Tyler The Creator
, May 10th, 2011 04:56
Our friend and writer for The Stool Pigeon and this organ Kev Kharas recently went to interview Tyler The Creator. The mewling twit (Mr Creator not the Boy Kharas) threw such a passive-aggressive fit at having to do what his English label XL had flown him in from America to do (promote his fairly decent new album Goblin), thus preventing him from going outside in the sunshine to play, that he smashed his own skateboard to pieces. He later called his interrogator a "faggot" on Twitter. Most people should be able to judge whether Tyler The Creator is for them or not based solely on this information, thus side-stepping the whole "rape" and "faggots" "controversy". For Tyler The Creator is 20 years old, and you are probably not. You could be forgiven for not realizing the awesome creeping horror of 'Nightmare', a swirling whirlpool of David Lynch and HP Lovecraft meet Company Flow sickness, was made by one so young. But, on the other hand, there's the insufferable misogyny of 'She', which is the hyuck-hyuck locker room humour of insecure young men at its worst - imagine mainstream smooth R&B that liberally calls the object of its desires "cunt". Elsewhere Tyler jokes that raping a pregnant woman is like having a threesome. Oh Oscar, with these bon mots, you are really spoiling us.
Why can't we have the former without the latter, people perhaps not unreasonably ask? Well, if this was the case, it's probably a given that broadsheet journalists like Hermione Hoby (for the Guardian) and (mea culpa) rock critics like myself would less likely to be writing about him. I could act like a Daily Mail journalist blustering away in outrage with one eye on the readership figures but this level of nihilism and disgust in modern popular music isn't even particularly that novel. Y'know, compared to Ill Bill or Anal Cunt. (It's amusing to hear Tyler get his panties in a twist over people calling his music horrorcore. Yeah, I'm so sorry for offending you by slightly mis-classifying your subgenre of hip hop: It's backpacker hip hop with Southern/horrorcore hip hop and witch house stylings.) There's nothing quite as lame as pedestrian transgression though. At its worst, Goblin is like a Jimmy Carr or Russell Brand stand-up routine with lots of neat, well-executed internal rhymes. Did you hear the one about the rapist? If only there was only one but there's a whole hour's worth here. Isn't it time for some real transgression? The gay Wu Tang Clan. Now that's something that would stop everyone dead in their tracks. We need rap's answer to Gaahl, now more than ever.
So what's the music like? Well, it's alright. If you've heard anything by Tyler before it's probably the Goth Wang anthem 'Sandwitches' (ft Hodgy Beats), which is so cheap and nasty sounding it's probably causing a whole new abyssal depth of offence to analogue synthesizer obsessives. Likewise the infectious beat of 'Yonkers', but they both pale into insignificance next to 'Fish', which has rapping as good as you're likely to hear all year. And lyrical content as abysmal as you're likely to hear in the same time period, given that it's breaking new ground in the field of extended fisherman/rapist metaphors. But, y'know, Tyler had an absent dad, or his dad beat him or something. He was perhaps lacking in firm moral guidance and now just look at his desensitization. Look at it! Dude, he's waving it in your face! It's palpable! Tyler always reminds me of the Cali punk coughing up blood after a hashed liquor store robbery in Alex Cox's Repo Man: "The lights are growing dim. I know a life of crime led me to this sorry fate. And yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am." Just to have Emilio Estevez tell him: "That's bullshit! You're a white suburban punk, just like me." Except Tyler is a black, suburban middle class skater. He is a brilliant rapper. He is genuinely miles ahead in his field. It's just that this is the fairly narrow field of teen nihilism: his medium is getting upset about having to tidy his room. He's Tracey Emin in a green balaclava.
"Kill people burn shit fuck school" is the refrain of 'Radical'. It's the kind of lame-arsed sentiment you'd hear on a recent Marilyn Manson or Insane Clown Posse track. Distorted vocals and sub sub sub Salem gothic synths and stumbling crunk beats make the first half appalling, mere new nu-metal for lazy mall nihilists. About half way through the seven minute running time - around the time Tyler utters the priceless line "I'm a fucking unicorn. Fuck anyone who says I'm not" - the track dissolves into limpid-Plaid style electronica with voices intoning gently, "You gotta let 'em go." For such a supposed badass, Tyler actually spends a lot of this song in exposition mode: "I'm not saying just to go out and do some stupid shit [like] commit crimes." He goes to lengths to explain to young acolytes that his credo is one of self-will, rather than mindlessness. A fair few of the songs here come in different "parts" or "movements" and it's so long it will try the patience of most but the fanatical. It's backpack rap's Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. You really could cut the final four songs without losing much of the effect at all.
However, Goblin revels in constantly pulling the rug from under your feet and is actually brilliant in this respect. Just when you think you're about to smash something in inchoate rage, the lyrical conceits reaching a lysergic level of offensiveness and occasionally outright (if guilty) hilarity. You hit an unexpected lucid interval, where he lays it out straight for you: "Random Disclaimer. Hey. Don't do anything I say in this song Ok? It's fucking fiction. If anything happens don't blame me white America." But then this is also tiresome late post-modernism taken to its conclusion. There is no objective truth anymore. Nothing can be pinned down to any one meaning: "I'm a fucking walking paradox - no I'm not." As his shrink says: "You're gonna have to cut down on using that word." Causing Tyler to sigh: "I'm not homophobic... faggot."
The person who Tyler The Creator reminds me of the most is not Eminem at his Relapse-era most amoral; certainly not the Geto Boys, Necro, 2LiveCrew, Cannibal Corpse, or Whitehouse. Neither is it Anal Cunt, XXXManiak, GG Alin, or Gorerotted. Instead, its Charles Bukowski. On one hand this Redondo Beach bum was a truly objectionable misogynist who wrote about rape, violence against women and "low sex" (amongst other subjects) to portray the "truth" or "authenticity" of his lifestyle as much as to wind up liberals and feminists. His dead-eyed ability to cause offence belied the myth of him being a chaotic drunk. On the other hand his poetry and prose certainly was a breath of fresh air in the 1970s and 1980s. Bukowski, who Jean Paul Sartre called America's most important living poet, was always a scourge of modern American literature, even when he was hopelessly off point and out of order (a not infrequent occurrence). He was a one man war against pretension, laziness, softness caused by easy living, hypocrisy and payola. Tyler is arguably in the same position as regards mainstream hip hop. Clearly not that interested in money and all the other aspirational trappings some rappers stand for, he talks disinterestedly of ignoring emails from the GZA and Plain Pat. Try listening to Goblin straight after Tim Westwood's Radio 1Xtra show and you may think he has a point.
Yet was this really his intention? If he wants to reach a hip hop audience why did he turn down the XXL Freshmen cover but agree to pucker up for NME? (The most genuinely shocking thing about this album for me is the way it graphically illustrates the hyper-acceleration of culture that we live in. Less than a week after NME's cover I'm sitting here listening to a substantial part of Goblin that deals with the "pressures of fame" already. There's no point in enjoying it for three or four weeks when you might as well move straight into the angst-ridden, 'no one understands how hard it is being me' phase. Expect him to buy a salmon farm before Xmas.)
Goblin is art in the same way that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' Murder Ballads or Brett Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero are and to deny it such a status, could reasonably be seen as racism. Rather than feeling sorry for Tyler however we should recognize that he's exploiting a loophole more than creating something for the ages. It's 'Art' but it's relatively artless, like Sarah Lucas positioning a kebab on a soiled mattress to look like a vagina, then running an eye listlessly over the column inches that throb in its presence. The thing is though, I'm not even remotely interested in being entertained by rape rap, no matter how clever or dumb, which is why now that I've said how sonically intriguing and pretty decent this album is, I'm going to delete it permanently from my hard drive. After a day of listening to it, I've had enough of it and the bad taste that it leaves in my mouth. The truth of the matter is that there's every chance the word "faggot" will probably become completely acceptable soon in the same way that "bitch" did in the 1990s. Rape jokes are once again acceptable to most. Language use change is inevitable and organic. My participation in these processes isn't.