There was Tyler The Creator and Hodgy Beats of the upstart Odd Future collective, jumping abundantly around a smoky, dimly-lit 30 Rock studio in New York City last February. Members of The Roots band donned dark, hooded sweatshirts as they simulated the ominous instrumental to Tyler’s “Sandwitches”, one of the many highlights from his highly-anticipated Goblin album. The lively performance would be Odd Future’s television debut, an opportunity for a national audience to put faces to names that bubbled under the surface for three years. And if nothing else, maybe they could send Mos Def into screaming hysteria.
Listening to the lyrics, it’s probably too easy to classify Tyler and his group as masters of horrorcore: the creator eats a roach, vomits the remains and hangs himself in the self-directed “Yonkers” video. He rhymes about raping a pregnant woman and calling it a threesome, while also flirting with the idea of stabbing Bruno Mars in his esophagus. And for whatever reason, Tyler seems infatuated with country music star Taylor Swift, even if it’s just for physical reasons. But with the controversy so overt, it’s also too easy for our ears to embrace the darkness, even if the artist himself advises against it. “We don’t fuckin’ make horrorcore, you fuckin’ idiots/Listen deeper than the music before you put it in the box,” Tyler says on the album version of “Sandwitches.”
Tyler is correct, though. At the heart of Goblin, he’s a conflicted young man who loves his mother and values her support, even if she’s too busy chasing her own personal goals. Tyler also seeks approval from his absent father one moment and lashes out at him the next. Take “Yonkers”, for instance, in which the artist wonders if his father would even like him. But by the next song — the mosh-inducing “Radicals”, he’s writing him off altogether: “I ain’t got no motherfuckin’ daddy, he ain’t teach me shit.” Through it all, Tyler is merely a liberal 20-year-old who yearns for female affection — whether it’s romantic love or the occasional sexual escapade with a random chick. There’s nothing really horrific about that — that sounds like the tales of a burgeoning star enjoying the perks of newfound fame.
Still, Tyler seems disinterested with overwhelming fame, as a few dollars and the freedom to do — and say — what he wants would clearly suffice. “I miss the days when this was fun, now it’s turned into work/Gettin’ legal, now I gotta watch the shit that I blurt out,” he rhymes on the methodical “Golden”, Goblin‘s airy concluding track. At many times throughout this extensive long player, it’s abundantly clear that the California native craves privacy and is not impressed by Kanye cosigns or internet fandom. On his temperamental Twitter feed, Tyler vacillates between light-hearted jest and full-throated frustration. Maybe that’s why Goblin is one of the most refreshingly honest releases in recent memory, a personal diary in which the artist battles his demons over a dense soundtrack of scant drum taps, sporadic guitar riffs and bass-heavy instrumentals.
Sonically, the album lives within the same vein as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, given its vast musical compositions and stubborn persistence to keep listeners tuned in for the long haul. Much like Kanye’s stellar release, Tyler’s indulgence tips a handful of the songs over the five-minute mark — a marathon by current hip-hop standards. But in some cases, namely “Fish” and the posse cut “Windows”, such ambition is unnecessary and threatens the vitality of the overall project. Goblin also runs off the rails a bit when Tyler attempts the girl tracks. Rather, the album sounds best when the artist is brooding and insulated, questioning himself and chastising others around him. And while Tyler bristles when his Odd Future click is compared with the legendary Wu-Tang Clan, the similarities are astounding, even down to the “Wolf Gang” chant affixed to the melody.
With Odd Future’s sudden popularity, it wouldn’t be surprising to see other young, aggressive artists ascend to the forefront. The same thing happened in the mid-’90s with the aforementioned Wu-Tang Clan, as their fame triggered a renaissance of gritty, lyrical dominance along the East Coast. With Tyler and his Odd Future gang, there’s an innocent petulance within their music, although it’s not for the light-hearted. In a recent New York Times report, Tyler vehemently dismissed any demands to grow up, especially since he’s having so much fun doing what he loves. Still, he’ll have to mature at some point and it will be interesting to see how — or if — he reinvents his public persona. You can’t eat roaches forever.