Music Reviews

Tyler, The Creator Goblin

(XL) Rating - 8/10

First, a warning. This is a first-rate album, a high quality article that aims to push the boundaries of rap without diving headlong into incongruent and joyless experimentalism. This album, however, will probably offend you; it takes a very tolerant type not to flair at some of Tyler’s more testing flows – providing you don’t, you’ll find instead a great record by one of the most exciting talents in urban culture right now. Period.

Tyler – and Tron, his troublesome, provocative super-ego – would like to invite you to therapy, not yours... oh no, that’d be far too easy. Tyler Okonma; Tyler, The Creator; Ace; The Wolf of Wolf Gang fame – the entire schizophrenic assortment of aliases are all assembled to tell you about themselves, everything, every dark thought, every wandering anger, all in unrelenting detail and tipped with a razor sharp wit. They don’t give a S**t what you think of them, they just need you to know.

Goblin opens with “I’m not a fucking role model / I’m a nineteen year old fucking emotional coaster with pipe-dreams” and in ten seconds flat Goblin has set itself apart from every other Billboard 200 rap album. Yes there are the traditional boasts, but even these are darker and more intriguing than a million Kanye West slights could ever be, such as describing how “competition is missing like that nigga my mum fucked”. So Goblin is just honest in the cruelest and cleanest sense – at times it’s angry, just take the outright hostility of Radicals with its unbending chorus of “Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School”. The vitriolic but hollow tirade eventually distils to a righteous message: “Don’t let nobody tell you you can’t be what the fuck you want.” Before he deadpans “I’m a fucking unicorn and fuck anybody who says I’m not”.

And from that point the record follows out, utterly organic and with little grating tension and just a few slacker moments unsurprisingly generated in its somewhat monstrous 1 hour, 13 minute running time (also its most significant mistake). She and the young love inspired Her demonstrates he’s as dick whipped as the next guy sometimes. Meanwhile Transylvania is perverted, twisted, misogynistic and contentious; here he’s plainly at the extremes of his humanity. And now might be the moment to wonder how much of this is Tyler? How much of this might have gone through his head in the currents of a fervent emotion? And how much is just conjured up, boisterous bullshit or an attempt at an un-censored social commentary? My instinct is that Goblin is vastly made of the latter – that and a mountain of teen angst. But should we condemn it in our uncertainty or should we just dismiss the explicit nature of his most sinister moments and instead admire and enjoy the edge in that aforementioned ambiguity? That question I still don’t have an answer for.

The tail-end of Goblin certainly dips below the immensely high standards so far set, indeed where he begins to involve some of the other members of the Odd Future collective, particularly on Window.  The formula suddenly feels a little tired and the creative intelligence is undeniably lacking, no longer driven by the personality of The Creator himself.  This is the moment that ultimately compromises what could have been an exceptional record. By the closer, the excellent Golden, Tyler knows it and manages to revive the energy and monster of the earlier tracks. He first explores the relationship between himself and his fame, unable to reconcile his discomfort at how “For instance / My best friend is now my assistant.” It then ends true to concept as Tron Cat, as the good Dr. TC, finally divulges to Tyler what we the listener knew all along: “I’m your conscience / I’m Tron Cat, I’m Ace, I’m Wolf Haley, I’m.. Me” is the revelatory reply.

The real triumph of this album though is the inimitable Yonkers and there’s a good reason why this was the track behind the hype – it’s vastly disparate and bipolar in its tendencies, setting intricately juxtaposed lines against a shifting maddening synthesiser. For example, he flits regardless between emotions such as “I’m not gay, I just want to boogie to some Marvin” before adding “And stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn esophagus / And won’t stop until the cops come in.”

This album then delivers anger, honesty and arrogance, all in sporadic scatter-gun fashion: the overriding feeling is confused, uncertain, often unreasonable, but ultimately well intentioned.  In total it adds up to a whole lot of human framed with the wit, the inventiveness and the flow that are fast making Tyler, The Creator into one of the finest young rappers seen in years.

Whatever your views on the references (and regardless of my own sympathies for him regarding opinions of Bruno Mars) this is mostly clever, intelligently designed rap, intended to give a greater conceptual sense than mere boasts and anecdotes, which is something too often unseen these days. Goblin might be utterly insane, but, as Aristotle neatly put it, “no great genius ever existed without a touch of madness.” Tyler, The Creator may not be quite there yet, but he’s got that last bit down to a tee, I’d say.