Odd Future, or Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, to be precise, have been causing waves in music circles in the last few months. When they stormed the Jimmy Fallon show in the US with their harsh brand of punk infused necro hip hop they caused chins to start wagging, forums to exceed bandwidths and Twitter to have a meltdown; people had to wonder, “what the hell is OFWGKTA and why is it trending?”.
Fallon’s show, however, wasn’t the beginning of events. The LA collective of young skaters, rappers, producers and designers had been in existence for quite some time before. Through their website and various Tumblrs, the teens released nearly a dozen albums and mixtapes, videos and art for the world to see, growing a small cult following before everything went viral.
What made the ten-strong Odd Future collective stand out is their gang mentality, their undeniable creativity, and their particular brand/interpretation of what hip hop is. Odd Future have explored themes of rape, necrophilia, drug use and murder while backed by often discordant, harsh beats and melodies more reminiscent of punk than hip hop. But that’s only part of the story. This is a group of friends that counts amongst itself Frank Ocean, the R&B producer who is rumoured to be working with Beyoncé and Earl Sweatshirt – Tyler’s closest ally and seminal 17-year old rapper who has apparently been sent away by his mom to a correction facility.
Goblin is Odd Future leader Tyler’s second album, his debut on a label proper. The first was one of the dozen or so free releases available on the Odd Future website entitled Bastard, a violent, angry but brilliant insight into the young man that is Tyler, the Creator. Goblin could be considered a sequel in that it follows on the conversation running through Bastard that Tyler is having with his alter-ego, his therapist. The conceit is a clever one as it allows both albums to serve as a platform for his woes, insecurity and fantasies while ranting about his absent father, fake rappers and playing with thoughts of murder and suicide. The album opens with Tyler announcing: “I’m not a fucking role model, I’m a 19 year old fucking emotional coaster with pipe dreams” which sets the tone for the whole narrative of the record, Tyler struggling with himself and trying to come to terms with who he is.
Goblin although equally as harsh as Bastard and, in some ways, more brutal, is also a far more mature offering. The beats aren’t as big as before, everything is stripped back, synth driven with lo-fi chopped-up beats reminiscent of MF Doom meets cheap ’80s horror movie. The opening line of lead single ‘Yonkers’ sums up the whole album; “Im a fucking walking paradox/no I’m not”, as Tyler struggles to define himself through his peers and painfully dissects his talent.
The intro of ‘Radical’ warns kids at home not to listen to his lyrics seriously and not to copy what he does, although it merely seems like a necessary disclaimer. The questionable faux homophobic and misogynistic themes have carried over from previous work but in a more mature way yet they may still serve as a barrier for some. Tyler now comes across as struggling to understand women rather than hating them and his childlike reactions, anger, calling people “faggot” seem to subside somewhat, by the time the track ‘Her’ drops, in which Tyler longs for a special girl, he has learned to deal with his emotions in a more mature manner and swallows his pride rather than getting angry, as if he’s clearly denoting his growing maturity.
The whole album is an introspective discussion with himself, despite being at times joined by other Odd Future members their inclusion seems almost an aside, only is it on the track ‘Window’ that Tyler’s therapist tries to include his friends to help him. However all they do is rap (at times out of time) about meaningless, trivial musings to a bleak, near beatless, synth line before Tyler announces “’y’all niggas don’t know me”, and then angrily tearing them to shreds and pretending to shoot them, following which he breaks down to a screaming mess.
The album’s climax comes after the entirely instrumental ‘Au79’, (a surprisingly melodic, up beat tune) with ‘Golden’ in which Tyler seems completely alone and self destructive, critical of his new, fickle fame; “People sayin ‘FREE EARL’ without even knowin’ him, see they’re missin’ the new album, I’m missin my only friend”. The record closes on Tyler’s tortured screams while being bound into a strait jacket and taken away.
Rarely are albums, especially from someone so young, so cleverly constructed and pieced together. Goblin is not just clever, dark hip hop, but a story about an incredibly talented young man who struggles with teenage angst and seems hell bent on success, despite the little pleasure it seems to give him. Yet, by the end we must still question, was this album really about Tyler, the Creator or Tyler’s creation?