If you’ve circled the hip-hop blogosphere lately, you’re probably familiar with Tyler the Creator already, and nothing written in this space is likely to sway your opinion of his shock and awe stylings. If you’re not the type of person who spends slightly unhealthy amounts of time reading rap blogs, then Tyler probably isn’t for you. Same goes if you’re more than a couple of years post pubescent, or went to your high school prom with an actual girl. Or if you are a girl, for that matter. The ring leader of southern California’s Odd Future crew specializes in a brand of male teen angst unique to type of kids that weren’t on the basketball team or the student government, and reveled in their outsider status, even as they traveled in packs larger than the cool kids.
Goblin, by turns insecure, ingenious, self-indulgent and brutally poignant, undoubtedly captures the feeling and mindset of its Creator and his audience. That doesn’t automatically make the music good, but it doesn’t make it bad either. The buzz generating single “Yonkers” is one of the most noteworthy hip-hop songs of the year as Tyler spews murderous mayhem in a menacing grumble overtop a deceptively nuanced percussion heavy track. His delivery brings to mind an All We Got Iz Us era Sticky Fingaz on Valium, which is every bit as eery as it sounds. “Her,” with its schizophrenic swings between disarming awkwardness and creepy lustfulness is one of the most frank depictions of puppy love in memory. “Radicals” begins as a ribald romp punctuated by a hook so over the top (“Kill people, burn shit, fuck school!”) that it can only be taken as parody. But, the coda near the end of the track’s unnecessary 7 minute run time (“Fuck your traditions, fuck your positions, fuck your religion, fuck your decisions. They’re not mine, you gotta let ‘em go.”), could actually serve as the mission statement of a more focused rebuke of cultural norms or pean to generational shifts.
And that’s the rub. As strident as Tyler proves in asserting what he is not, he seems much less clear on what he is, and as a result, Goblin lacks an identity. Is it a psychological thriller or a slasher film? Or is it one masquerading as the other? For every compelling journey through the id (“Nightmare”), there is a moment of ham fisted hackery. “Transylvania” is a poorly produced bloodfest that relies on vocal effects to make up for oddly generic lyrics. “Bitch Suck Dick” is exactly what the title implies, all the way down to the thin approximation of southern crunk production. Spooky synths keep the laconic posse cut “Windows” interesting for the first couple of minutes, but are simply monotonous for the last six.
Ultimately, listening to Goblin feels a lot like reading a creative writing assignment by the kid in the army boots and trench coat who sits in the corner. There are moments of clarity that show a unique talent, if only he weren’t trying quite so hard to be unique.