By this point, Tyler the Creator needs no introduction. Fans and onlookers alike have held mixed opinions towards his work over the last decade, with him popping up into the mainstream via Adult Swim television shows, a successful fashion line, and a discography ranging from horror-core to alternative rock. I think it can be universally agreed upon that his last album, 2017’s Flower Boy, was received as a sort of artistic epiphany-a once controversial and near villainous hip-hop artist showcasing pure vulnerability over discussions of his closeted sexuality, fears, and age. But after nearly two years of public fervor and admiration, IGOR has appeared out of the blue as a knee-jerk reaction to the praise, an intentionally jarring experience meant to challenge rather than indulge listeners.
The sound palette of IGOR is inherently difficult to pin down, incorporating dozens of unique musical ideas into each track. “IGOR’S THEME” ushers the listener into the experience with an uncompromising mix of bass and synth, all while adding improvisational vocals and piano into the mix before ending in a cacophonous crescendo. I’ve seen the primary comparison for the album to be Kanye West’s Yeezus, due to the distorted production and lack of uniform song structure. I’m hesitant to agree, as while Yeezus remains both brash and challenging, each track feels both self-contained and interconnected. West maintained uniform ideas across the album, mainly circumventing the pitfalls of celebrity, luxury, and sex. IGOR favors the unexpected, toting tracks that commonly incorporating beat switches, samples, and a lack of formal guest features, all while adding up to a messy and disorienting result.
Despite all of the competing ideas on the album, there’s still plenty of beautiful moments. “EARFQUAKE” is a clear highlight, utilizing an anthemic hook from experimental artist Devonte Hynes and R&B legend Charlie Wilson (“Don’t leave, it’s my fault, ’Cause when it all comes crashing down I’ll need you”), with a brief guest verse from hip-hop’s current golden-child, Playboi Carti. As Tyler only appears briefly on the track, “EARFQUAKE” is an early indicator of his artistic approach across the project: minimal vocal appearances coupled with a focus on the colorful production. “A BOY IS A GUN” utilizes this to its advantage, constructed over a sample from soul classic “Bound” by Ponderosa Twins Plus One (alright, I’ll give into the Yeezus comparison on that instance). Tyler’s verse on “GUN” is one of the most intimate on the project, expressing displeasure with jealousy and relationship troubles (“I’ma leave it at that, I’ma leave us as friends, ’Cause the irony is I don’t wanna see you again”). The following track “PUPPET” retreads over similar themes of insecurity before ending in a veiled Kanye West feature that comes across as more improvisational than genuine. Finally, “WHAT’S GOOD” may be the standout track of the entire project, evoking the aggression and rampage of 2015’s Cherry Bomb. The booming instrumental ranges from anxiety-inducing to shimmering, before an unforgiving beat switch in the second half (“This the sh*t that make you nervous”).
Despite the standout moments of IGOR, there’s still a disappointing amount of dead air. “NEW MAGIC WAND” boasts a similar warped synth instrumental to “WHAT’S GOOD” but packs a much weaker punch. Tyler sounds blatantly disinterested throughout the track, speaking in a droning manner that does no service to the threatening prose (“She’s gonna be dead, I just got a magic wand, We can finally be together”). “RUNNING OUT OF TIME” features an underutilized Frank Ocean appearance, with much of the runtime coming across as meandering and interlude-esque. “GONE, GONE/THANK YOU” also had clear potential to become this album’s “911/Mr. Lonely”, packing in difficult-to-digest sentiments on abandoned relationships. Unfortunately like Billie Eilish’s “8”, the first half of “GONE” features unnecessary pitch-shifting to convey an artificial innocence, sapping the track of emotional weight. While I love the second part’s emotional verse and lounge-inspired instrumental featuring Mild High Club, the build-up already feels more tolerable than enjoyable on repeat listens.
While Flower Boy felt like a pivotal moment in Tyler the Creator’s musical growth due to its maturity, consistency, and balance of unique sound palettes, IGOR seems to value experimentation over substance. From the album’s bizzare promotional material, its clear that Tyler wanted to have fun with this one, getting a chance to flex his production muscles alongside mentors such as Pharrell and Kanye. While I would have liked a more substantive album experience, IGOR will remain an important checkpoint for his artistic narrative, building upon the brash attitude of Goblin and Wolf and the intimate moments of Flower Boy with rampant ambition.