Provocateur. Jackass. Instigator. Fashion designer. Clown. Cockroach-eater. Enfant terrible. Cheese Danishes lover. Homophobic. Lead odd futurist. Artiste. Prodigal son. Wolf Haley. Misogynist. Influencer. DJ Stank Daddy. Bastard. (Scum fuck) Flower boy. Garçon. Mr Lonely. Gimmick. Fraud. UK and Australia land limits outlaw. Auteur. Punk. Eastern European name adorer. IGOR.
The above are but a filtered bunch of the somewhat one-dimensional and reductive tags Mr Tyler Gregory Okonma, aka Tyler, The Creator, has been subject to pigeonholing with during his career as a solo artist and beyond. The 28-year old Ladera Heights-native rapper, singer-songwriter, and producer has been witnessing nothing short of a stunning chameleonic trajectory as it pertains to both his personal and artistic identity refinement, roughly chaptered alongside a before-and-after moment on this timeline, captured by his tenure at his now defunct trailblazing rap collective Odd Future. Post-OF Tyler, The Creator has then seen his creative itinerary alight at five distinct full LPs preceding his last, IGOR, pivoting and peaking at superiorly lavish Flower Boy station two years ago, an album that still haunts yours truly in the shape of a sacrilege for not having seized the occasion to fully unpack it and review when it came out.
However, pretty much all of the compartmentalising labels and tags thrown at him by both click-bait tabloid and woke media left and right, seem to miss the fact that Tyler is, actually, a fairly old-fashioned and nostalgic twenty-something post-Napster millennial, as much indebted to Roy Ayers and Pharrell Williams as to UK’s own Doves and Nigerian punk-rock. One only needs to pay a tad closer attention than the average to discover how the influential Los Angeleno MC’s cognitive scheme works by employment of rather old-school, anachronistic, and analogue architectures of thinking. Case in point; he still refers to his songs — or any song, really — by calling them by their track listing position, instead of their actual title, denoting a clear reliance on the album as a format and thought processing lens when it comes to music. Or, as a further supporting exhibit, just turn to the prevalent apparel leitmotiv expressed through his clothing brand GOLF, notably inspired by dated run-of-the-mill retro-outfits sported by “old dudes”, in his own words.
Considering the above melting potato salad of misconception, surface-level-judging, creative evolution, latent missteps, and uninhibited self-expression peppered throughout Tyler, The Creator’s multi-artistic career to date, the rather sudden arrival of his sixth studio project IGOR on Friday 17th May was arguably destined by design to be met with a combo of curiosity and excitement. Tyler’s camp managed to squeeze the entirety of the album’s promo and anticipation within two weeks and change, as the rapper’s social media accounts began teasing sonic sneak peaks of less then a minute in length, kicking off with scene-setting “IGOR’S THEME” on 1st May, delivering an hypnotic distorted synth attack chased chronologically by an edgy drum kit, additional layered keys, and the start of a refrain. Similarly formatted snippet clips followed in quick succession, first with the eerie and foreboding lo-fi of “WHAT’S GOOD“, then taking a left spin with the tasty and warm soul of “A BOY IS A GUN“, only to retract to another U-turn with the subsequent “NEW MAGIC WAND” teaser, another big, heavy, violent beat gelled together by a pitch-shifted spine and its quasi-industrial feel.
Unsurprisingly, as we’re dealing with Tyler — and in pure harmonic alignment with the nostalgia claims above —, IGOR’s tasters ought not be considered as singles to the record in any way, shape, or form. While the former Odd Future honcho did in fact drop a full music video for his schmaltzy, sugary, and delicious tune “EARFQUAKE” on album release day — very much in the spirit of a lead flagship track statement for the whole record — he actually saw fit to publish so-called listening instructions for fans to heighten their proper engagement with the record as Tyler meant it to be. These include memos reminding listeners that “This is not Bastard. This is not Goblin. This is not Wolf. This is not Cherry Bomb. This is not Flower Boy. This is IGOR. Pronounced EEE-GORE.” and, most crucially, crossing Ts and dotting Is around pre-conceptions: “Dont (sic) go into this expecting a rap album. Dont (sic) go into this expecting any album. Just go, jump into it“.
Thus, in his defence, we can’t say we weren’t warned. And oh (flower) boy were those instructions predictively on point. This thing is as much a fuzzy R&B/funk soufflé as it rocks an abstract hip-hop flair, only if it were almost exclusively inspired by low-fidelity Neo-soul crooner-ish songwriting. I haven’t actually measured it so don’t quote me on that, but it’s probably safe to say that true blue MC bars don’t make up even half of IGOR’s total runtime of just about 40 minutes. Now, if Flower Boy were to be employed as some kind of MO trend indication in this sense, this shouldn’t struck as an inconceivable surprise. Notwithstanding this, IGOR isn’t simply a natural and evolutionary step forward in Tyler’s production, arrangement, and songwriting patterning. It’s more like a transverse 180· reboot, milk-shaking much of what he’s been (here’s looking at you, Wolf and Cherry Bomb), mixed with the holistically creative vision behind Flower Boy on steroids, and just a sea of pitch shifting effects. More than any of its predecessors, IGOR is a Tyler, The Creator statement of identity, intent, and emotion.
Counterintuitively, the project is in fact a mighty who’s-who concerto of features, collabs, and co-signs, yet its album art sleeve is here to heartily remind everyone that everything was written, arranged, and produced by the Tyler himself. Playboi Carti (“EARFQUAKE”), Lil Uzi Vert (“IGOR’S THEME”), Solange (“I THINK”, “A BOY IS A GUN”, “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE”), Kanye West (“PUPPET”), Jerrod Carmichael (interludes MC and wisdom spreading impresario), Santigold (“NEW MAGIC WAND”, “PUPPET”), La Roux (“GONE, GONE/THANK YOU”), CeeLo Green (“GONE, GONE/THANK YOU”), Charlie Wilson (“EARFQUAKE”, “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE”), Slowthai (“WHAT’S GOOD”), and Pharrell (“ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”) are only a selected few among the helping hands Tyler reached out to for the execution of the project, however no single one was deemed deserving and functional enough for an actual track-level display credit in the eyes of our favourite garçon.
Following a line of thinking warranting a full and overarching body of work appraisal, rather than a track-by-track surgical dissection of its fragmental building blocks, IGOR comes across as a bona fide example of an artistic whole being so much more than the mere sum of its compositional parts. It’s no coincidence Tyler or anyone at Columbia Records didn’t feel like spraying outward a single cut months ahead of the full LP release to entice the audience while at the same time canvassing a fairly representative sonic picture of what the full collection of songs was going to be. That would’ve in fact been a fool’s errand, whether we or Tyler like it or not. For one, perhaps paradoxically, no single track is in fact strong enough to exist autonomously and self-referentially (although the serene, catchy, and come-undone-revealing “RUNNING OUT OF TIME” comes close to that), a notion that with 20/20 hindsight was predictably anticipated by Tyler’s out-of-the-box instructions for use above. Furthermore, on a more mixing/production level of analysis, virtually all track transitions are established by continuous fade in-and-outs, doctoring a unique and uninterrupted listening experience from beginning to end.
What’s more, and quite in juxtaposition to the self-indulgent mission statement of the record, on IGOR Tyler is seen wearing many of his most explicit artistic influences proudly and confidently on his sleeves, to an extent where at times one couldn’t be condemned for thinking that this project was more of a compilation joint, rather than a concept art piece where the source artist acts as the be-all and end-all of its full craftsmanship. Note how his somewhat unrequited love for R&B/Soul blossoms on songs such as the aforementioned “EARFQUAKE”, the confessional and loaded “A BOY IS A GUN”, and perhaps most predominantly on the inquisitive and climaxing album closer “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?“. Kanye West, on his part, shows up both on wax (on vulnerably desperate number “PUPPET”) and as a conceptual reference point: indie-garage derivative track number three “I THINK“s main melodic chords progression sounds just like a “Stronger” cutting-room floor residual demo from 2007. Plus, lest we forget, this whole entire thing has got Pharrell Williams written all over it.
Lyrically, IGOR is recounting a tale arc made of romanticism, love, attraction, rejection, confidence, insecurity, resentment, identity, and acceptance, although it’s extremely hard to put one’s finger on what cut exactly expresses what feeling. Almost as if by careful engineering intent, it’s only with the full twelve tracks under one’s belt and inside one’s brain that the listener can begin to make heads or tails of the bird’s eye view narrative carved into this project’s ethos. When thinking back at specific emotions or cognitive landscapes perceived while sucking up its content, it’s rare that a single song off IGOR is truly capable of doing full justice to the specific feeling conveyed. There is almost a sense of performative uncertainty — or perhaps hesitation — to the scatterbrained itemised musical brushes encapsulated in the twelve distinct-yet-unified vectors that make up IGOR. This might support the evidence around the lack of a real lead single, or even a typical radio-friendly verse-chorus-bride songwriting structure. Instead, in order to funnel a kaleidoscopic, heterogeneous, and contradictory story, with IGOR Tyler was forced to resort back to the comfort of his artistic cognitive infrastructure more than ever, counting on only those few reference points he’s always been faithful to (hence why track number ten “GONE, GONE/THANK YOU” still has a two-songs-for-one structure, as with all his previous full-lengths).
It’s probably still too soon — or actually too late — to measure the impact of single tracks over the full body of work under scrutiny here, as it would admittedly and arguably be an exercise dead on arrival. The risk of not seeing the forest for the trees would be too high. But also, there is a suspicion lurking that Tyler knew it all along. That is, in the above mentioned listening instructions, he also writes: “As much as I would like to paint a picture and tell you my favourite moments, I would rather you form your own“. What better way to spill the beans upfront, revealing that there are in fact no such individual favourite moments, for this project is strictly meant to be digested as a whole unified and interoperable hodgepodge?
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
TYLER, THE CREATOR
2019, Columbia Records
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