Strap yourselves in for Tyler’s first major release
“I’m not a fucking rapist or a serial killer. I lied.” It’s here. Finally. And it might not be quite what you were expecting… You know Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, right? Punk kids, young offenders – a dozen-odd LA skate brats giving hip-hop a shot in the arm and a bad name in the process. But until you hear ‘Goblin’, you don’t really know Tyler, The Creator. This one goes deeper and darker. And this time we’re not just talking jokes about rape and cuss words tossed about like hacky-sacks. It kicks off with the title track, and if you’re hoping for an opener that captures the unhinged madness of that Jimmy Fallon performance, well, you’d best take off that balaclava. ‘Goblin’ is a seven-minute confessional that finds Tyler venting his darkest thoughts to a psychiatrist (or maybe conversing with a split personality, it’s not entirely clear).
Over eerie piano and synth notes that drip-drop like Japanese water torture, he zigzags through the story of his 20 years to date – absent father, skipping class, sleeping on his grandma’s couch, dark fantasies and suicidal thoughts – vacillating wildly between unswerving confidence and crippling self-doubt. He misses Thebe – his friend, Earl Sweatshirt, exiled by his mum to a camp for unruly teens in Samoa. “I’m not homophobic…” he proffers, but can’t help adding a “…faggot”. At the core of it rests the sort of soul-baring and self-scrutiny we saw from Eminem circa ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’. It is not, it’s fair to say, the sort of track most would use to open their first commercially released full-length.
But then Tyler is not the sort to play to the gallery, and ‘Goblin’ confirms that, over and over. It’s an album that leaves you in no doubt that Odd Future’s leader is a rare talent – a brutally funny motherfucker with an imagination that squirms like a tub of maggots, old enough to know that words leave bruises but still young enough not to give a fuck about the consequences. He has a way with a line that makes you grin and recoil in the same motion: “Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome/You got a death wish? I’m a genie, it’ll get done” he spits on ‘Tron Cat’.
But musically, it’s almost oppressively mid-paced, veering between Neptunes-style beat minimalism ‘Nightmare’, ‘Tron Cat’ and curdled takes on silky ’70s rare groove legend Roy Ayers (notably, the actually rather gorgeous ‘She’, featuring Odd Future’s R&B crooner Frank Ocean). Little captures the mayhem of their live performances, and choruses are obviously regarded as something of a cop-out – unless they sound like ‘Sandwitches’, with its “Wolf Gang! Golf Wang!” chant, or the distortion-soaked ‘Radicals’, a rare burst of kinetic rage that builds to a “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school!”
So where ‘Sandwitches’ and ‘Yonkers’ compressed all that is brilliant about Tyler into four-minute chunks, over the course of an album – an 82-minute album, at that – the shtick can be wearying. It is a depressing moment to reach the 60-minute mark and be confronted by a track called ‘Bitch Suck Dick’, which features a guest spot by Tyler’s trusty lieutenant Jasper The Fucking Dolphin – good name, but not born to rap, it’s fair to say – and revolves around the lyrical conceit of “socking bitches in they mouth”. If there’s a lesson we learn from ‘Goblin’, it’s that there’s still power in shock value – but it’s a currency quickly devalued, and by now they’re scrabbling for dimes on the sidewalk.
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Actually, you leave wanting to hear a little more about the Tyler who loves his mother, the one who falls for the girl down the block and drowns his sorrows in Xbox ‘Her’. ‘Goblin’ is not the perfect album that we hoped for, but at least we know where he’s coming from. Like Eminem, he’s the product of a broken home, rapping to purge the dark thoughts, machine-gunning obscenities like it’s the only way to siphon off some pressure. Little wonder he bristles when critics call his music ‘horrorcore’. This is the contents of his head, poured out.