Tyler, the Creator
Goblin (XL Recordings)
After months of oppressive hype, it’s hard not to look at Goblin as a something of a coming-out party. L.A. hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All has built up a startling body of work in a short period, but even if this weren’t the group’s first commercial release it would still be a tipping point for the crew, where an excess of attention tests their anarchy. We’re apparently ready for Odd Future, sociopathy and all, and so Goblin is Odd Future’s chance to prove they’re ready for us. Fitting that the jump from blogs to Billboard should fall to Tyler, the group’s ringleader and most distinctive (if not distinguished) presence: The 20-year-old’s growl and skull-scraping Casiotone beats are second only to his misanthropy as Odd Future’s calling cards.
Tyler’s intention to make a sequel to 2010’s Bastard mixtape is clear from the start, stepping up the role of Tyler’s pitch-shifted “conscience,” which breaks in throughout the record as a sort of antagonistic self-help hype man. On Goblin, however, the focus shifts from daddy issues to a strained ambivalence about newfound fame. Tyler’s complaints are immature, even whiny, but couched in the candor that earned him the attention in the first place. Even more compelling are stand-alone cuts like “Yonkers” and “Sandwitches,” as jaggedly catchy as any Odd Future output to date.
Still, the defining trait of the most anticipated indie hip-hop release in years is how much it plays like any other middling, overlong rap record. Tyler underachieves on the mic and at the boards, leaving a good half of Goblin directionless at best—the “based” freestyle segments of “Fish” are particularly unwelcome on a paid-for release—and despicable at worst. Sensible listeners have by now shaken off the apologist fascination with Odd Future’s penchant for winking tales of sexual violence (no wink is big enough, guys) and Tyler’s response is disappointingly tone-deaf, angrily mocking critics even as he and his guest MCs largely dial it back to the more casual, banal misogyny heard pretty much anywhere else in rap. Perhaps it’s all a clever trick: If Tyler, the Creator is really that conflicted about the rise of Odd Future, boring us is a sure fix.