When Tyler, the Creator (Tyler Okonma) released his fifth studio album into the hands of an eager public, we had no inkling of what the colorful artist would be handing over. Mere hours before “IGOR” dropped, Tyler uploaded a post on Instagram that said, “Don’t go into this expecting a rap album. Don’t go into this expecting any album. Just go, jump into it. I believe the first listen works best all the way through, no skips. Front to back,” and fans were mystified. Was this a fully instrumental work of art, or was the Michelangelo of pop culture holding out on a genre swap?
With the element of surprise on his side, and with sincere dedication dripping from his public service announcement, whatever gift Tyler, the Creator had in store was sure to deliver grace and, hopefully, his signature sarcastic attitude. But “IGOR” proved to be anything but ordinary for the former Odd Future frontman. Dare I say it? This might be his most impressive body of work to date.
Following the 2017 dreamlike, illusion-fueled “Flower Boy” that propelled the 28-year-old artist into serious critical acclaim, “IGOR” throws the artist even further into dedicated production mode. Reminiscent of Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s audio art piece, “Kids See Ghosts,” this collection has no single meant to be plucked from its brothers and sisters and exhausted on hit radio stations, which makes it that much more powerful.
Albums that work better collectively have to muster the strength to tell an entire narrative, from start to finish, rather than bouncing around to find bop after bop. In this case, “IGOR” passionately denounces past feelings of lustful elation, describing the polarizing highs and lows of a fated relationship/love triangle. Here are some more detailed highlights of the collection.
The narrative structure of this album is no small feat. From the hard-hitting opening track, “IGOR’S THEME,” that establishes the central lyrical and musical themes he will riff on, to the emotionally turbulent “RUNNING OUT OF TIME” and vengefully charged “NEW MAGIC WAND,” all of the songs on the album work cohesively to illustrate the painful reality of unrequited love.
The storyline artfully details how he has fallen for a man who wishes to return to his female partner, rather than continuing to be with the singer, and his anguish becomes clear with lyrics like, “I hope you know she can’t compete with me” on “GONE GONE / THANK YOU” and “Stop lying’ to yourself, I know the real you / You never lived in your truth” on “RUNNING OUT OF TIME.”
Songs like “EARFQUAKE” and “I THINK” tackle raw emotions that brought the singer to never-before-seen depths. “NEW MAGIC WAND” refers to the tricks that Tyler may have up his sleeve to win back the object of his affection. It’s a straightforward and direct song, in which he shouts rather than sings, and begs to escape his place in limbo: “You under oath, now pick a side and if you don’t / I’ll pick you both / It’s not a joke, murder she wrote.”
From there, you get “A BOY IS A GUN,” which, as the title suggests, is a turbulent piece. Blame goes to both sides; why does Tyler keep falling for someone who is not emotionally ready? And why does this lover cling to him?
Just like a gun can be pointed both ways, this song ponders these dueling sides. It’s obvious that he’s upset with the status of the relationship, and at the end we hear a big F-you when he says, “I’ma leave us as friends … I don’t wanna see you again / Stay the f—k away from me.”
In-between tracks, like “PUPPET” and “WHAT’S GOOD,” carry you through the egocentric main character’s mindset and lead into to the following three tracks (“GONE GONE/ THANK YOU,” “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE” and “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”), which evoke feelings of understanding, willingness to move on and a sincere plea that no potential was wasted on this fling.
With a finishing line of “You’re too cool for me,” it’s clear that the artist never felt secure in their relationship, and that he struggled to find justification for his feelings toward his more dominant counterpart — like the album’s title, “IGOR,” suggests.
A New Sound, Again
After the release of “Flower Boy” in 2017, Odd Future fans were astonished by Tyler’s creative growth and flourishing maturity — he had seemingly dropped his previous, chaotic alter-egos and tongue-in-cheek sarcastic commentary for a more mature, remixed sound.
“IGOR” follows that newfound sound through new genre overlaps. Rolling Stone wrote that the album is a “rich and messy mélange of R&B, funk and rap,” with synth-heavy backgrounds and star-powered features from artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Kanye West and Solange.
With this new musical identity comes the shedding of the prior one, which will mean a few tear-stained pillows; but while there are only a few freestyles that you can try to recreate in the car (with a small success rate), there are definitely some head-banging and toe-tapping tunes laced throughout the album to satisfy your needs.
But these rap-centered bangers (“NEW MAGIC WAND” and “WHAT’S GOOD”) are more the exception than the rule; Tyler’s sound is uncompromisable and never fully conforms to one style.
Tyler considers himself a jack-of-all-trades: producer, rapper, singer and songwriter. And it works; where his vocals fall flat, his unique remixes and background instrumentals pick him up, and when the melody and the mixing feel lacking, his voice carries the song.
Perhaps one of the most spellbinding aspect of “IGOR” is its untouchable flow. The Instagram PSA holds true; there should be nothing else distracting you when you listen to the confessions of a love-entranced Tyler. Each emotional conclusion attaches itself to the next jam, making them interchangeable.
You may find yourself dumbfounded about how you ended up on the third track, after starting the first in the same place — this will happen often, and it’s a beautiful experience. Much like the way you have no recollection about how you ended up in such a wondrous or disastrous situation, “IGOR” capitalizes on the fluidity of life and uses it as a vantage point.
On his fifth studio album, Tyler, the Creator has decided to metamorphose into a full-blown storyteller and production master. I was in awe of the dedication, love and pure emotion he put into this body of work, and the complexity of these songs is obvious.
Listening to “IGOR” is like watching a movie with no pictures, just dialogue, and it’s a transcendent performance.