Mike Mineo’s take: Controversial. Who cares? Tyler and co. had me sold when they performed “Sandwitches” on Fallon in February. Surely, having The Roots as the backing band helped, but even without their stellar accompaniment OFWGKTA’s energetic talent was undeniable. That was a night when many naysayers of the LA-based collective changed their minds entirely, instead agreeing with the billowing machine of hype that preceded their performance. It was suddenly evident why “free Earl!” was a staple on observant music blogs and forums, and why OFWGKTA and their leader Tyler were the most buzzed-about indie hip-hop group in recent memory. To some people’s shock, it was not because their lyrics were controversial or opposed to authority. The thought is too naive for music as surprisingly in-depth as Tyler’s. Some critics mistakenly refer to his material as an example of buying hype with shock value, but these are often people trying to prove a point before even listening to the material.
So it’s hardly relevant that “Sandwitches” was better live that night than its appearance on Tyler’s second full-length, Goblin. The explanation is simple; whenever a hip-hop group touts the sort of rare explosiveness during live performances that OFWGKTA have on several occasions, it is easy to see their potential for quality, cult followings, and longevity. OFWGKTA’s brightest days are ahead, just like Tyler. Goblin will later be regarded as a stepping stone toward the releases that get Tyler recognized beyond the pre-existent niche. While Goblin is overly long with a moderate degree of filler, those that dig through it to find the handful of gems will be treated to a preview of a legitimate budding star.
The stellar “Transylvania” reminds me of outstanding Earl track “Stapleton”. Trailing over an ominous synth straight outta Castlevania, the track’s bloodcurdling enigma is a perfect example of how Tyler implements mood into his tracks. On that front, he is as diverse as any hip-hop artist. The haunted twinkle resembles a haunted xyolophone, but backing accompaniments are second priority to Tyler’s creative delivery. The studio version of “Sandwitches” is too clumsy and slow-paced, with a lack of explosiveness compared to its outstanding live version. It is clear they were toying with creative ideas for the song which were never fully unveiled live, and while not a failure it is evident that opting for a more familiar approach would have been for the best. When they repeat “wolf gang!” with a high-pitched effect it almost seems like a joke compared to the bellowing growl of most live performances. In addition, the “fuck church!” section – where Hodgy Beats proclaims God as “a cancer” – is interesting lyrically, but not nearly as effective or daring rhythmically as the “wake n’ bake” live take. Griping about the superiority of a live version is fairly snobbish though, so I’ll just consider it an alright track with leftover potential for remixes and re-recordings.
“She”, with Frank Ocean, desperately attempts to establish a hook during its overplayed R&B chorus. The actual verses enjoyable enough, drenched in a sinuous synth that practically sounds slippery under Tyler’s rhymes. Tyler is no The-Dream, but one day may incorporate R&B into hip-hop with the same suave level of cohesion. For now though, this is one example of experimentation gone awry. After “Transylvania”, we get treated to “Tron Cat”, an awesome effort with squiggly synths and 808s percussion. It’s “the type of shit that makes Chris Brown wanna kick a whore”, or inspire movement of some sort. Its structure is fairly minimalistic, but the repetition is warranted with the reverbed twinkle and synth inspiring the idiosyncratic ferocity that onlookers of OFWGKTA’s live shows are familiar with. The occasional interlude, with the piano stabs and child-like singing recital sample, provides just the perfect amount of variation. “Tron Cat” is one of Tyler’s greatest accomplishments thus far in his young but rapidly growing career.
The amount of great one-liners throughout Goblin are too much to really focus on; part of the listening experience is finding these out for yourself. There are some efforts that have much more meaning than witty one-liners though, the main one being “Her”. Being heavily emotional and intimate, almost bordering on being influenced by R. Kelly, it achieves success through an ingenious exposure of evolving emotions. “It’s this girl,” a bellowing voice constantly echoes throughout. “The closest that I got was when I was poking her on Facebook,” Tyler raps. “Video chats are so exciting ’cause it’s like she is inviting me to her world full of privacy.” A surprising dose of romanticism turns to explicit sexual desires, of course, but this transformation plays excellently. “Her name is my password,” he says at one point, continuing to enforce this sense of modern, technologically-influenced love that few artists pull off successfully. “Her” is an excellent progression for Tyler though; his romantic descriptions turn to frustration in the last minute, and Tyler’s dual lyrics/delivery mirrors this flawlessly. Bravo.
“Fish / Boppin’ Bitch” (particularly its second half) essentially describes the album; it is an overly lengthy song with some amazing ideas that could have allowed the song to be half its length. The last two minutes are especially brilliant; “Now I’m at a fuckin’ clinic cause my dick is swollen and keeps itching / I’m gonna kill this bitch.” On the other end, “Bitch Suck Dick” is an overly desperate nuisance. The sloppy synth changes and overly emotive persona sounds like an even more misguided Waka Flocka. No thanks. “Widows” is better, with some OFWGKTA staples and an engrossing murderous narrative. Plus, don’t forget about the “pale hipster girls” who are “pretty, but their booty flat”. The next track, “Au79” is complete, Fruity Loops-driven filler. Then the evolving, choir-filled infectiousness of “Golden” redeems it. As you can see, the inconsistency between tracks on the album’s latter half is primarily what prevents Goblin from being a deserving breakout. There are some gems scattered throughout it, just like the first half, but finding these gems will be too tasking for the less devoted. OFWGKTA fans are going to eat Goblin up, and it will certainly earn some new fans, but it is not a groundbreaking achievement like some live performances seemed to suggest earlier.
The reason for dual reviews is due to the polarizing effect of this album. While it would be difficult for any music fan to deny the unique qualities of OFWGKTA and Tyler, there are certainly points that are vague in their accomplishments. I happen to think the filler outweighs quality on Goblin, but optimistically with most of these filler being forms of experimentation that will eventually culminate in a sleeker, more established achievement. Mike’s Score: 7.0/10
Top Tracks: “Her”, “Transylvania”, “Tron Cat”, “Fish / Boppin’ Bitch”, “Yonkers”, “Golden”
Jay Mattson’s take: Those fellows over at Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All sure do make some interesting news. Over the course of just five months, OFWGKTA went from a severely underground LA hip-hop collective to one of the most talked about groups since the Wu-Tang Clan. The most interesting thing, however, is how backwards their success evolved. The indie music blogosphere, a culture desperately looking for hip-hop acts cool and culturally relevant enough to associate with, clung to Odd Future’s hyper-violent, hyper-offensive lyrical content as a point of scandal. For a while, you couldn’t visit a single music site without seeing some sort of Odd Future opinion piece that inevitably mentioned the lyrics to either justify or nullify the collectives influence and talent. Oddly enough, mainstream media never really made anything of it; there haven’t been any congressional hearings or family foundations crying foul, no women’s or gay rights groups boycotting the album. It’s almost as if the mainstream recognized how ridiculous and silly Odd Future was before indie music fans slobbered over it, an example of the music blogosphere (or musicbator) officially stufing its metaphorical head into its metaphorical ass.
Which brings us to the actual review of Tyler, The Creator’s Goblin, the first substantial release from his collective since they launched into semi-stardom. It’s difficult to not review this record as a reflection of the current Odd Future crew and their ability. “Sandwitches” and “Yonkers” aside, everything we’ve heard from these LA boys before Goblin was recorded more than a year ago; often a lifetime in musicbator’s vicious cycle. Fortunately, Tyler’s awe-inspiring talent is evident from the first track onward and Goblin successfully stands on it’s own feet.
One of the album’s biggest strength’s is the duality it presents physically and metaphorically. Physically, Tyler basically owns the first half of the album, with only Frank Ocean lending a hand before track nine, “Sandwitches”. After that, the entire crew shows up (sans Earl, sadly) to give a mini-showcase of OFWGKTA’s other talent. On the lyrical side, Tyler often shares the microphone with one of his multiple personalities, which include Wolf Haley and Ace among others. It’s really fun to hear Tyler switch characters and, subsequently, content between tracks. One of the best examples is “Transylvania”, where the character is so far removed that his voice has been altered. Coincidentally, “Transylvania” is one of the best tracks on Goblin, not only for its wacked out vocal alterations, but also because it has one of the most inventive beats on the entire album. Taking cues from the title’s namesake, a Gothic presence flows through the beats and Tyler’s lyrics.
Another truly inspired track is really only half-a-track: the “Boppin’ Bitch” part of “Fish / Boppin’ Bitch”. While the earlier “Fish” section is solid in its own right, the latter half of the track is pure musical gold. It’s funny, clever, and is backed by enjoyably over-the-top old-school beats. It’s also one of the most straightforward group of lyrics Tyler has written. Obviously satirical, “Boppin’ Bitch” outlines Tyler’s frustrations with “bitches” in general.
Trying to dissect Tyler’s lyrics is basically a task of piecing together his personal diary. Every track is filled with inside jokes, people and situations from his past, and, basically, things Tyler likes peppered between the classic hyper-violent and hyper-offensive lyrics we’ve all come to expect and love. Tyler, The Creator is an extremely talented artist who continues to surprise me with his inventiveness. Goblin is an album that could have been terrible. It could have been victim to the hype. Fortunately, Goblin is an album that makes me hopeful for the future of hip-hop. Jay’s Score: 9.0/10.0