Hip Hop and controversy often go hand in hand. When misogyny, gang violence and homophobia are brought up in any discussion, the music form is often not too far off. But in 2011 a (somewhat) new moral panic in Hip Hop has arisen in the form of West Coast group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, fronted by 20 year old rapper Tyler, the Creator. Sounding like an anagram of sorts, the group have gone from underground ‘cult’ status to the headline makers of many music sites, blogs and even national newswires.
But for all their talent and raw production skills, it’s their twisted, almost maniacal content which, for the most part, has elevated their profile which many vehemently have rejected. Goblin puts Tyler at the helm of OF’s future in the Hip Hop public eye; is there more depth to the odes to torturous violence and drug consumption or is this a fad which mainstream media have mistakenly thought of as being the real deal?
In what feels like a therapy session, the opening title track has Tyler opening up to a monotonous psychiatric (reminiscent of Dr Trevis on the Redman albums) on everything which he and the OFWGKTA posse have experienced since their explosion, over a sinister production. The doctor-patient theme follows throughout the sophomore release and leads well into the first official single from the album, ‘Yonkers’. Its imposing bass mixed with Tyler’s wit and wicked wordplay produces a stomach churning, head nodding experience which carries flashes of the much harder rap sounds of the past. Expletives, blasphemy and shock lyrics do pepper a majority of tracks.
The anarchy comes noticeably on ‘Sandwitches,’ the track introduced to the world on Jimmy Fallon’s show, as well as on the distorted riot anthem ‘Radicals’ where its chorus of flipping the finger to education, kill people and burn stuff even comes with a ‘disclaimer’ at the beginning of the song by Tyler telling people not to do any of the stuff he raps. For all its outlandishness there’s a subtle hint of irony in some of his musings (‘Bitch Suck Dick’ even clowns on some infamous adlibs) and those able to sit through the comic horror will discover an impressive lyricist who is able to construct dope verses, regardless of its subject matter.
Production is exceptional and interchanges at numerous stages. From haunting drones which accompany ‘Transylvania’ to more tranquil offerings such as ‘Fish,” Tyler behind the boards is equally as good as his rhyming. For all the anarchy and rebellion which Goblin conjures up, there are a handful of less extreme tracks which highlight OFWGTA as more than a shock-and-awe supergroup. OF affiliate and breakout star Frank Ocean serenades the chilled ‘She’ which will appease the many followers of the vocal sensation and even Tyler taps into his more emotional state when retelling the bittersweet story of lost ‘love’ on ‘Her.’
So was the fuss necessary? Is Goblin so graphic it’s indigestible to even the hardened ear or is it the adrenaline shot which Hip Hop has needed for some time? Neither answer is close to being the conclusive summary. In short – yes, Goblin does offend and its content at times is shocking for the sake of it, but if you can endure some of the more extreme matter you’re left with a truly creative and unique listening experience. Tyler, the Creator is an exciting artist simply because listening to his music, it is evident that within it lies ideas and concepts, rather than just a raging, brooding teenager with mic skills.
At times the controversy sounds like immaturity and whilst comparisons to Wu Tang and others are understandable, Eminem and Redman’s style in the ’90s are closer to Tyler’s offerings. Those who hate OFWGKTA will avoid this altogether, whilst those who love them will embrace and enjoy it. Anyone sitting on the fence with regards to listening to Goblin should come with some understanding of Tyler and co’s back story and, depending on their favourite flavour of Hip Hop, they could easily be swayed into either of the two camps.
Much like Larry Clark’s 1995 film Kids, Goblin will be abhorred for its content matter but praised for its exceptional style, resistance to the normality and its outright boldness of stepping out of the comfort zones which many continue to lazily reside in.