This may seem a tad bit ungrateful, but closed mouths don’t get fed. Tyler The Creator’s masterful 2019 album Igor shouldn’t have been nominated for a Best Rap Album Grammy because it should have been nominated for Album Of The Year. Giving it the genre-specific nod feels a lot like a concession prize — a prize Tyler himself might argue he never really wanted if he were still in his bombastic, “Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All” phase from ten years ago. He’s learned to be more diplomatic since then, so I’ll say it: What the heck, Grammys committee?
Look, there are enough superficial similarities between Album Of The Year nominee Lil Nas X and Tyler The Creator that I’m willing to acknowledge that “mistakes were made.” But come on, as much as we love Lil Nas X, there is no way 7 should have been nominated for Album Of The Year with a seven-song EP that came and went and would hardly have registered without some post hoc “Old Town Road” flimflam on the part of Columbia Records (which is, incidentally, also Tyler’s label). Again, we love Lil Nas and I personally am extremely happy that he inadvertently brought light to Black cowboy culture, even if it was slightly too late to prevent ridicule by my middle school peers at wearing a ten-gallon after going to the rodeo one summer.
But was 7 a better, more comprehensive, more cohesive, more creative, more personalized artistic statement than Igor? No. No, it wasn’t. Where 7 consists largely of glossy, competently-produced pop and country(?) songs, Igor has a thesis statement, a throughline, and themes that touch on heartbreak, loneliness, and maturation in the course of the breakdown of a meaningful relationship, with all the plot, poignancy, and verve of an A24-produced feature film. It may not be subtle, but it knows what it wants to say and dammit, it says it. It says loud and clear that “Exactly What You Run From You End Up Chasing” right there in the song titles.
That Tyler draws on soul standards and a more grown-up version of his Wolf Haley alter ego and layers everything with a gooey topping of buzzy organs and luscious drum rolls just makes Igor a joy to fall into again and again. Even in its production backstory there’s so much going on that ties back into the album’s themes of rejuvenation and starting over. “Earfquake,” the album’s standout single, was originally meant for Justin Bieber and Rihanna, turned down by both, and repurposed by Tyler’s mewling vocal riffs into the ultimate crush anthem. It’s like a screenwriter wrote the making of Igor to function as Oscar bait in itself.
“The Boy Is A Gun” is a sly take on the heady, dangerous rush of first-date jitters, “Puppet” deals with being in way too deep, and “Are We Still Friends?” is the relatable coda on the whirlwind romance, the question we all ask as we sort through the rubble of relationships past (free advice from yours truly, the answer is nearly always “no”). Compare the completion and complexity of Igor with any of the other Album Of The Year nominees and it holds up, even as it stands out. Caitlin White called Norman F*cking Rockwell by Lana Del Rey a “sprawling masterpiece,” a sentiment many of our Critics Poll participants echoed. Billie Eilish ushered in a new era of pop with her debut album When We All Fall Asleep…, and Vampire Weekend’s Father Of The Bride was hailed as the “enduring pop album that 2019 needed.”
Amid all those displays of heady focus and artistic virtuoso, Igor might have stood alone as the singular vision of his primary artist, who wrote, produced, and arranged every track, then curated his alter ego’s Warhol-esque look from the stage show down to the videos. Yet, if the best the Grammys could offer up was a pittance of a Best Rap Album nomination, the end result only highlights the award show’s enduring hip-hop problem. If anything, it cheats not only Tyler, but also any number of deserving rap artists, from the snubbed DaBaby and Megan Thee Stallion to the well-deserving and surely known-to-the-committee Rapsody and Young Thug, who were both overlooked for Best Rap Album nods. Even worse, should any artist other than Tyler win the award — which I believe should happen, since YBN Cordae had one of the most cohesive and complete coming-of-age debuts in recent rap history — it would leave Tyler 0-for-two in Best Rap Albums awards after Flower Boy was passed over in 2018 for Cardi B’s equally deserving Invasion Of Privacy.
But if he wins, it then begs the question of just what the Grammys think rap is. Tyler himself gave instructions to fans not to expect a rap album just hours before its release and as noted by the Twitter account Hip-Hop By The Numbers, less than half the album is constituted of rapped vocals. Tyler doesn’t consider Igor a rap album, genre specialists don’t consider it one, and many fans were confused and disappointed to find out Igor used up a coveted slot that could have been filled by any number of standout albums from one of rap’s most creative and industrious years to date. It wasn’t an easy album to categorize, for sure, but it should have been an easy choice to nominate it for Album Of The Year, even if it didn’t win. Tyler put his heart and soul into the album — almost literally, considering its lovelorn themes. He deserves a lot better than a consolation prize.