Tyler, the Creator :: Goblin
Author: Eric Sirota
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, the California-based rap collective,
which Tyler founded and leads, largely made up of kids twenty and
younger, has generated a lot of controversy, and rightfully so. Tyler and his
crew say some pretty fucked up shit, and they say it pretty often. They
kill. They rape. They degrade women and gay people constantly. "Faggot" is
their dis' of choice. Or maybe it's "bitch." Or "cunt." Saying Tyler's
language is jarring, is like saying Manute Bol was tall. Tyler's language is
appalling, through and through, on nearly every song, whether the song is
violent ("Transylvania"), romantic ("She"), or introspective ("Golden").
That Tyler employs bigoted and venomous language, however, does not
necessarily warrant criticism. There is a difference between "disturbing"
and "offensive." Plenty of great art is disturbing - some of it because it
creates characters and imagery that employ repugnant viewpoints and means of
expression. It would seem to miss the point to, for example, dismiss Silence
of the Lambs as a depraved romanticizing of violence, as to do so would
conflate Lecter's viewpoints with that of the film itself. This is by no
means to say that the marketplace of ideas should lack filters. But the
question we are asking should not be: does this piece of art employ
offensive ideas and language? The proper question is: what is this piece of
Not that this is terribly ameliorating, but the primary aim of "Goblin" is
certainly not to celebrate bigotry. Rather "Goblin" is, first and foremost,
an exploration of iconoclasm. The deeper this exploration is, the more
successful "Goblin" is. Sometimes Tyler triumphantly celebrates rebellion.
On "Radicals," he screams the album's partial-thesis: "kill people, burn
shit, fuck school," explaining that he isn't saying people should actually
go commit crimes, but rather they should just do what they want to do. But
rallying cries such as "Radicals" only work because they are placed together
on "Goblin" with more personal explorations of rebellion. The album's opener
- the title track - finds Tyler engaged in a starkly vulnerable conversation
with a therapist. In this instance, his anger and rebellion are not
prescriptive. Rather, they are symptomatic - and, in turn, perpetuating of -
his confused and isolated existence. The beat is an eerily minimalist melody
over almost invisible percussion.
He returns to this structure on the
album's closer, "Golden," in which Tyler's anger is much more a desperate
wail than a call-to-arms. "She" and, especially, "Her," the two explicitly
romantic tracks , again explore the intersection of loneliness, anger and
rebellion. It is in these explorations that Tyler offers himself as a
fascinating character, albeit a largely autobiographical one. Tyler's
bigoted language, in these instances, seems first and foremost a
manifestation of this character, and not a advocacy of hatred in any
prescriptive sense (though the reactionary nature of this bigoted language
is, nonetheless, hypocritical, as will be discussed).
The album really goes off the reigns when the Creator uses his subversion as
a thinly veiled excuse for torture porn. "Transylvania" finds Tyler, overly
exaggerating his normally compelling growling baritone, listing the horrible
things he wants to do to women. As Salon.com stated about the movie
Hannibal, this song somehow manages to be both repugnant and boring. The
same can be said for "Fish," a fantastical and perverse, yet still
un-inventive, mix of T.M.I. rape fantasies and juvenile misogyny. Tyler hits
his mark when he convinces his audience that they can somehow relate to his
darkness, but songs like these, instead, portray Tyler as a generic
sociopath - a character probably too under-developed for even real
sociopaths to relate to.
Odd Future's constant use of homophobic slurs is also problematic,
particularly because, ironically, it trades actual iconoclasm for mainstream
appeal. OF portray themselves as a gang of misfits that make music for angry
and abandoned youth. It is hard to think of a group of young people more
abandoned than gay kids with unaccepting parents. Yet, instead of embracing,
or even passively allowing for this potential alliance, Tyler bends to the
mainstream perception of gays. What could be more mainstream, and less
subversive, than homophobia? He should take a page from fellow OFWGKTA
member Frank Ocean, who boldly states on "We All Try" off of "Nostalgia/Ultra"
that "I believe marriage isn't between a man and woman, but
between love and love." Now that's subversion.
Still, bigotry is not central to this album. All that is central to this
album is anger. Sometimes this anger is ugly and interesting. Sometimes it
is shallow and shocking. But something tells me that, while I have no
trouble dismissing loads of offensive hip-hop, I won't be able to write this
one off so easily.
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: May 24, 2011
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