Hip-Hop is a great love of mine, but it’s hard for me to get excited about it anymore. The main cause is that it isn’t that exciting anymore. Some records (Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Big Boi’s Sir Lucious Left Foot), but these things don’t come along as often as they should. It’s not a terrible thing, because it makes the great stuff feel more special, but I feel like that special music, event-sized records, are few and far between. Event musicians are even more rare.
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (Herein abbreviated to Odd Future, or simply OF, because c’mon) is an event band. A year ago, Odd Future wasn’t a name that got thrown around. However, slowly, they have permeated the foundation of popular music, for a few simple reasons: their style is confrontational and hardened, their beats are made almost exclusively in-house (their Radical mixtape was a big exception, letting some light in with actual sampling), and the simple fact that, listening to their music, you can’t tell how old they are (read: young. Long-time M.I.A. member Earl Sweatshirt was 16 when he recorded the Earl mixtape, and Tyler, The Creator was 17 when Bastard was released). Also worth mentioning is that, up until this point, every single piece of music they had made was up for free on their Tumblr.
In the last year, things have changed. Kanye West called the video for the track, “Yonkers,” “The best video of 2011,” and the blogging community has, by and large, blown them up. A show-stopping performance of “Sandwitches” on Jimmy Kimmel Live exposed them to the word at large even more, culminating in Mos Def screaming “SWAG!” at the camera. Tyler, The Creator found himself signed to XL Records, with fellow members Hodgy Beats and Left Brain’s project Mellowhype getting signed to FatCat Records. The group, 10 members deep, has discovered a fame that grows quickly for a lot of bands, but the fact that it has happened to Odd Future is truly surprising. If you want to figure out what Odd Future sounds like, do this: First, take Public Enemy and Eminem (up to The Eminem Show, nothing after). Take Public Enemy’s hardened, violent style, and mix it with the irreverent and often beautiful misogyny and violence imbedded in Eminem’s style. Turn that up to 11, and put it over hand-produced beats. It’s hard not to focus on the shock that you can feel if you don’t know what’s coming when you first listen to their music; lyrics like “This isn’t rape, it’s fucking without a condom on” (“Splatter” on the Radical mixtape) or “Take Jade on vacation / the hotel turns from Heartbreak to Bates quick / rippin’ out braids with bare hands amazes” (“Kill” off of the Earl mixtape) are all over the place. Popular music has no place for “told her pastor he was a faggot and he likes John,” but we find ourself in a world where bands like this can end up popular.
Which is where GOBLIN comes in. It’s the very first Odd Future production to be released in a physical form, and Tyler, The Creator’s second record. It takes up the mantle of the therapy-session-style that made Bastard really special. As a hip-hop record, though, it’s a special case; the beats are sickly and propulsive, but the album doesn’t exactly have any choruses to speak of. Tyler’s style has refined itself, and it has become less about shock value, and more about the strange downsides of the group’s new-found time in the spotlight: “I still live with my grandmother / I sell out shows in London just to end up on couches / I fucking hate my life, and when I make that announcement / My hero calls my phone just to put that in doubt then.” The lyrics on the record are still undeniably violent (“I’m stabbing any blogging faggot hipster with a Pitchfork”), but even those lyrics have, in most places, taken a backseat to Tyler’s personal inner struggle. The therapy session format, interspersed with his therapist prompting questions (A style that made Bastard something feel fresh, and still works well here) leads to more and more introspective lyrics. He borrows a lot of the inward rapping that made Eminem sound fresh when The Marshal Mathers LP was released, and it makes it truly unlike anything released in a good while. I could go on endlessly about how the microcosm of “Yonkers” may be the best hip-hop track that will be released this year, but it almost feels unnecessary. The song lurches forward in the best possible way, propelled by a sickly and tense beat hand-produced by Tyler himself, and it’s genuinely the best thing in his already stunning catalog of songs.
Tyler experiments more with themes and styles (“Transylvania” plays with a vampire theme, and believe me it’s better [and funnier] than it sounds), and for the most part the experimentation works wonderfully. “Her” is a strangely touching, slowed down gem about unrequited love, where “Window,” an 8-minute guest-filled tower of song largely about the group’s humble beginnings, builds itself off of a slow-burning synth line. The message of the album, however, is much more bleak than any of the group’s work previously. The album’s final three tracks (four if you count the instrumental “AU79” between “Window” and “Golden”) are each grisly and shocking, even with the constant refrain of “We on top of the world” running through “Window.” The closing track, “Golden,” grows steadily more and more frantic and angry, and the tension feels real, even though the scenario is fabricated. It’s evocative, but it’s beautiful.
I could talk about the problems with the record, but it feels like nitpicking. The track “Fish” feels slightly cheap, and “Analog,” a good song in its own right, feels slightly wrong for the record. The absence of Earl stings on this record; it feels as though the album would be flawless with him, though this isn’t exactly a “problem.”
The real problem I can find is that he feels too heavy-handed and stale almost every time he makes a point to say, basically, “this isn’t real,” with the most egregious example coming at the very beginning of “Radicals”: “Hey, don’t do anything that I say in this song, okay? It’s fuckin’ fiction. If anything happens, don’t fuckin’ blame me, white America.” It works slightly better on “Goblin”: “Okay, you guys caught me: I’m not a rapist, or a serial killer. I LIED.” However, at the same time, his concern is just; Odd Future is getting the recognition they deserve, but if they’re going to make it, they need to watch their backs when they spit the lyrics they tend to, lest they end up like Eminem or Marilyn Manson.
Goblin is a flawed and patchy work, but it feels better as a work, rather than a series of songs, much like Bastard. This is a truly perfect start for Tyler, The Creator and Odd Future as a commodity (as awful as that may sound), and it’s a great stepping-stone up to the fame that will greet OF when they hone their skills. If they keep putting out works like this, I’m going to stay this excited about their music, which I love feeling.