Tyler, the Creator‘s IGOR is the first self-produced rap album to debut at Number 1 on the US Billboard charts. Ever. It beat DJ Khaled’s Father of Asahd, a record featuring Cardi B, Lil Wayne, Travis Scott, Post Malone, John Legend, Rick Ross, JAY-Z, Beyoncé, and Justin Bieber. In fact, Father of Asahd got more streams in that first week, but more people bought IGOR on vinyl, in bundles that also included caps, T-shirts and “VOTE IGOR” lawn signs.
But forget all that. Because though IGOR is now engraved in the pantheon of hip-hop, pop, and pop culture, more important is that it’s a significant album for Tyler. And a significant album for Odd Future. And for Tyler’s friends, and his past lovers. And significant for you, the listener. It is, in many respects, the definitive album of 2019.
For starters, IGOR is about love. Specifically: unrequited love. If you believe the general (though disputed) reddit/r/OFWGKTA consensus, for some time now Tyler has been in love with someone called Wyatt, a nice looking young man previously seen in Instagram posts, interviews and paintings alongside T-dog.
But anyway, it doesn’t matter who it’s about. As the IGOR plot line goes, the object of Tyler’s desire is just out of his reach. He fucked with T, but he prefers girls. Or at least he claims to: “You never lived in your truth,” grumbles Tyler on “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU.” By that point — track 10 — he’s almost come to terms with it, but over most of the album he struggles painfully with his feelings. “Runnin’ out of time to make you love me,” he sobs.
He does a lot of that: sobbing, cooing, straining to the limits of his vocal chords like a lovelorn teenager whose voice has only just broken. He can’t really sing. Listen to him caterwauling on “EARFQUAKE” — it’s like he’s in the shower and thinks nobody can hear him. But it sounds great, true, real. It’s vulnerable, something you might not expect from a man who began the decade by eating a cockroach in a music video. From the gruff voiced leader of a wolf pack to a sweet, lonely heart with a trembling lower lip: what a transformation.
Or is it? “DONT GO INTO THIS EXPECTING A RAP ALBUM” we were told, but Tyler does rap, quite a lot. “Dracula, Dracula, Dracula / Suck me first, I might get back at ya,” he growls on “WHAT’S GOOD.” Then on “A BOY IS A GUN”: “Boy, you’re sweet as sugar, diabetic to the first degree.” There are plenty of lines to make your knees wobble, the sort we’ve been lapping up since Bastard. “NEW MAGIC WAND” is vintage T, a leering love letter with that Odd Future trademark, up-to-no-good-at-summer-camp vibe. If his loved one’s girlfriend doesn’t make herself scarce he’ll kill them both. “It’s not a joke. Murder she wrote.”
Remember Odd Future? Zane Lowe recently reminded Tyler of the original Wolf Gang and their profound influence on a decade of pop culture. Tyler smiled, shrugged even. But not so long ago it was a different picture. Before Flower Boy in 2017, Tyler didn’t have a critically acclaimed album to his name. Bastard, Goblin, Wolf: these were cool records, but also frustrating, imperfect, and offensive to some — a school of skeptics who were irked by Tyler’s horrorcore characters. Even after Flower Boy some accused him of “queer-baiting.”
“I hate wasted potential, that shit crushes your spirit,” says comedian Jerrod Carmichael on “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU.” He means the failed romance between Tyler and his beau, but he might have been talking about the Odd Future ringleader’s career, which until a few years ago was largely defined by music that divided opinion.
Now he’s a darling of the media. Now he seems nice, rich in pathos. Igor, or Ygor, is a recurring character in — among other things — Frankenstein, a grizzly lab assistant to a scientist obsessed with his monstrous creation. That’s Tyler, the third wheel in a love triangle, at his master’s command but always second fiddle to the main character. (Which positions his love interest’s girlfriend as Frankenstein’s Monster; someone should probably get her side.)
Then again, “Igor” is phonetically so close to “ego.” Above all the record is a study of the self, about discovering who you are and making jokes about it. It might feature Kanye, Solange, Slowthai and Jack White. It might emulate Pharrell and the Neptunes. He might look a bit like Grace Jones on the cover. But IGOR is so typically, unmistakably, impossibly Tyler. It’s colors. It’s bicycles. It’s vampires. It’s summer, it’s Call Me By Your Name, it’s Dr Seuss. It’s the future he once promised us. And it’s odder than we ever imagined.