Tyler, the Creator Aims for Disgust, Contempt, and Empathy All at Once on ‘IGOR’

IGOR - Tyler, The Creator
IGOR - Tyler, The Creator
Tyler, The Creator’s beautiful, dark twisted fantasy takes the center stage on IGOR, a surprising record that challenges expectations sonically and thematically that, despite its expansiveness, still demands much less of the listener than Igor demands of him.

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There are moments on Tyler, the Creator’s latest release, IGOR, that play out like roadkill: they’re so ugly and disfigured that you can’t help but stare. This has long been a hallmark of the former Odd Future rapper’s style—abstract and minimal songs full of violent and radical sentiments. And yet, the California artist has undergone a dramatic transformation of sorts in the past few years, starting with 2015’s abrasive and ambitious Cherry Bomb. Tyler’s next record, Flower Boy, was much tenderer than anything he had released before, and its accessible jazz/soul rap sound and occasionally ambiguous lyrical content spawned a massive interest in his personal life and increasingly fluid sexual orientation.

Tyler, The Creator – IGOR

Even for a musician whose most striking compositions often encompass experimental aesthetics, IGOR comes remarkably far out of left-field. Without the help of many guest appearances (though miraculously Solange helps out with backing vocals on a number of songs), Tyler is able to assume the identity of Igor, a monstrous, selfish, and undesirable iteration of his own persona that is at once devastated, confused, and angry over a relationship gone wrong. Yes, this is Tyler’s breakup record, but he pulls it off in such a way that it will sidestep practically any comparisons to Frank Ocean’s Blond(e), another breakup-themed album that Tyler had a hand in creating.

The execution of this concept on IGOR is perfect, and every sound is calculated, carefully curated, and purposeful; even the visual aesthetic Tyler has adopted for this era makes perfect sense—the album cover and Tyler’s unique wig which may be similar to those glueless lace wigs, pantsuit, and sunglasses outfit allow him to create a little bit of breathing room between himself and the character of Igor, a crucial decision that pushes Tyler much deeper inside of his creation.

The sound of the record is what cements everything together, intertwining California synth-funk with explosive industrial rap beats. One of the best examples of this is “NEW MAGIC WAND,” a loud and freewheeling track that showcases Tyler’s scream-rapping at times and his dynamic vocal range at others. Tyler actually raps very little on IGOR, and when he does take up the mic for rhymes, his voice is often pitched up so high that he sounds like a child; innocent but complicit nonetheless in his endeavors.

The record is less genre-less than many have made it out to be—it exists solidly within the traditions of funk, r&b, and hip hop music—but it finds Tyler distilling the sounds that comprised his most recent records into a holistic and unique product. The most distinct characteristics of IGOR are perhaps its abrupt yet brilliantly paced shifts between heavy hitting trap-inflected beats and smooth-sailing funk segues, often without even adding in new instruments. Tyler’s songwriting skills are so advanced that he can make two entirely different vibes coexist in the same song without even changing much of the track’s DNA.

Tyler, The Creator © 2019

Much has been made of Tyler’s sexuality since Flower Boy, but here he more or less takes for granted that his audience doesn’t need much information. He unabashedly uses masculine pronouns on this record, but beyond that does not really touch on his orientation. It’s a bold minimization of a topic that his rabid fan base has debated for years now, speaking volumes about how invasive such discussions can be for an artist’s personal life. But because this is a breakup album, and his private life is somewhat relevant, songs like “A BOY IS A GUN*” permit Tyler to sincerely convey the truths of his identity without making a show of it.

That track’s sample-driven production is relatively straightforward, leaving Tyler with nothing flashy to hide behind. Tyler’s direct lyrics here—“You so motherfuckin’ dangerous/ You got me by my neck,” or, “Oh, you passive-aggressive? Oh, you fakin’ you’re mad?/ Oh, you wanna go home? Cool, you better call you a cab”—are emotionally vivid and upsetting. Igor has taken over and is acting on Tyler’s behalf in a way that nobody wants to identify with, but everyone inevitably does.

Igor is a phenomenally nuanced character, though, and does not solely represent the worst of Tyler’s personality. Many parts of this record are genuinely moving in a wide variety of ways and even find Tyler at his most playful. On the closing track “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”, a twisted, soul-baring love song, when Tyler shouts to his former love, “Smell you later!” and harmonizes “later” several times, it might easily move you to tears. On the opening track “IGOR’S THEME” Tyler hardly utters a word, instead, giving the spotlight to Lil Uzi Vert, who sings a sticky, repetitive melody over a heavy metal-influenced instrumental. Most of the song’s lyrics are simply, “Ridin’ ‘round town, they gon’ feel this one”—this is no lie, and is meant quite literally. Tyler even requested that people listen to this album in its entirety while, for instance, driving, in order for its emotional weight to fully sink in.

The next song, lead single “EARFQUAKE,” finds Tyler and Playboi Carti (who, rest assured, utilizes his signature baby voice) trading verses revolving around Tyler’s heartbreak, with a syrupy sweet, yet deeply distorted, trap beat driving them both to drop some of their most melodic bars. “Don’t leave, it’s my fault”, Tyler repeats on the hook, his palpable desperation fueling much of what he communicates.

Watch: “EARFQUAKE” – Tyler, The Creator

The emotional trauma that Igor endures prompts a variety of inconsistencies throughout the record that are entirely intentional, but disorienting nonetheless. He screeches “I don’t love you anymore!” on the penultimate song of the same name, without meaning a word of it. On “PUPPET,” Tyler sings, “I’m your puppet/ You control me,” a significant shift from some other parts of the record where Igor seeks complete control over the relationship. (As a side note, the irony of Kanye West appearing so languidly on a track called “PUPPET” after his recent political engagement is thankfully not ignored—the official lyrics that Tyler has shared state: “KANYE LYRICS CANNOT BE TRANSCRIBED.”)

His jealousy at being snubbed by his lover for a woman manifests itself on “GONE, GONE”: “I just hope to God she got good taste/ Could put you on some shit you never seen/ Could play a couple songs that you could dance to/ I hope you know she can’t compete with me.” Igor prods Tyler further into his narcissism, and the gravity of his disappointment stings.

In the end, IGOR is an exciting, unpredictable, and restless project that Tyler clearly poured his all into. His recent car crash—allegedly caused by clocking too many hours in the studio—is referenced on “WHAT’S GOOD,” and, according to the way Tyler frames it, he evidently becomes consumed in his work to an extent that few artists truly allow themselves: “That car crash couldn’t take me (Woo, ha)/ Green haired angels all around me (Uh)/ No answer why, no tears to cry, bitch, I’m alive (I see the)/ That wasn’t my endpoint like v-neck/ I ain’t have nobody to cheat on, I cheat death/ New album, no repeat, I reset.”

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:: stream IGOR here ::

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an album by Tyler, The Creator

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