Tyler, The Creator – “Goblin” + Odd Future

Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All are a loose collective of L.A. skaters who’ve banded together to produce the first whiff of cordite in what had long felt like the dead and buried world of rap and hip hop.

They’ve been bubbling under the surface for about a year or so, creating an increasing online presence with a variety of posts, pages and releases.

But when their Earl video went viral last Summer here, Odd Future burst up from the undergrowth and into the light.

The Earl in question is Earl Sweatshirt, one of Odd Future’s two de facto leaders, the other being the imposing Tyler, The Creator. Or at least he was. But just as it seemed that OFWGKTA were about to break out, Earl went missing.

The idea of sacrificing his youth for the chance of competing with the latest American Idol winner for column inches and airtime held little appeal for either him of his mother. So, as Kelefa Sanneh revealed in the New Yorker here, he’s withdrawn to think carefully about what he wants to do with the rest of his clearly promising life.

So Odd Future’s first serious step into the mainstream has been left to Tyler, and it comes in the form of his second album proper, Goblin. If you’re unfamiliar with Odd Future, there’s an excellent primer provided by the boys from Pravda’s Sean Fennessey here. In a word, they’re all about confrontation, and Goblin articulates this perfectly.

Which is fine. Growing up is hard, and trying to find out who you are and what your place is, is often masked by aggression and the façade of confidence. But the violence here is so unremitting and the gratuitous offence is so relentless, that instead of being shocked by it you just become numb.

It’s a bit like watching a film like Ichi The Killer. It strives so effortfully to offend that, from the very beginning, all you can see is the man pulling the strings. And very quickly, it gets really, really dull.

The confrontation doesn’t stop with the lyrics. Musically it’s every bit as self-consciously bolshie. So there’s little enough that could be described as a melody, and choruses are conspicuous by their absence. At one point, the track Sandwitches finishes by berating us with, “Listen deeper to the music before you put it in a box”. What music? Goblin is almost entirely word driven.

And yes, of course, that’s the whole point. They’ve made a hip hop album with practically no music in it. Get it? The more loudly you fail to get their jokes, the funnier they find them and, obviously, you. But eventually, one of them is going to come across Brecht, and they’re going to realise that conscious alienation of your audience – distanciation, as it came to be termed– is as old as the L.A. buildings they spend so much time skating around. And it’s as tedious to witness now as it was all those years ago.

There’s a palpable intelligence beneath all the bile, but there’s so much posturing going on, that all you can see is a monumental self-regard based on the perennial teenage conviction that they’re the centre of everyone else’s universe. The result is an album that’s a chore.

So unless they want to be remembered as one-trick ponies, however funny they find that trick, they need to start thinking a lot less about themselves, and a little bit more about the people with whom they are trying to communicate. Art needs to be significantly more generous than this. So far, the smartest guy in the Odd Future room is the one who’s left it.

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