Fans and the music industry as a whole should stop setting expectations for Tyler, the Creator because he always seems to defy them.
Before the release of his 2017 Grammy-nominated album “Flower Boy,” Tyler was known primarily for his jarring, graphic rap lyrics about homophobia and rape and his deep, gravelly voice. Media outlets defined him as a horrorcore artist, which he rebuked. You could tell Tyler had more to say, and his Pharrell Williams-inspired production spoke for itself. But his music never felt fully realized.
However, he recreated himself on “Flower Boy,” incorporating slow piano riffs and enchanting synths while exploring his vocal range and lyrical depth. He moved away from lyrics meant to shock listeners, opting for introspective ballads about loneliness, heartbreak and boredom. The album was a pleasant surprise from the artist whose previous songs were titled “Bitch Suck Dick” and “AssMilk.”
It’s now been almost two years since the release of “Flower Boy,” and Tyler has further developed his voice and individual production style. His latest album “IGOR,” which released May 17, again defied expectations.
Tyler warned listeners before the release that “IGOR” did not fall into any specific genre and to not expect a rap album. On the album, Tyler shied away from featuring frequent collaborators like Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky and Kali Uchis, instead developing a new sound and having those featured venture out of their comfort zones.
This is evident on the album’s opening track “IGOR’S THEME,” where Tyler combines synth and bass to create a dreamy soundscape for guest artist Lil Uzi Vert to sing over. Uzi is known for his high-pitched rap vocals, but his range on the song has never been heard before. Fans online speculated if it even was Uzi crooning the opening lines, “Riding ‘round they gon’ feel this one,” because his vocals are almost unrecognizable.
Tyler does not rap on the song, and the album’s first traditional rap verse isn’t even from Tyler. That honor belongs to Playboi Carti, an unexpected feature on the second track “EARFQUAKE.” While not traditional in any way, Carti’s high-pitched delivery fits perfectly alongside Tyler’s singing voice.
Not all of the album’s features work as well as Uzi and Carti’s, however. On the album’s ninth song “PUPPET,” Kanye West delivers an odd verse that sounds like it was recorded on an iPhone in a crowded train station bathroom.
I was excited when I first heard Ye’s voice creep in. After all the two haven’t worked together since Tyler’s 2015 album "Cherry Bomb." However, it quickly became apparent West’s verse was one of the album’s few production flaws. The sound mixing was off, the instrumental was far louder than the vocals and West’s voice was echoed and distorted to the point where I strained to understand him.
Tyler produced and arranged the entire album, and, aside from a few blemishes like West’s verse, “IGOR” is without a doubt his best production work to date.
On Twitter, Tyler said he’s obsessive when it comes to chord progressions and bridges in his songs, and it shows throughout all of “IGOR.” The instrumentals match his lyrics and tone. They’re jarring and aggressive on “WHAT’S GOOD” while he raps, “How the fuck you quiet with the mic on?” and melodic and sweet on the final track “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”
Tyler has progressed as a lyricist and has found full confidence in his singing voice. This is evident on tracks such as the aforementioned “EARFQUAKE,” where Tyler explores his own faults in a relationship and realizes what a lost lover meant to him. “Don’t leave/It’s my fault/Cause you make my earth quake,” Tyler sings in his Pharrell-inspired falsetto.
As a whole, the album explores a love triangle Tyler was in where he felt excluded. “This 60-40 isn’t workin’/I want a hundred of your time,” Tyler raps on “NEW MAGIC WAND.” He is coming to grips with his emotions about the relationship.
The album masterfully concludes and particularly shines in its last three tracks, starting with “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU.” The track opens with heavy drums and then transitions to a light beat where guest vocalist Cee Lo Green sings, “My love’s gone.” Tyler raps about how his emotions feel wasted on this previous lover and decides on the next track “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE.”
On the track he gains confidence, saying he knows his “shit is bumping” so he “won’t walk around with [his] head down.” Tyler tells his partner he no longer has feelings for them. However, Tyler struggles with this loss and backtracks on the last song, asking “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”
Previous albums from Tyler’s rap collective Odd Future have had narration or a theme interconnecting all of the songs. On Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” and Tyler’s “Flower Boy,” skits indicated songs were being played from a specific radio station.
On “IGOR,” Tyler tweaks this formula by not having the album be broadcast, but rather narrated by spoken word pieces from comedian Jerrod Carmichael. The fourth track on the album is just 14 seconds of Carmichael saying “Exactly what you run from you end up chasing.” These interludes from Carmichael put feelings Tyler can’t convey in his music into words.
The last time we hear from Carmichael on the album, he says “I hate wasted potential, that shit crushes your spirit.” On “IGOR,” Tyler, the Creator certainly wastes no potential. In fact, he once again exceeds expectations.