Ever since Tyler, the Creator left his fictional therapist’s office at the end of 2013’s Wolf, he’s become a radically different person. Largely gone are the childish hijinks that accompanied Odd Future’s rise to infamy. His violent imagery and controversial homophobic lyrics following suit soon after.
Beginning with the Death Grips-inspired chaos of 2015’s Cherry Bomb, a record that toned down the adolescence of Bastard and Goblin without fully doing away with it, Tyler began to show his willingness to change and evolve, something put on full display on the soon-to-be (if not already) classic Flower Boy. A beautiful record with an extremely surprising amount of heart, the 2017 release seemingly came out of nowhere, launching Tyler into a different musical stratosphere entirely, one where he became a universally respected capitol-A artist.
On “IGOR’S THEME,” the opening track on Tyler’s highly anticipated follow-up to Flower Boy, he shows that even with the heightened expectations, he can still surprise us. Relying on heavy, ominous low synth tones and complex percussion—a combination that’s featured prominently throughout the album—the mainly instrumental song is a bit of a change up from his past work, essentially combining the best aspects of Cherry Bomb with the emotionality and relative absence of Tyler’s rapping presence on Flower Boy to create a hangover record of sorts from the flamboyance of his last record. Perhaps the Yeezus to Flower Boy’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he continues to push the themes of loneliness and his inability to be fully loved found on his previous record, only this time largely twisting the knobs in a louder and darker direction.
IGOR hits its stride when it embraces heavier, more menacing instrumentals, particularly on “NEW MAGIC WAND,” which features a beat change that ranks as one of the best of the decade, rivaling that of Kendrick Lamar’s frenzied conclusion to “DNA.” It’s one of the more traditional-leaning rap moments on the album (Tyler warned us to not “go into this expecting a rap album”), but some of the best tracks on IGOR are when he does give into these tendencies. The slowthai-aided “WHAT’S GOOD” largely follows suit, proving that he can make hard-hitting hip-hop better than almost anyone else.
But that’s not what Tyler wants. He’s long wanted to shed his “rapper” label and extend into a more genre free space, simultaneously encompassing of jazz, pop, R&B, and indie rock. It’s what made Flower Boy such a masterpiece; his ability to seamlessly fuse so many different influences into something unclassifiable and straight up gorgeous—“Boredom,” “See You Again” and “November” come to mind—led the record to be a “Best of the ‘10s” contender.
Tyler attempts to up the ante on IGOR and he succeeds to a large extent. “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE” and “RUNNING OUT OF TIME” both allow Tyler to showcase his skills behind the keyboard, particularly highlighting his now trademark minor key synth sounds that have been prominent throughout this career. But the way-too-long “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU” (which contains a sample from former Smith Westerns frontman Cullen Omari) and Al Green-featuring album closer “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” play like tracks that missed the cut for Flower Boy, tracks that feel a bit too like sketches that were never fully fleshed out. At times overly simplistic—the “Are we still friends” refrain from the latter grows tired about halfway through its 4:25 runtime—or never quite allowing itself to supply the emotional catharsis that so many other Tyler songs do, IGOR ends on a relative whimper when compared to the rest of the record, closing with a more relaxed feel that doesn’t pack the same emotional punch that the last third of Flower Boy so effectively unleashed.
IGOR’s highs rival the best of Tyler’s catalog, even if it doesn’t reach the same emotional peaks that Flower Boy wowed us with two years ago. Maybe this is a reflection of the higher expectations placed upon a Tyler release in 2019—we never could have expected anything close to IGOR from the former Odd Future member even just five years ago. It’s surely (and deservedly so) going to be one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year, even if it’s also a record that doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; IGOR is a commendable, yet flawed album, one that further challenges what we can and should expect from a rap album in 2019.