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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