Two albums in, Tyler, the Creator’s rap career is starting to look like a calculated study in cognitive dissonance. Tyler’s debut album, Bastard, paired jazzy, post-Neptunes synth haze with raucous lyrics delivered in a gravelly, often devilishly pitch shifted voice that sounded bruised well beyond its years. A purely surface level reading of a song like “VCR/Wheels” might yield a pleasant listening experience. But dig deeper, and you found lyrics rife with subject matter as shockingly gruff and off-putting as its beats were pretty. Bastard was a triumph of raw youthful talent, though, good enough to force listeners into, or in some cases, away from formulating an opinion on the lyrics. And opine they did. Tyler quickly became the subject of a daily battery of long reads aimed at isolating his motives, rationalizing his camp’s appeal, and delineating what it means to be a fan of a rap group whose members occasionally rape and vivisect women on record. Round-the-clock dissection of the Odd Future phenomenon led to a kind of persecution complex not unlike the one that led Eminem to release his obnoxious, paranoid and totally self-obsessed sorta-masterpiece, the Marshall Mathers LP. With his sophomore album Goblin, Tyler seems similarly poised to get casual listeners to fuck off and to draw his cult of personality closer in one fell swoop.
Goblin accomplishes this by cracking Tyler’s skull and spilling out all its seedy contents. Bastard’s jerky kinetic energy and punchy songs are replaced here by an oozing sprawl. Clocking in at nearly eighty minutes (not counting the bonus tracks), Goblin is a labyrinthine listening experience whose appeal to curious stragglers is further complicated by its creator’s seemingly scattershot approach. The explosive boom bap and menacing swing of “Sandwitches” and “Yonkers” are worlds away from the anesthetic sigh of eight-minute Wolf Gang posse cut “Window” and the glacial, free associative therapy session of “Goblin.” Without an obvious, overarching unity of theme and purpose, Goblin works much better as a showcase for Tyler’s wide-ranging talents both as a producer and an emcee, and to his credit, he has brought his entire arsenal to the proceedings. The violent bits are ultraviolent. The vulnerable ones are uncomfortably confessional. The aggro portions sit perched on the precipice of abject mayhem. The pretty parts are almost serene.
What’s most curious about Goblin is how closely these disparate aesthetics sit together in its songs. “Radicals,” the album’s uncharacteristically heavy outsider call to arms, opens with a cavernous and abrasive shout but closes with a sedate coda that’s more like downtempo lounge music than hip hop. “Radicals” is followed by “She”, whose jazzy chord progression and syrupy vocals from Odd Future associate Frank Ocean sneakily conceal its stalker vibe and crass lyrical conceit. “Analog” finds Tyler and Mellowhype’s Hodgy Beats petitioning a girl to meet them “by the lake” for what is ostensibly a picnic. But when Tyler advises his mark to “be cautious/ This is not Dawson’s Creek,” it becomes apparent that this song might not be about sunsets and rainbows after all. “Analog” is chased by the Lex Luger send up “BSD,” which features Tyler’s buddies Jasper Dolphin and Taco doing their best Lil B and Waka Flocka Flame impressions for three and a half minutes of raucous misogyny. One minute they’re romancing girls, and the next they’re punching them. Even as the trio sets about “socking bitches in they mouth,” a distant xylophone plunks away in the background like so much floral wallpaper in a slaughterhouse. Unpredictable as Goblin may be sequentially, its one constant is Tyler’s dark, singular sound and its army of wonky synths, gorgeous melodies, and alternately profane and cathartic lyrics.
Routinely and almost monolithically dark from start to murderous finish, Goblin is a swan dive into the solipsistic hell of its creator’s doubts, fears, hopes and dreams. It’s a lot to take in, but the simple, hypnotic beauty of the stark landscapes Tyler has created here reveals itself more with each subsequent listen. Goblin’s barbs soften over time, and the real picture comes into focus. At the core, what we’ve got here is a kid struggling to push back against a culture whose every tendril seeks to squeeze its youth into preformed, preconceived lives. It’s about having fun with friends, chasing after girls, being afraid of the future, flipping off haters, shooting off at the mouth and not knowing all the answers. Anyone poring over Tyler, the Creator’s oeuvre for some deeper understanding is missing the point. Tyler makes music that begs to be felt, not debated or considered. Check your brain at the door. Get swept up in the maelstrom. Kill people. Burn shit. Fuck school.