With murder-horror fantasies, a penchant for using homophobic slurs, a twisted sense for sadism and occasionally misogynistic lyrics, Tyler Okonma (Tyler, The Creator) is the embodiment of controversy. If you want to listen to him at his cringiest, but most raw and convincing, listen to his first studio album, 2011’s “Goblin,” in which Tyler raps as a fictional version of himself, who talks about his degenerate fantasies and issues to a guidance counselor.
We shouldn’t expect a guy just out of his teens to have the most mature or sensitive of lyrics – and Tyler makes damn well sure that we know that. For example, in “Yonkers,” the album’s most famous track and probably one of Tyler’s most well-produced songs, Tyler playfully raps, “I’m an over-acheiver, so how ’bout I start a team of leaders / And pick up Stevie Wonder to be the wide receiver.” Lines like these showcase Tyler at his best and most convincing: as an irreverent, offensive, but humorous and charming teenager-at-heart.
The production on the album also really shines through Tyler’s use of percussion, as seen through the hit track “She” and the previously mentioned “Yonkers.” The basslines on many of the tracks are also menacingly hypnotic, often staying in your head for minutes after listening to a track. “Analog” in particular is one of my favorite tracks on the album because of its great blend of unique synthesizers, bass and rhythm.
In other moments, Tyler isn’t as pleasant, often talking about murder and rape fantasies through the main character of his story. In the earlier mentioned example of “Yonkers,” Tyler actually insults singer Hayley Williams and rapper B.o.B. with a flurry of expletives, as well as stating that he was going to “stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn esophagus.” Even if he’s joking around, it just comes off as a random call-out and totally unneeded.
It can also really be frustrating to listen to a great talent like Tyler when he constantly uses homophobic slurs and misogynistic language to get a point across. I haven’t done an official count, but I’m pretty sure the word “bitch” is almost a constant throughout the album’s tracks. There’s even a track on the album called “Bitch Suck Dick,” although this is also pretty clearly another track Tyler made as a bad joke.
The dark style of Tyler really came into play at the end of the 00s decade, right when mainstream hip hop culture began to go in the direction of socially conscious or emotionally mature artists like Lupe Fiasco, Drake, Kid Cudi, etc.
In an era where personal issues and less traditionally masculine issues (clothing) were becoming acceptable in rap culture, Tyler and his group of hooligans in Odd Future were a big, angsty and alternative middle finger to the rest of the genre. Me and a good amount of other teenagers really identified with Tyler’s indifferent-to-fame persona at the time.
While Tyler himself may not be homophobic or sexist—he was one of the first rappers to publicly support Frank Ocean after Ocean came out earlier in the decade—his immaturity at the time in writing songs about rape (like “Tron Cat”) can detract from enjoying his music. It’s not that he’s clearly not endorsing rape or violence against people: it’s that he’s diluting his album with graphic material that stops being edgy after a first use and just becomes cliche.
“Goblin” has a few pretty great moments and is still enjoyable, but if there’s something that ages like rotten cheese, it’s the Internet-commenter-like lyrics that can become really droning after a while. That said, I’d still definitely check out a few songs from “Goblin,” while also seeing how Tyler matures in his later material.