On the final track of his most recent album, “IGOR,” Tyler, The Creator poses a question: “Are we still friends? Can we be friends?”
Built upon a beautiful Al Green sample, the song “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” is a perfect summation of the awkward and vulnerable aspects of love. More specifically, it’s a failed and complicated type of love — an experience that Tyler, The Creator seems all too familiar with at this point.
Over the course of “IGOR’s” 40-minute runtime, the LA-based rapper and producer chronicles the highs and lows of a romantic relationship, all with a close attention to detail and a knack for vibrant beats.
It’s essentially a concept album, or at least it progresses in a linear fashion. Tyler’s musical protagonist falls in love near the beginning of the album on “I THINK.” Just a few songs later, he sees that same love slip away on “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU.”
He drew on a similar theme for 2017’s acclaimed “Flower Boy,” an album that acted as both a critical high point and a testament to Tyler’s lasting talent and vision. Crafting a colorful hip-hop landscape, he contrasted lyrical themes of loneliness and longing with bright rays of analog sunshine.
On this new album, however, Tyler does away with the sun-soaked beauty and instead dips all of his emotions into a thick, murky sludge. The finished product comes out wet and dripping. But “IGOR” relishes in its own grime, so much that it becomes its own strength.
On the opening track, “IGOR’S THEME,” the dirtiest synth bass imaginable holds out for a good 20 seconds before any other instrument kicks in.
The song’s lyrics, sung by an uncredited Kali Uchis and Lil Uzi Vert, speak to the nature of the album, caught halfway between the emotional and the visceral: “They gon’ feel this one.”
Later on, Tyler packs a punch on “WHAT’S GOOD,” the most confrontational track on the album. Here, he is most confident, referencing his own shoe brand and rapping about how it’s “hard to believe in God when there ain't no mirrors around.”
But on “EARFQUAKE” he is more sentimental, allowing for one of the most danceable tracks on the entire record.
As usual, Tyler mines from a deep well of influences; however, he often bends his source material to fit into his own, unique aesthetic. When sampling artists from the ‘70s and ‘80s, he reaches for the crackliest records available. Even a guest appearance from Kanye West on “PUPPET” comes through warped and almost unnoticed.
Even Tyler, as a character, feels less present on this record. In a 2017 interview, following the release of “Flower Boy,” he said he “wanted to produce and just have people sing.”
He continues with that concept on this album, clearing room for a titular alter-ego, who is just as flawed and hurt as his creator. But similar to Kafka with his creation of Gregor Samsa in “The Metamorphosis,” Tyler is able to achieve a more authentic portrayal, despite the layer of distance between protagonist and author.
“Igor” functions well as a complete package. As Tyler himself stated in a note following the release of his new album: “I believe the first listen works best all the way through, no skips … full attn [sic] towards the sounds where you can form your own opinions and feelings towards the album.”
Coming from the artist, this is a little pretentious. But with “IGOR,” in addition to an extremely fruitful career thus far, Tyler, The Creator has earned it.
After over a decade of cockroach snacking and minutaur rapping, the wry, L.A.-based rapper/producer Tyler, the Creator has taken on many monikers, using them to magnify aspects of his Rubik’s Cube-like persona. There was the menacing Wolf Haley, Ace the Creator, the violent Tron Cat, the introverted Sam and, later, the shimmering Flower Boy. He often delves into these aspects of himself to inspire his next work. He gets fixated on these characters, usually resulting in an immersive soundtrack.
His newest identity and subsequent record, “IGOR,” presents Tyler seemingly at odds with himself. Having grown out of the edgy and angsty throes of his earlier work, his recent repertoire has lamented on his romantic relationships. “IGOR” is more of that. But while “Flower Boy” painted beautiful portraits with soothing synth play, “IGOR” is a stark juxtaposition. His tone is fraught with guilt and, in comparison, it’s as much of a deformity as its title suggests.
It seems that Tyler’s long, winding pursuit of N.E.R.D.-inspired dittys has been fully met and laid to rest with “Flower Boy.” Now that style is becoming more of a color on his palate as opposed to the canvas itself. “IGOR” flirts with hip-hop (It even features a handful of samples, which is a hip-hop practice Tyler didn’t partake in for awhile); it’s a stirring mix of grimey and pretty and, at times, it eats at a similar kind of pop Animal Collective was in the late 2000s.
“IGOR” is inflated with low-frequency, finely distorted synths and foundational chord progressions that work as healthy bones for Tyler’s fleshy raps and whimpers. Yet, like with other “Igors” of the past, it’s body is lumpy and disfigured. Beat switches are commonplace, especially in hip hop, but “IGOR” employs them as a rejection of traditional song structures, not to say they’re without substance. Tracks change and end unexpectedly; “I THINK” switches between club-focused rhythms and whirling jazz keyboard riffs; “PUPPET,” featuring Kanye West, throws its well-crafted momentum away near the end in exchange for a detached choir and siren synth; “EARFQUAKE,” a standout track featuring a steady verse from Playboi Carti, ends mid-wail.
Tyler’s stuck on love again. But along with the pitfalls that come with that, an underlying narrative of self-forgiveness and self-acceptance is embedded throughout as he comes to terms with his ambiguous sexuality and the end of a relationship. “WHAT’S GOOD” puts it as nonchalant as “Dracula, Dracula, Dracula / Suck me first, I might get back at ya,” but other times it weighs as heavy as the spoken word sample at the end, “I don’t know what’s harder: letting go or just being okay with it.”
As the album rounds out, so does Tyler’s relationship with an individual who is implied to be closeted, and closure sets in. Not just pertaining to the relationship (“ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”), but pertaining to himself and who he is: “You never lived in your truth, I'm just happy I lived in it / But I finally found peace, so peace,” he raps on “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU.”
“IGOR” is the process of figuring yourself out, which is never a smooth experience. It’s bumpy and changing and unexpected, but most of all, like with Tyler’s latest record, it’s freeing.