be, anyway). Tyler and his boys all go out of their way to prove that, while Odd Future may be self-contained, they basically sound like every other (male) rapper in existence as they praise the fine art of fellatio. The only aspect of “Bitch Suck Dick” that sounded even remotely interesting was the beat, which isn't even all that good, but I was fascinated that it sounded absolutely nothing like what you would expect to come straight out of California. I guess crappy music has become a global epidemic.
13. WINDOW (FEAT. DOMO GENESIS, FRANK OCEAN, HODGY BEATS, & MIKE G)
This track is fucking eight minutes long, but as it is an Odd Future posse cut, I'm willing to let that slide. (Tyler's distorted vocal mentions that all of his friends except for Taco and Jasper appear on here, as he couldn't find those two: as they were “killed” by Tyler at the end of the previous track, I'm glad to see that Goblin's narrative is at least a bit cohesive.) The beat is unorthodox as shit, and it actually grows on you, but, unfortunately, everyone else on “Window” outshines our host, even though he gives himself the longest verse: when he kills all of them at the very end, it almost seems to be out of pure jealousy. (SPOILER ALERT!) Unfortunately, as Goblin smacks of an “artist” fabricating his issues just so he'll have something to write-slash-complain about, I'm not very impressed with this “movement”. Everyone who isn't named Tyler sounds excited as fuck to be performing for a potentially larger audience, though, so that counts for something.
Tyler makes the interesting choice of making the second-to-last track on Goblin an instrumental-only affair. Without any of his darker lyrical flourishes (read: shock value tactics) to cloud it up, the beat actually sounds somewhat hopeful and whimsical, although not in a way that you would ever want to hear anyone ever rhyme over it. Still, it sounded entirely out of place on here.
Having brutally murdered all of his friends in cold blood (and having saddled Goblin with a ridiculous storyline that blurs the line between pretention and art), Tyler rides for dolo over an admittedly pretty good instrumental, denouncing all of his “white” fans (I'm just assuming he means “hipsters” here) by crafting some good old-fashioned anti-rap music. His second verse is fairly interesting, as he praises his mother while revealing how he lied about attending classes at community college just so he could record Bastard, and the final verse of the album dives into an extended metaphor that is, at the very least, a bit intriguing, but once the ongoing narrative of Goblin ties up its loose ends, Fight Club-style, the listener will be left nonplussed. And possibly annoyed, if you're anything like me.
The deluxe edition of Goblin comes with a bonus CD containing three additional tracks. Why the label felt the need to waste more plastic instead of just placing these tracks on the actual album disc itself is beyond me.
1. BURGER (FEAT. HODGY BEATS)
The bonus disc kicks off with an awfully dope instrumental that Tyler isn't the best fit for. I found myself looking forward to the hook, which is the only place to find the newly resurrected Hodgy Beats: even though the chorus is blatantly nonsensical, it helped ease the tension. This beat was pretty fucking good, though: it would make for excellent entrance music for a villain in a crime thriller. So Tyler deserves credit for contributing something good to the cause.
2. UNTITLED 63
The Odd Future fans that spring for the deluxe version of Goblin receive a second unused instrumental, which only further proves that Tyler could make for an interesting producer if he ever chooses to stop rapping. This had as much of a calming effect as a bottle of Tylenol PM, and somehow I intended for that to be a compliment.
3. STEAK SAUCE
So this is the future of hip hop, huh? An overlong spoken-word piece disguised as a one-verse wonder playing over a beat that sounds nothing like actual music? A ridiculous track on which Tyler disses, among other people, Sean Paul, Rihanna, Pharrell Williams, the people who run the 2DopeBoyz blog (boy, they must be proud), and “Planet Earth and its associates”? Not only was there nothing on here to grab on to (save for the quick aside alluding to the “lost” song “Llama”, which was to have featured missing Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt, but was dropped at the last minute after Earl's parents refused to sign the clearance form), there is no reason provided as to why any of us should continue to give a fuck about our host. So now what?
THE LAST WORD: I didn't love Tyler, The Creator's Goblin. I also didn't hate it. But it doesn't seem to be anything special (although I'm sure that other critics will try to convince you two otherwise), and Tyler most certainly will never become hip hop's savior. All I heard on here was the de facto leader of Odd Future bitching and moaning about his newly-found fame, throwing in multiple hints about his supposed homicidal, sadistic nature in an attempt to scare away his new fan base, and sometimes the end result sounds good, and sometimes it sounds bad. Tyler's flow (and penchant for altering his vocals) is an acquired taste, but he sounds neither decent nor terrible. He just is. These songs just are. I'm not sure what the world was expecting after the media hype machine went full blitz for OFWGKTA, but the Goblin that I just listened to isn't great, nor is it bad. It will, however, collect a shit-ton of dust on your virtual shelf after you listen to it for about a week, never to be heard from again. It's strange for me to not really have a discernible opinion about Goblin right now, I know, but it is what it is: it's mildly interesting today, but I have a feeling that it absolutely will not hold up to the test of time. Goblin doesn't make me want to erase all of the other Odd Future stuff from my hard drive, but I'm hard-pressed to find a reason to actually listen to more from the crew at the moment. Attempts to the contrary aside, Tyler, The Creator doesn't come across as deep, dark, and conflicted: he sounds like a guy who knows exactly what buttons to push in order to get people to pay attention to him. I'm sure he finds all of this virtual ink being spilled about him and his crew fucking hilarious. Which he damn well should: life is short, and he's managed to accomplish a lot in the short time he's been alive. That doesn't mean Goblin is deserving of a wider audience, though.