IGOR, Tyler, the Creator's True Masterpiece, is Essential Listening

Hours before its release, Tyler, the Creator tweeted a set of listening instructions to anxious fans about to hear his new magnum opus IGOR. “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. Don’t go into this expecting a rap album. Don’t go into this expecting any album. Just go, jump into it. I believe the first listen works best all the way through, no skips. Front to back. No distractions either.”

No matter how you listen to it, IGOR is an album that demands the majority of your attention, and more importantly, fully deserves it. It defies nearly all expectations for what a Tyler, the Creator album “should” sound like, even after the leap in maturity that was his jazzy, neo soul-infused 2017 masterpiece Flower Boy. This is not like any of his previous work and this is not a rap album either. Far behind Tyler are the days of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (commonly shortened to Odd Future or abbreviated as OFWGKTA), his collective that included other notable members such as Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt, and Syd tha Kid. Gone are the days of Tyler crafting offensive lyrics about rape, violence, and homophobia simply for shock value to “piss old white people off.” If anything, IGOR is his Kid A if Flower Boy was his OK Computer.

Throughout the album, Tyler uses the character of IGOR (to be clear, he tweeted asking the character’s name be typed in all caps) to essentially distance himself away from himself. Not only is the story being told from IGOR’s perspective, but Tyler rarely sounds like Tyler as we’ve previously known him. Here, his voice is laden with heavy distortion and pitch-shifting effects, and he even sings at times, which for him is rare. In addition, his fashion in the promotional music videos is different; instead of colorful streetwear from brands like Supreme or his own GOLF WANG, Tyler is filmed wearing light colored suits, dress shoes, rectangular sunglasses, and a blonde bowlcut wig. Further, the album cover is the first where there’s an image of Tyler sans hat (unless you count the illustration on the main cover of Cherry Bomb, but one of its alternate covers does show Tyler in a hat). From what we’ve seen of this album cycle so far (music videos, album, and an intimate live show streamed on Apple Music), Tyler is consistently taking on the character of IGOR, using it as a self-expression tool as well as a narrative vehicle.

Even some of the (few) guests don’t sound like they normally do in other settings; Philly autocroon rapper Lil Uzi Vert appears on album opener “IGOR’S THEME” sans Autotune, and sings surprisingly well. Kanye West’s “PUPPET” verse sounds as if it was recorded on a busy street using an iPhone microphone, making most of his lyrics difficult to decipher. Jack White’s guitar solo on “Are We Still Friends?” has less distortion than his usual sound. Not revealing IGOR’s full credits until a week and a half after the album’s release was a brilliant move that allowed listeners to remain fully immersed in the music rather than being distracted by the many guest appearances that instead serve as additional textural enhancements to the escape from reality Tyler creates on IGOR.

Not only is this album brilliant in every way, but it also made history. After IGOR shot to #1 on the Billboard 200 chart (beating the scam that is salty DJ Khaled’s Father of Asahd), Tyler became the first solo rapper ever to have a self-produced and arranged #1 album with no co-producer credits at all. To think that one person did more than 95% of the work on this album makes it even more impressive. In comparison, Kanye West’s Yeezus (an obvious influence on this album) has 24 producer credits. West’s 2015 single “All Day” has a whopping 18 songwriter credits, not including the sample, while the 12 tracks on IGOR have a combined four songwriting credits (including features), not including samples.

Album opener “IGOR’S THEME” may not seem like an integral part of the album, but it sets the tone for and even refers to songs later in the album that better support the narrative it explores (more on that in a minute). Particularly, Lil Uzi Vert repeatedly sings “ridin’ round town they gon’ feel this one,” a reference to the following song “EARFQUAKE.” Feel this album we sure did. What “IGOR’S THEME” is to IGOR is what the opening credits are to a movie; it begins to introduce the story about to unfold. A cinematic opener makes sense, as IGOR is a musical experience incorporating a powerful, evolving narrative even surpassing that of the aforementioned Yeezus.

“EARFQUAKE,” our first true glimpse into the story that unfolds throughout IGOR, begins with multitracked vocals singing “For real/For real/For real this time,” and you can’t help but wonder if Tyler’s confirming that the love he later explains is real or if he’s questioning it. Due to the duality of many aspects of the LP, I believe he means both. Because of that duality, IGOR is in many ways like a story where the majority of it is already written but the most important details are in a “choose your own adventure” format, altering the meaning of the pre-written parts. “EARFQUAKE” is also one of the first times where the lyrics foreshadow significant events that occur later in the album; in the following track “I THINK,” the hook is “I think I’m falling in love/This time I think it’s for real.” Again, is he confirming that he’s in love or questioning it? Given the direction the story takes, assuming both makes the most sense.

Many aspects of IGOR remind me of the works of his (sort of) mentor and fellow master rapper/producer Kanye West. West is known for integrating full cinematic narratives throughout many of his albums, and also for using duality to better build up those narratives, specifically on 2016’s The Life Of Pablo. 2013’s Yeezus used a great deal of foreshadowing throughout its similar 40 minute duration, but Tyler takes these ideas even further. While Kanye raps a lot on those two albums (both of which are among my all-time favorites), Tyler paints the complete picture with fewer words. He knows what to say and when to say it; in other words, he picks his few words carefully. Some of Kanye’s lyrics on Yeezus and Pablo can easily come off as rushed and occasionally cringe-inducing, but Tyler has none of those problems on IGOR. The closest thing to that would be the “my eyes are green, I eat my veggies” line on “NEW MAGIC WAND,” but more on that later.

I guess I got a bit off track by talking about duality, foreshadowing, album narratives, and IGOR’s similarities to Yeezus and The Life Of Pablo, but this information is essential to understanding the rest of the album. Anyway, back to the rest of “EARFQUAKE.” Tyler, in a vulnerable high-pitched vocal, longingly sings to his lover (later revealed to be a man) and asks him to stay with him: “You make my earth quake/Ridin’ around, you love is shakin’ me up and it’s making my heartbreak/Don’t leave, it’s my fault.” (Charlie Wilson (best known to older readers as the former lead singer of the Gap Band) also provides backing vocals on select parts of the hook.) At the song’s precise halfway point, Playboi Carti mumbles an indiscernible guest verse (the “mumble rap” couldn’t be more fitting in this case), before we hear Tyler without effects for the first time on the album, nearly six minutes into its 40 minute duration. “I don’t want no confrontation, no/You don’t want my conversation/I just want some confirmation on how you feel, for real.” Tyler hiding his natural voice until over halfway through a song is something unique to this LP, but does nothing but introduce more varied sounds and help the narrative. On Flower Boy, Tyler purposefully minimized his rapping to ensure everything he said had true meaning. Here, he is maximizing his minimalism.

Surprisingly, Tyler originally wrote “EARFQUAKE” in 2017 with the intention of handing it to Justin Bieber (“I just want to write pop songs,” Tyler said at the Apple Music concert). Bieber thankfully turned it down, and so did Rihanna. Yet, “EARFQUAKE” really couldn’t have been made by anyone but Tyler, the Creator; it’s an artful pop song that bears his signature too much to have been made by anybody else. It’s too pop-oriented to be classified as a hip-hop song yet it’s too experimental to be a full-on pop song, which is what makes it such an exceptional composition. Despite this, on the topic of Bieber turning down “EARFQUAKE” Tyler still said, “Justin’s stupid”.

Remember how I earlier mentioned the Kanye West influence? Well, “I THINK” is the most obviously Kanye-influenced IGOR song. The synths sound exactly like those on West’s 2007 hit “Stronger,” but “I THINK” is likely to hold up much better in the future than the dated sound of Graduation-era Ye. Despite the synths, however, “I THINK” is an important part of the album. The hook (with backing vocals from Solange) is “I think I’m falling in love/This time I think it’s for real.” Once again, you can’t help but wonder if Tyler’s confirming the love, questioning it, or trying to convince himself to think it’s real (the answer is all of the above, obviously). Is “I THINK” the least important song on the album? Probably. But are there any bad songs on it? Not even close.

COMMENTS
Ken K's picture

Thank you for bringing us Malachi Lui.

What a great review!

analogdw's picture

I have mixed feelings about this review. Malachi can clearly write and is clearly passionate about his subject. Absolutely no argument there. But.... the name of this website is Analog Planet, but he hasn’t even heard the vinyl! I read these music reviews to learn equally about the quality of the music and the quality of the vinyl release. I was waiting the whole time to hear about the second thing, but we never got there. On any other site this is an excellent review, but on Analog Planet its only half a review.

MalachiLui's picture

the vinyl doesn't come out until August. when I initially wrote the review the standard LP was still available on the GOLF WANG website and then it was taken down during my editing stage. and like I said in the last part of the review, I'll give an update on the vinyl SQ when I get it in. plus I wanted to tell everybody how amazing this album is so they might be more excited for the LP edition. it's not a review I wanted to wait on either - I started it May 17 when "IGOR" dropped. I also had a hoard of people begging me for this review on twitter right after I teased it.

but if you really want me to review it in an analog format for now, you are more than welcome to demand a review of a homemade "IGOR" cassette. joking of course!

gorkuz's picture

Igor is pronounced ee-gor, not eye-gore as per "Young Frankenstein", thank you. Eye-gore is what you get from a poke in the eye from a sharp stick and that persistent mispronunciation ever since that classic movie, and people that just don't know.

(An) Igor

Tom L's picture

You'll look abnormal.

mmaterial1's picture

interesting musical experimental edginess.
reminiscent, to me at least, of Bjork's swell "Post" album.

Glotz's picture

Earfquake sounds pretty uninspired... Then again, I can't stand modern pop, nor rap. I sure hope ML hasn't smoking that... smoke. 11 is quite high (for what I ingested thus far).

Excellent review and adept reviewing skills, I was convinced until I actually heard the music... Which the best compliment you can pay to any reviewer!

MalachiLui's picture

I don’t smoke or vape ANYTHING! Hope that relieves you! Lol

However, I really can’t see the case for “EARFQUAKE” being “uninspired.” Seriously? I recommend you listen to “IGOR” all the way through several times before forming an opinion.

As for you not being able to stand modern pop and/or rap music; you need to listen to more of it. Hip-hop is a VERY diverse genre, with many subgenres. I strongly believe that you’ll find SOMETHING in there that you enjoy (or can at least tolerate).

Glotz's picture

Lol...I was referring to the smoke in the video. I vape and smoke like a fiend. Everything. Good on you.. Not a good look for anyone young.

Very true on listening to the entire album before passing judgment. All Hail Ivor! Wait... yep! I was referring to my viewing of the video. I got the psycho-soul feel of it, but I just wasn't moved like you were. Funny video and a solid song? Yes. LIstening on a youtube feed is not a passable source for listening to anything, really..

I've listened to the high points of rap and pop since Kool Moe Dee, Public Enemy and Snoop and so forth, but the Gorillaz latest 3 are about as far I have the cash to invest, my brother. (I just blew hundreds on Dylan's repress of Rolling Thunder Revue and every Neil Young album in the last year, the last 3 The Orb releases, Faces box set, VU box set... and I STILL missed The Black Crowes Lost Crowes two weeks ago! Lol...

Keep on keeping on ML! Your review writing is superlative; age-defying, swagger-wrecking excellence! Thank GAWD that MF is there to guide you like a mensch! (Just don't spoil yourself too much... You need to get married first!) Lol...

Thank you for speaking the truth as you hear it!

Michael Fremer's picture
Trust me: guidance with Malachi is a two way street. He gives as much of it to me as he gets from me. We've both grown over the past year thanks to this wondrous relationship.
MalachiLui's picture

Michael is correct... of course he is!

Glotz's picture

I learn from the young too.. To check our hearts, minds and souls now and then.

Anton D's picture

My son insists, emphatically, that people who are not familiar with this artist to start with his previous album, then listen to this one.

All in all, great review of a great album.

Tyler, Childish, and Kendrick are at the top of the current heap.

MalachiLui's picture

“Flower Boy” is amazing too and I recommend it to give context to Tyler’s discography and artistic evolution (“Wolf” and “Cherry Bomb” are good albums too, but without the maturity of the later stuff), but even “IGOR” is pretty far removed from “Flower Boy.” “Flower Boy” and “IGOR” are probably both in my top 15-20 albums of all time.

Yeah, Tyler, Kendrick, Childish Gambino, and I’d say Earl Sweatshirt, BROCKHAMPTON, and Kanye too (I prefer “new Kanye” and “Kanye/ye phase 3” over “old Kanye” overall) are the best hip-hop artists right now (I consider Frank Ocean to be more R&B than rap).

Anton D's picture

I know he raps some, but I consider Anderson Paak more R&B, as well.

I love Anderson and Frank!

Anderson's Oxnard and Ventura are great, to me.

mikenc's picture

Gave this a listen via youtube, honestly not a fan.

MalachiLui's picture

YT sound quality doesn't do the album justice... and I suggest listening more than once before forming an opinion.

Bob Henneberger's picture

honestly it sounds like Neptunes stuff from 20 years ago,, not a fan do you really like this stuff Malachi? you seem to have such good taste....

MalachiLui's picture

I genuinely think "IGOR" is one of the greatest albums of all time. Many people I know (and there are many others who'd also agree) with good taste in music agree, but I'd already formed my opinion on the album the night it dropped. (Tho I delved deeper into the meaning of the album than most of my friends.)

Trust me - in 10-20 years, "IGOR" will be on many GOAT albums lists. And then I can say "I was here first!" lol

But yeah, I think my love for this album is evident in the review. "IGOR" is one of my top 5 albums of all time rn and Tyler is one great album away from being cemented as one of the greatest artists of all time.

MalachiLui's picture

Pharrell is one of Tyler's biggest influences which is why that Neptunes comparison makes sense.

Jefke13's picture

Hello,

I just want to say that you youngman are a naturel, for me to read a 'review', two pages long, about a rap artist i never even heard about in English which isn't my native language, i mean that's impressive.

Love the album by the way, and i understand most of what you write about the meaning of the songs. That in itself is not easy to do. But it really helps to understand and appreciate the album more.

Great stuff, really, thanks and keep reviewing albums on cd, vinyl, tape, minidisc... I don't care. It's all about the music!

Nevermind the old dudes that don't dig this stuff, i'm old dude myself, but the production, the lyrics, the way this artist has doubts about everything in his life, well great album and i rarely listen to rapmusic.

Best regards
Geoff from Belgium

peterpro's picture

That's really a great review.

Regards
cartoon hd

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