When gravel-voiced rapper Tyler, The Creator threatens suicide, as he does often on Goblin, his first commercially released album, it’s difficult to tell whether to take him seriously. The 20-year-old leader of the nihilistic Los Angeles rap crew Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, Tyler raps primarily to shock and offend—the countless think-pieces he’s incited this year testify to his success on those fronts—but between his sour-humored fantasies of rape and slaughter, he hints at honest psychological wounds. When he raps “Let’s buy guns and kill kids with dads and mom, and nice homes with 401Ks and nice-ass lawns” on “Sandwitches,” he may be expressing real hurt, venting the jealousy of an alienated kid still stinging from the rejection of his absentee father. Or he may just be trying to get a rise, which is certainly the case on “Tron Cat,” where he distastefully snarks, “Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome.” If there are actual cries for help on Goblin, they’re camouflaged by outlandish vitriol.
Even more than Tyler’s 2009 debut Bastard, Goblin has stretches of virtuosic inspiration amid patches of extreme self-indulgence. At 73 minutes, it’s overlong, occasionally repetitious, and sometimes detestably juvenile, yet those excesses do little to detract from the raw talent on display. Tyler is a fierce rapper, rhyming in swells of compounding punchlines, and he’s an equally gifted producer, composing grim, creeping beats with a minimalism that’s part Neptunes, part John Carpenter. His unexpectedly soft touch lends a haunted elegance to laments like “Nightmare” and “Her.” Brash and unwieldy as it seems on the surface, Goblin is a deliberately crafted work of art, one of the densest and most provocative statements independent rap has produced in years.