Tyler, the Creator, is the leader of the Los Angeles-based underground hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, a sometime solo artist and, at 20 going on 8, rap’s current Boy King. He has just released his scenery-chewing second disc, the entirely horrifying and occasionally artful “Goblin,” after many months of mix tapes and self-releases.
Those releases positioned Tyler as the Travis Bickle of rap, a vitriolic, hyper-violent, roiling bucket of hyperbole and teenage id whose fondness for rapping about murder, rape and all-purpose pillaging makes Slim Shady look like a Jonas brother.
On “Goblin’s” opening title track, Tyler consults with his therapist (Tyler again, using his Creepy Demon voice). He complains about people paying too much attention to all the horrible things he’s said to get attention. “I’m not a [expletive] rapist or a serial killer. I lied. [Pause.] I try too hard, huh?” And later: “I mean, I’m not that great of a rapper but as a whole, I’m pretty cool, right?”
It’s a loaded question. “Goblin” doubles as a Rorschach test, challenging listeners’ assumptions about acceptable levels of misogyny, homophobia and violence. But “Goblin” needs to be better than it is shocking and, too often, it isn’t. It’s skate rat torture porn, riveting in its best moments, unlistenable in its worst and ultimately closer to “Saw II” than to “Scarface.”
Tyler is a better provocateur than he is a rapper, but he’s a better rapper than he thinks, and an even better crafter of unlikely melodies. His love of poppy bands such as Beach House manifests itself in tracks juxtaposing breezy melodies with grim raps, and this disconnect is the most interesting and subversive thing about “Goblin.”
“Goblin” is otherwise an interior monologue of sorts, and its best tracks are the ones that don’t try too hard to repel, such as the spartan R&B song “Her,” which examines an ill-fated Facebook romance (“Her name is my password,” Tyler rhapsodizes). Or the wounded, buzzing “Yonkers,” which revisits a familiar theme, Tyler’s absent father: “I just wanna know if my father would ever like me / But I don’t give a [expletive] / So he’s probably just like me / A [expletive] goblin.”
“Radicals” shouts out to Bill O’Reilly, doubtlessly hoping for a publicity-generating anti-rapper jihad like the one O’Reilly led against Ludacris in 2002. Too bad for Tyler that in 2011, rappers can get away with whatever they want. The song has a pointed refrain (“I’m [expletive] radical”), but anyone who has to remind you how radical he is, isn’t.
Tyler keeps upping the ante, pushing his brutal-even-for-horrorcore shtick further and further, until “Goblin” is almost over and he’s murdering his band, who figure prominently in the disc’s second half, and he still sounds bored.
“Goblin,” like most Odd Future releases, isn’t interested in sampling or memorable beats. Closer in spirit to punk forerunners such as the Sex Pistols than to the Wu-Tang Clan, the album supplies a vital new energy, badly used. Ultimately the disc’s carnival of grotesqueries and grievances overwhelms what’s good about it, and “Goblin” winds up being more shock than art.
Stewart is a freelance writer.