The meteoric rise of LA Hip Hop collective OFWGKTA (or "Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All" if you're not into the whole brevity thing) over the past few months has had a unique side effect on de facto leader Tyler, the Creator's much hyped sophomore album Goblin. A large part of the album's lyrical themes are a reaction to the success of it's own lead-off single. The second in a planned trilogy that started with 2010's Bastard (and will end with 2012's Wolf) finds Tyler dealing with the alienation that comes with the spotlight, the vapid pursuit of fame, and the unique stresses that come with such attention at such a young age. That, and taking pictures of his dad's dick, raping Taylor Swift, being flirted with by a priest, being Dracula and having threesomes "with a fucking triceratops".
The album quite literally begins where Bastard left off. Album opener "Goblin," a nearly seven-minute, chorus-less state of the union on the life of the 19-year old rapper/producer, reunites Tyler with his baritone-voiced therapist "Dr. T.C.," asking questions of Tyler and reacting to some of his more shocking claims. All this over a murky, rattling beat that gives way to flourishes of strings and brooding piano, sets the stage for what's to come.
Next is bonafide hit single, the schizophrenic "Yonkers", easily the most watched YouTube video involving roach-eating and suicide by hanging, and the track that put Tyler and Odd Future into the stratosphere. Next up is "Radicals", the most high energy track off of Goblin, which borrows it's "Kill people, burn shit, fuck school" refrain from M.I.A. Surprisingly, Tyler's use of perhaps his greatest asset, the other eight OFWGKTA members, is relatively sparse. Frank Ocean, poised to be the next break-out star of OF, raps and croons soulfully on "Her" and appears alongside Hodgy Beats, token stoner Domo Genesis and smooth storyteller Mike G on "Window." Hodgy also appears on "Analog" and the watershed single "Sandwitches." The only non-Tyler produced track comes by way of Hodgy's MellowHype partner Left Brain, who produced "Transylvania." Also featured on the cringe-worthy "Bitch Suck Dick" are Jasper Dolphin and Taco Bennett, Odd Future's comedy relief.
No one's absence is felt stronger than that of the aforementioned 17-year old phenom Earl Sweatshirt (AKA Thebe Kgositsile). Perhaps Odd Future's most gifted rapper, Earl is currently marooned at an off-shore school for troubled teenagers in Samoa, ever since his mother caught wind of his burgeoning rap career sometime last year. Thus, Earl and Tyler's (together known as "EarlWolf") Goblin collab "Llama" didn't have clearance to be released. Or so the story goes.
"I wish Thebe was here," Tyler says on "Nightmare," one of a couple of starkly candid comments on the situation, amid a sea of "Free Earl" shouts and chants that have haunted the majority of OFWGKTA's 2011 output.
The one-two punch of a raucous Jimmy Fallon show performance, followed by the then week-old "Yonkers" video going viral cemented OFWGKTA as the most buzzed about group in hip-hop, leading many to dub them the "Next Wu Tang Clan." But their beginning was much more DIY than their peers. Releasing no fewer than 12 albums for free download on their Web site, blurring the line between crowd and stage at their shows, their correlation to the world of punk in these unabashed skateboarders is hard to ignore. One only needs the briefest jaunt through punk- and hardcore-themed message boards like theb9.com to see endless praise and bootleg merch sales to confirm the connection. Tyler even claims edge.
So does Goblin live up to the hype? No. But what possibly could have? It's a strong album, especially one devised by a 19-year-old, and there are many inventive ideas and stand-out tracks ("Yonkers", "Tron Cat", "Radicals" and "Sandwitches" are absolute bangers) but the album is plagued by songs that wear out their welcome, or that seem to meander into what could be other songs, interludes or just dropped entirely. Tyler's production, while brilliant and dark some moments, tends to come off a little same-y after an entire album's worth, as can the constant "woe is me" vibe of the lyrics. It's also not without it's total missteps, such as "Fish" or "Bitch Suck Dick," which are an unfortunate reminders of how young this crew are.
Not without it's faults, Goblin does an excellent job of taking a snapshot of this exciting and confusing time and place for Tyler and Odd Future, but in doing so, diminishes it's chances of ever being universal. It's too "of it's time" to ever be considered the instant classic people were expecting.