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There are perhaps two ways a listener can come to approach Tyler The Creator’s maturation over the last two albums — as he eases his way into an elder statesman role for the generation of blog rap he created — without being skeptical about his evolution.
One is to have been a Tyler The Creator, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All fan from the time you were ten, ardently following his every move with something like hero worship. He could do no wrong, mostly because you didn’t know better. Or, you knew better and argued, like he did, that everyone else needed to chill out.
The other is the way I did: By staying cool on Tyler until he managed to grow up. He partially did so on 2017’s Flower Boy, which was more enjoyable for the simple reason that it was unencumbered by the ridiculous baggage of his early rise to stardom. Just because a child throws a tantrum in Target, that shouldn’t be a commentary on how they’ll handle college.
On Igor, it seems Tyler finally comes of age. It’s not an album about the angst of adolescence or the anger of young adulthood. He’s nearly past all that, and better for it. Where Flower Boy contained Tyler’s first halting steps into genuine maturity and vulnerability, Igor is Tyler pushing all his chips to the center of the table, showing his cards, and coming up aces. While it’s not perfect — shadows of the old Tyler remain — it’s miles away from his mercurial beginnings and seems to point to a smarter, gentler — or at least more subtly devious — Tyler The Creator.
Igor is also one of Tyler’s weirdest and most experimental albums yet. In fact, restricting the elaborate, organic sound of this project to just one category or genre would be insultingly reductive. Despite Tyler’s origin and usual classification as a rapper, Igor owes as much of its inspirational DNA to psych-rockers like Pink Floyd as it does rhyme pranksters such as Biz Markie or Kanye West, who makes a surprise, freewheeling appearance here on “Puppet.”
The Biz Markie comparisons come from Tyler’s off-kilter, often totally off-key singing on many of the album’s more woozy, lovelorn tracks like “I Don’t Love You Anymore” and “Are We Still Friends?” It might not even be totally accurate to call it singing. It’s unabashed warbling, totally discordant to whatever the Pharrell-influenced production might be doing, yet somehow completely appropriate and relatable as well. This is “belt your heart out in the shower daydreaming about that American Idol audition” type yodeling on Tyler’s par. Unlike the angry, “break sh*t” phase of his early artistic development, this is somewhere we’ve all been.
Regarding what the production is doing: Imagine early-90s b-boy breakbeats as a breakfast cereal and fuzzed-out, prog rock guitars as the milk, swirling and distorting and melding into one another until it’s a syrupy, delicious soup. Taken as a whole, it’s too jarring to be comfort food, but it’s also so good, it’s hard to picture enjoying one ingredient without the other. “Running Out Of Time” is perhaps the best example, but “A Boy Is A Gun” adds a dusting of late-era Kanye soul sampling — think “Bound 2” — that leaves the track begging for replays.
Lyrically, Igor toils the always-fertile subjects of new love, developing and dissolving relationships, and the struggles to remain close after changing that Facebook status from “In A Relationship” to “It’s Complicated.” That isn’t to say that Tyler’s lost his wicked sense of humor — it leaps out in smirking references to Erykah Badu on “New Magic Wand,” replete with all dark overtones of his old lyrics. However, those overtones are now undertones, sublimated by the snark and wit of his bars rather than trying to derive that cleverness from the violence and misogyny of before. “Eyes are green, I eat my vegetables,” he cracks. “It has nothin’ to do with that broad / But if it did, guarantee she’d be gone.” He leaves the solution — which involves his “magic wand” to the listener’s imagination. It’s still gruesome, but he lets you figure that out on your own.
If it’s hard to reconcile Tyler’s toned-down fantasies with the reckless abandon of his youth, that’s understandable. But it’s hard to deny that Igor is perhaps the best example of letting artists mature to get to the good stuff. Maybe he’ll never grow all the way up, but Igor is a promising glimpse at a potential final form, one whose talent is the focus, and not his provocative ways.
Igor is out now via Columbia Records. Get it here.