OFWGKTA's "Goblin" Fiendishly Good

     If you recognized the unpronounceable string of letters in the title of this post, you probably already know that Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All's lyrical chief and spiritual leader Tyler the Creator has dropped his new abum, "Goblin". It's a twisted safari into the mind of one of most hyped artists on and offline, and merits some close listens. But if you're still on the fence about the Gang, or just confused about what I'm talking about, here's a crash course in the group's growing mystique.

     

     The Gang is essentially a bunch of foul-mouthed skater kids from the West Coast who spit a blistering hyper-violent-yet-introspective brand of underground rap. They work together in different capacities, collaborating on many tracks, and helping to produce each other's albums. Lyrically, they pull no punches, and by that I mean literally no gruesome subject is out of bounds.

     A single listen to almost any of their tracks will attest to this, and one viewing of the music video for "Earl" by Earl Sweatshirt, another member of the group, will show (warning, this gets graphic) the then-sixteen year old MC, along with even younger friends, emulating blenderizing various pills, narcotics, and malt liquor to consume the substance and bleed profusely from their eyes, ears, and more. This kind of drug-addled punk insanity is soundtracked by Earl's equally dark and violent lyrics.

     The Gang's swan dive into violent absurdity is backed up by beats that range from darkly seething to straight up dissonant, often aggressive and heavily influenced by hip-house European MC's like Dizzee Rascal, but slowed down, chopped up, and dyed dark red. Of course, none of this otherworldliness has stymied the group's, and specifically Tyler's, meteoric rise. As Based God Lil B's so-weird-he's-gotta-be-cool fame machine finally started to run out of steam, the blogosphere needed a new rap saviour, and OFWGKTA was there to give a verbal dose of the old ultraviolence. Even the Poetry Foundation gave them a multi-page online spread, comparing the "Odd Futurism" of Tyler's Lyrics to post-modern poets like Mayakovsky. This all culminated in a really freaky (awesome) performance on Jimmy Fallon Live, where Tyler, rapping wearing upside-down crosses, ski masks, and surrounded by zombie-like models, was officially pronounced famous.

     So, "Goblin" is out. Tyler's sophomore effort in many ways follows closely the rubric set by his performances and his first album, "Bastard", including the continuation of the conversation-with-his-therapist framing device. "Goblin" opens up with the same pitched-down chatter, pensive beats and introspective lyrics that began his first album, but lyrically Tyler now ruminates on his newfound fame, how he respects artists like Waka Flocka that oppose the Starbucks sipping intellectuality of much modern "lyrical" rap, and his difficulty following up "Bastard".

    But by the time "Yonkers", the album's single and second track kicks in you know you're dealing with a new, refined MC. The track's beat sounds like the squeals from the iconic Psycho murder scene stuck on replay, and Tyler's lines cook up a sizzling mix of his hatred of pop rap stars (including the answered B.O.B. dis), his own self loathing, and his penchant for original alliteration and advanced poetic techniques.

     It's all Tyler and his many alter egos until the middle of album when Gang members Hodgy Beats, Domo Genesis, and others lend some lines. Earl Sweatshirt is unfortunately absent the entire album, but Tyler holds up the juveile delinquency factor on his own on sick tracks like "Tron Cat" and the insidious "Transylvania", accompanied on the latter by a beat that sounds like a collaboration between Mary Anne Hobbs and Dr. Dre. Unfortunately, Tyler doesn't completely ditch rap cliches, case in point the horrid R&B hook in "She". You've gotta wonder if these indicate some misdirection in terms of artistic vision, and an idiosyncratic violation of Tyler's usual determined efforts at otherness.

     Not to say that straying to close to mainstream is the album's only problem; Tyler's minimal beats sometimes get wacky enough to detract from his lyrics, like on "Analog" where the obnoxious backtrack can make you want to flip away from an otherwise good song. Arguably the worst offense of this nature is the instrumental track "AU79", a lilting synth romp that sounds vaguely like Casio keyboard demos programmed by a drunk Moondog. Fortunately, these gaffes are few and far between, and most of the album strides along the line of bizarre and infectious, demanding repeated listens and careful attention.

     Tyler the Creator has incredible potential, though I think the inaccessibility of some of his tracks probably disqualifies him from the possibility of "saving rap", or "changing the game" or whatever you want to call the long-overdue sea change necessary to fix popular rap. However, what "Goblin" absolutely does guarantee is sincerity. Tyler means what he says, not so much in that he intends to commit the heinous crimes he raps about, but that the anger and discontentment in this album are so obviously not the inventions of a dude just trying to get famous. "Ok you guys caught me," Tyler raps in the opening track, "I'm not a f#$%#ng rapist, or a serial killer. I lied." Be that as it may, fake rappers dominating the charts should keep a watchful eye on this guy. Tyler's coming, and he's as real as it gets.

- Jacob