Tyler Okonma hates his own music. He says as much in Goblin‘s closer “Golden,” referencing his debut mixtape: “Mom works hard, still working on her Master’s/Son lies about, taking classes at community college/Just to record some bullshit he calls Bastard.” He doesn’t like rapping. His lyrics are so foul and divisive that entire countries have backlashed. It’s also important to note that the young man who dubbed himself Tyler, the Creator was 19-years old when Goblin was recorded. It is a record populated by hyper-violence, a loosely structured rambling of anarchy and depravity. It is immaturity incarnate, a young provocateur finding his style and testing his limits. It is also utterly, unquestionably original, sometimes to a fault.
A loose concept surrounds Goblin. Tyler spends certain tracks talking to his “therapist,” Dr. TC, an extension of the outsider theme that dominated Bastard. This is a record of frustrated youth. In the eponymous opening track, Tyler somberly raps “I wish Thebe was here,” Thebe being his good friend and Odd Future bandmate Earl Sweatshirt, who famously spent a few years in a boy’s reform school in Samoa. This confessional style says a lot about Tyler, that he has to build an entire concept around speaking to a therapist in order to actually rap about how he feels. And that’s right about where the sentiment ends. The rest of Goblin is an unapologetic burning of hip-hop themes. Following the opener, we have “Yonkers,” which, along with it’s demented music video, launched Tyler to semi-mainstream success. This is a 1000-level class introduction to Tyler’s infinite strangeness. He raps, “Green paper, gold teeth, and pregnant gold retrievers all I want/Fuck money, diamonds, and bitches, don’t need ’em,” with grovelled snark, daring you to make fun of his ridiculous bars. “Yonkers” has become the poster song for Tyler, it’s mix of dark narcissism and out-of-nowhere rhyme schemes. Oh, and that beat was all a joke anyway.
These first two tracks on Goblin set a high bar for the rest of album, one it occasionally fails to live up to. “Radicals” is a rambling mess, with a cheeky, light-hearted chorus that chants “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school.” It’s bleak, awkward moments like this that make Tyler’s second album nearly inaccessible to those not already bought into the Odd Future motto. It’s also one of the most important tonal moments in the entire album. Where “Radicals” isolates, the stalker tone of “She”—featuring an ever-listenable Frank Ocean—packs a production punch. The beat skids and sings, lightened the grim subject matter and giving an altogether youthful, free air to the song. This song introduces us to an inescapable truth: Tyler, the Creator is an amazing producer that fronts as a rapper. This is part of the reason why it’s almost impossible to tell when Tyler is being serious. On one hand, Tyler often sounds so ridiculous one wonders whether he’s performing some highwire satire act for comedy effect. On the other, certain disturbing lines are delivered with such earnestness they can’t be anything other than serious, right? Goblin is an isolating record. Upon one’s first listen, I would struggle to say one would want to listen again anytime soon. It’s bleak to the extreme, uncomfortable and awkward and populated with terrible, violent imagery.
It’s a struggle to properly pin down Goblin. It’s the work of a young artist, one struggling to find exactly what he’s supposed to say and the usefulness of his voice. But Tyler’s at his best when he sounds the craziest. Tracks like “Tron Cat” exemplify the manic energy Tyler is capable of exerting. Where most of Goblin feels like a slog, “Tron Cat” establishes Tyler not as only a competent producer, but a rapper capable of building lyrical layers onto his music in the right circumstances: “You niggas rap about fucking bitches and getting head/Instead I rap about fucking bitches and getting heads/While you niggas stacking bread, I could stack a couple dead/Bodies, making red look less of a color more of a hobby.” Tyler’s ultimate power as an artist is his ability to make you cringe. There is no rapper better at delivering a gut-wrenching line about rape or murder or whatever other atrocity comes to mind than Tyler, the Creator. That is not to say this is a positive, only a point of emphasis.
One mid-album line sticks out to me, the end of “Sandwitches.” It makes me both reel back and feel for Tyler all in the same: “And we don’t fucking make horror-core, you fucking idiots/Listen deeper than the music before you put it in a box.” Tyler, the Creator’s second album is for him. I’m fully convinced that Tyler produced and recorded Goblin with him and only him in mind, which would explain it’s inaccessibility. If there’s anything to take away from Goblin, it’s that Tyler is a supremely talented producer with a dark, rambling mind—a talented isolationist searching for exactly what music he wants to make.
Favorite tracks: “Yonkers,” “She,” “Tron Cat”