To say that Tyler, The Creator has undergone a transformation would be an understatement. Where the former auteur of Odd Future had created deranged works filled with angst and teenage edge like Bastard and Goblin, he then sought to withdraw from the darkness and rebrand himself in the light with his previous release, Flower Boy. While not being a huge fan of the execution of many jazz-rap albums that followed in the wake of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, like the aforementioned Flower Boy, or Mac Miller’s lackadaisical The Divine Feminine, I find myself very impressed with Tyler’s new direction.
Where Flower Boy often felt overly self-indulgent and contrived in its role as Tyler’s “transformative album”, IGOR, feels more subtle and genuine. A big reason for this is Tyler doesn’t go out of his way to explain this to the listener, where Flower Boy does it right out of the gate on “Where This Flower Blooms”. This is definitely a different Tyler and he doesn’t have to wear it on his sleeve to get the point across. Or perhaps there isn’t a point? Maybe this is just a demonstration of the natural progression Tyler has seen in his career. Either way, it works a lot better and is reflected in the better artistic decisions made on IGOR.
Tyler has taken a different approach on this album that is akin to one of his idol’s, Kanye West, on his 2016 album The Life of Pablo. Where Kanye’s prior album, Yeezus, had Kanye front and center at all times, The Life of Pablo saw him step back and give the spotlight to other artists who he used as his muses and vectors for his creative process, such as using Chance the Rapper as his vassal on “Ultralight Beam” or giving Post Malone more of an underline bold font than any other artist on the track “Fade”. Kanye was rarely the focal point on a lot of the runtime of The Life of Pablo. IGOR is very similar in the way that Tyler has assumed the role of a mad dungeon master, pulling strings and orchestrating the album from above, bending his guests to his will. The first artist to vocalize on the album is Lil Uzi Vert on the intro track, “IGOR’S THEME”, which may be Tyler’s best singular piece of music to date, before longtime collaborator Kali Uchis joins Tyler and Uzi in a following chorus with all of their voices distorted to Tyler’s specifications. On the next track, comparably, Dev Hynes and Playboi Carti show up with much more presence on the song than Tyler himself. That isn’t to say this different position Tyler has taken has made it any less of his album. To the contrary, his fingerprints are all over this from the top to the bottom and every guest feels like yet another instrument at Tyler’s disposal.
It isn’t until the third track, “I THINK”, that Tyler is front and center. And even then he is heavily complimented by Solange on the bittersweet romance song. Which highlights a recurring motif on the album, that even when Tyler places himself in the spotlight, he almost always has one of his muses besides him. Whether it’s Frank Ocean, A$AP ROCKY, or Kanye West himself, even in this orchestrator position, he doesn’t want to go through whatever it is he’s going through alone, even when withdrawn in himself and it is reflected in the album. And it makes sense since at its core, IGOR is a breakup album. From the early tracks that have Tyler casting himself in a monster’s image, begging a certain individual not to leave on “EARFQUAKE” and “NEW MAGIC WAND” to the bittersweet ending tracks “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE” and “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”, Tyler paints a loose narrative of a crumbling relationship and the fallout that comes with it.
The production on the album is ace and comfortably the best Tyler has ever created. Where Flower Boy was very one dimensional with its jazz and soul influences, Tyler does a lot more and takes these ideas and many other interesting directions on IGOR. Rarely is the album predictable and is constantly engaging. From the distorted intro synths to intentionally rough aesthetic on “EARFQUAKE” and the distorted guitar and a use of percussion that would make RZA proud on “WHAT’S GOOD”, IGOR is the most sonically dynamic album in Tyler’s catalog, taking the listener down multiple paths in the mad man Tyler’s maze that rarely end in dead ends. The album is bursting with layers of impressive synthwork, soul samples, and beat switches that earn their place in these songs and don’t feel like a shoehorned way to break up monotony.
IGOR continues to play around with the soundscapes that Tyler flirted with on Flower Boy, like the sweet jazz and soul samples filtered into neo soul, but with a tinge of who Tyler is at his core. The album takes the listener through the devastating early stages of the end of a relationship-with denial and pleading-and leads them to an inevitable end that leaves more questions than answers. There is no closure in the final moments of IGOR; much like there is often none in the twilight hours of a relationship. This makes IGOR more genuinely harrowing than any of the “darker” music from his discography. Nothing causes a core-of-your-soul pain the way that a love lost does, and that is where the beauty of this album comes from and where a real light shines.
Highlights: “IGOR’S THEME”, “EARFQUAKE”, “NEW MAGIC WAND”, “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”