The multi-talented LA rapper, musician and producer continues to flourish as a songwriter on his sixth solo project
Tyler, the Creator wants you to listen to his new album. No, we mean really listen. “No distractions,” he instructed fans in an all-caps social media post the evening before ‘IGOR’s arrival. “No checking your phone, no watching TV, no holding convo; [focus your] full attention towards the sounds where you can form your own opinions and feelings towards the album.”
In an age where we consume a copious amount of media during every waking hour, Tyler’s request for us to do nothing but give our full attention to his latest opus might come across as slightly optimistic. But in the decade since ‘Bastard’, the Odd Future co-founder’s 2009 debut solo project, you feel that he’s more than earned the right to be heard on his own terms.
‘IGOR’, Tyler’s first album since 2017’s gloriously transformative ‘Flower Boy’, has been released just as its creator’s contentious UK ban appears to have been lifted (it was imposed in 2015 by then-Home Secretary Theresa May, who cited offensive lyrics from early material). A worthy cause for celebration, then – and what better way to celebrate the news than by throwing yourself into this latest iteration of Tyler, The Creator?
‘IGOR’ immediately confronts us with the pulse-quickening opener ‘Igor’s Theme’ as a powerful wall of synths and a determined, clattering beat (two prominent Tyler tropes that he inherited from years of listening to N.E.R.D) combine with an unexpected Lil Uzi Vert croon (“Ridin’ ’round town, they gon’ feel this one”) to grasp our attention from the off.
Notably, we don’t hear Tyler rap on this opening gambit, and it continues with the yearning single ‘Earfquake’, a dizzying R&B creation that could’ve only come from the mind of Tyler. There’s an awful lot to contend with: there’s the hugely contrasting vocal styles of Playboi Carti and Charlie Wilson, the deluge of off-key synth riffs and Tyler singing the lovesick hook – the latter being brought to life in the song’s brilliantly surreal video.
After recruiting the pre-fame likes of Rex Orange County and Steve Lacy for ‘Flower Boy’, ‘IGOR’’s diverse list of contributors strikes a more familiar chord. Solange, whose ‘When I Get Home’ album called upon Tyler for additional vocals and co-production earlier this year, features on three tracks to offer her ethereal vocals. Santigold makes an uncredited appearance on the incessant ‘New Magic Wand’ and Tyler’s idol Pharrell adds another layer to the schmaltzy and overlong closer ‘Are We Still Friends?’. Kanye West, meanwhile, turns up for an off-the-cuff spot on ‘Puppet’, which dissipates before it really gets going.
Even with this strong supporting cast in tow, there’s little doubt about who the chief protagonist is. While the lyrical content of ‘IGOR’ may not prompt as much discussion as its predecessor (‘Flower Boy’ contained a number of references to Tyler’s sexuality), Tyler still manages to hold our attention even while banging a very familiar thematic drum. “I don’t know where I’m going, but I know what I’m showing / Feelings, that’s what I’m pouring, what the fuck is your motive?” he implores on ‘I Think’, before turning the blame on himself on the soaring two-parter ‘Gone, Gone / Thank You’ (“I’m not shocked, I brought this on me / It’s my fault, you gon’ leave”) and declaring “I will never want to fall in love again.” The final stages of the album’s tracklist resemble the detritus of a broken-down text conversation between two ex-lovers, with ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’ being rather deliberately lined up before ‘Are We Still Friends?’. There’s never a good answer to that question, T.
Love may not often see eye-to-eye with Tyler, but he’ll always have the loving embrace of music to draw comfort from. ‘IGOR’ sees the 28-year-old expressing his flourishing musicianship, showcasing his strength as a songwriter with a keen eye for detail. We’ll bet that you missed the gentle piano sections at the end of ‘I Think’ and the otherwise riotous ‘What’s Good’, for instance. Elsewhere, Tyler’s continuing embrace of sampling on ‘IGOR’ has further enhanced his crate-digging credentials, bringing him closer to Kanye when it comes to having an ear for a good sample: ‘A Boy Is A Gun’ even puts its own majestic spin on the same Ponderosa Twins Plus One track Ye used for ‘Bound 2’ in 2013. ‘Hey Girl’, from the debut solo album by Cullen Omori (formerly of Smith Westerns), is also tweaked for ‘Gone, Gone / Thank You’.
“As much as I would like to paint a picture and tell you my favourite moments, I would rather you form your own,” Tyler added in his pre-release note to fans. Whether or not you choose to take his advice with either your first or your 51st listen, ‘IGOR’ is an accomplished and evergreen record that’s well worth putting your phone down, turning the TV off and devoting your full attention span to.
Release date: May 17
Record label: Columbia