Tyler, the Creator is skilled, but still growing on sophomore effort Goblin

    Tyler, the Creator. Photo from Wikimedia, licensed under Creative Commons.

    Tyler, the Creator is probably insane. At least, that’s what he’d like you to think. On his major label debut, Goblin, the 20-year-old leader of Los Angeles-based rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (usually just Odd Future) has expanded every aspect of 2009’s self-released Bastard to extravagant levels, the whole time framing the album as a psychotherapy session. Tyler’s signature production and graphic lyricism soar to new heights, but the MC also allows boring asides, meandering story lines, and excessive bloat to obscure the album’s most inspired moments. Goblin contains far too many mistakes, but the album’s best tracks still act as testaments to Tyler, the Creator’s prodigious talent and astounding potential.

    Nowhere are Tyler’s skills more apparent than on Goblin’s second song, “Yonkers,” where the rapper layers densely constructed and grimly clever lyrics over one of the most genre-bending instrumental tracks to emerge from hip-hop in years. The ominously beautiful bass, nails-on-a-chalkboard synths and jazzy rhythm piano form a potent union that repudiates the soulful rut that even some of today’s best MCs have fallen into. Once Tyler adds in the lyrical content (including one particularly clever line about crashing Hayley Williams’ “airplane” into B.o.B.), it’s clear that “Yonkers” is a rap track that is here to stay.

    None of the other tracks on Goblin attract the combination of potency and talent the way that “Yonkers” does, but a handful of the album’s songs excel in other ways. “She” features Odd Future’s resident soul crooner (and surprisingly talented rapper, listeners learn), Frank Ocean adding a falsetto-based chorus that sounds like it belongs more on a Top 40 radio station than Tyler’s album of insanity. However, after a close listen things clarify: Tyler begins by rapping about going on a carefully planned date, but then loses sexual patience and commits an ugly murder (“I just wanna drag your lifeless body to the forest/And fornicate with it, but that’s because I’m in love with you”). All the while Ocean is singing a Top 40 hook — actually about stalking women while they masturbate — that’s infectious enough to stick with listeners for days to come.

    The two other Goblin standouts are “Her” and “Analog,” the latter featuring skilled Odd Future rapper Hodgy Beats. Where “She” takes the route of violent redemption to solve teen heartbreak, “Her” is more reasonable — if sounding like a madman is Tyler, the Creator’s goal after all, he fails on “Her,” but ends up making a likeable product. Throughout Goblin Tyler’s lyrics hold a candle to his obvious influence Eminem and on “Her” he uses his writing to tell the commonplace story of crushing on a girl in a class only to realize that she’s taken. “Analog” is another poppy exercise in semi-idealistic love, with Tyler and Hodgy trading verses about going with a lover for a sunset picnic on a lake, ultimately culminating in “something that’s beyond what we both can imagine.” It’s the details in these songs — Tyler making a girl’s name his password, wishing her boyfriend wasn’t with her at Carl’s Jr. or packing a couple extra sandwiches in case they get hungry as the evening wears on — that make them successful.

    The best songs go a long way in cementing Tyler, the Creator’s formidable skills, but his lack of experience is significant when it emerges. Title track and album opener “Goblin” fails where “Bastard” (Bastard’s opening track) triumphed — the latter was an emotionally charged “therapy session” with Tyler’s therapist/alter ego informing listeners about his life story, but “Goblin” is simply an update on the last year and a half that goes on twice as long as it needs to. Clocking in at seven minutes, “Goblin” teams with “Radicals,” another seven-minute grind designed to cement Odd Future’s already well-known punk reputation, and bookends “Yonkers,” effectively obscuring Goblin’s best track. This is ultimately symbolic of the album’s greatest weakness, which is Tyler’s lack of discretion when it comes to programming his tracks. “She” is preceded by “Radicals” and followed by the woefully misguided “Transylvania.” More egregiously, the album’s second half surge (“Tron Cat,” “Her,” “Sandwitches,” “Fish/Boppin’ Bitch” and “Analog”) is capped by four tracks that range from an eight-minute clearinghouse for Odd Future members (“Window”) to an unsuccessful instrumental interlude (“AU79”) to a track that is downright foolish and absurd (“Bitch Suck Dick,” featuring Jasper Dolphin and Taco, who normally have non-musical roles in the collective).

    Still, it’s hard to get on Tyler’s case for being too juvenile — the guy just turned 20 in March, which is hardly a qualifier for maturity. Tyler is still growing up and expressing himself in a variety of ways: Goofy promotional videos for Goblin, an entertaining Twitter account and of course, bouts of musical brilliance. So shouldn’t his youth be expected? Probably, but there’s enough exceptional material on Goblin (not to mention the rapper’s earlier material) that it’s clear he’s more than just a flash in the pan. If he had eliminated the mediocre and poor tracks from Goblin (which runs far too long at 73 minutes), he would have been left with a spectacular 45 minute album. Even the bad tracks on Goblin have good moments, when Tyler isn’t experimenting with ultra-bizarre noises or bending his baritone growl down another octave. But don’t lend this review too much credence because it runs perfectly contrary to Tyler, the Creator’s mission statement. The MC puts it best on “Yonkers,” declaring “Oh, not again, another critic writing report?/I’m stabbing any blogging faggot hipster with a Pitchfork.”

    Final Grade: B


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