No expectations: Tyler, the Creator creates unprecedented character study with ‘IGOR’

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In an Instagram post on Friday, Tyler, the Creator made it very clear what his upcoming album would not be. He stated definitively that IGOR is like none of his other albums. Don’t expect a rap album, don’t expect a second Flower Boy. Don’t expect anything.

While the rapper explicitly articulated what shouldn’t be anticipated, what listeners could prepare for is an album that stays true to the pulse of sound Tyler, the Creator has cultivated over the past 12 years. From Odd Future to Cherry Bomb to now, every twist and turn of his mutinous and nontraditional career as an MC and musician can be tasted in these fresh beats. Every notch of his R&B evolution is exposed here, and the theme of crippling, lost or unrequited love underlying his past work is refined in the folds of IGOR.

Take “IGOR’S THEME,” the beginning track of the 39-minute musical narrative. This jet of synth serves as an introduction to a new relationship, convulsing subtly as high vocals brushed in autotune bounce and mingle with other electric audio ornaments. It’s hot, it’s chaotic, it’s illogical yet so calculated. It’s the audible equivalent of the first hookup, frenetic like the energy of a tension-filled first kiss, and it launches the listener into the story of the album.

From there, the tracks that follow reflect the sensual and vulnerable vibrancy that comes with a budding relationship. “EARFQUAKE” is sonic sex. “I THINK” contemplates relationship doubts and insecurities. This album has Tyler, the Creator navigating an onslaught of unprecedented and unpredictable sounds that parallel the spontaneity and nuances that come with intimacy. And he does so with a new temperament that melds his musical egos past and present — emo, hostile and spicy — into one.

“RUNNING OUT OF TIME” doesn’t just highlight the musician’s seasoned musical acumen but Tyler’s ability to uplift other artists’ voices as well. This track has rapper and frequent collaborator Frank Ocean spilling over experiences with romances that have come and gone. In this breakdown of fleeting flirtation, the voices of Tyler, the Creator and Ocean sift into one another elegantly. While the rapper’s deep pitchy cadence provides the grit, the singer’s angelic high notes provide the grace.

In fact, Tyler, the Creator doesn’t just examine his romantic relationships; by featuring various prominent musicians, he pays tribute to his professional bonds as well. IGOR is a who’s who of artists the rapper has worked with. Devonté Hynes, Kanye West, Playboi Carti, Solange and even Al Green all contributed to the production, vocals and lyrics that make up the music and story of IGOR.

As the final tracks of IGOR come to a conclusion, so does the romance we’ve been following. The song “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU” is one of the album’s best, offering an uncompromising collection of sound while being grounded in Tyler, the Creator’s flavor. The off-kilter lilt of the vocals traipses over the groovy summer rhythm. And with the song’s progression, that kaleidoscope beat smoothly runs into a delicate pocket of rap in the middle of the song. This track’s multipart structure, with its childlike blips of vocals, dreamy synth and pitchy but gospel chorus, excavates all the chaos of a relationship’s final moments.

With this album, Tyler, the Creator is telling a story of love and of self. And as he’s the narrator of this story, the disclaimer he gave on his Instagram should be taken as a listener’s guide.

When listening to IGOR, keep his words in mind. Because he’s right — this isn’t rap, this isn’t Wolf or Goblin or Flower Boy. This is a study in character development. Most importantly, it is Tyler, the Creator.

Contact Maisy Menzies at [email protected].