How Tyler, The Creator's 'IGOR' Creates An Unconventional Rap Aesthetic
The number one album paves the way for more genre-bending albums by Black artists
Cycling from thorough expressions of infatuation to bitter rants of unrequited love, Tyler, the Creator’s latest album IGOR encompasses the emotional rollercoaster associated with a breakup. However, the rapper’s fifth studio album — one in which he wrote, produced and composed by himself — is more than just a typical breakup album. His current album marks the first time I sense Tyler, the Creator taking full ownership of how his voice is perceived.
IGOR showcases Tyler’s avant-garde rap aesthetic mixed with his mind-boggling arrangement and producing skills. Unlike most of his previous albums that were overshadowed by violent imagery, IGOR is the first time in which it feels like the Odd Future founding member hones his flamboyant style and steps outside of traditional rap standards. With his new sound, Tyler, the Creator is among the many Black artists pushing the boundaries of their respective genres to create a new sonically-pleasing aesthetic.
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Within the first five minutes, IGOR listeners discover that Tyler, the Creator is in love. On the album’s second track “EARFQUAKE,” which features Playboi Carti’s celebrated baby voice and processed vocals from R&B legend Charlie Wilson, Tyler, the Creator professes his love for a soon-to-be partner. As the album progresses, it’s clear that the person Tyler is in love with isn’t ready to be in a relationship. Throughout the collection, Tyler contemplates his situation with songs of anger and desperation, leading to the album’s ending track “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”
May 2019, is not the first time a rapper created a genre-defying concept album about love and heartbreak (see Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreaks or Andre 3000’s The Love Below.) However, IGOR becoming the number one album on Billboard’s 200 list (beating out DJ Khaled’s Father of Asahd, much to the producer’s displeasure) marked the first time in history that a solo rapper had a number one album that was entirely produced, written and arranged by himself. Hip Hop By The Numbers tweeted the historic news.
Tyler, The Creator created history today with IGOR— Hip Hop By The Numbers (@HipHopNumbers) May 27, 2019
He's the first solo rapper in history to have a No. 1 album he produced and arranged by himself, no co-production or co-producer credits at all
69 rappers have gone No. 1 on the Billboard 200. No-one has done this before
What puts IGOR among the best 2019 albums released so far is its vivid representation of Tyler, the Creator’s transformation from a potty-mouth, misunderstood indie rapper who didn’t care about critics to the more fully-developed genre innovator. IGOR isn’t the Tyler, the Creator who was banned from the United Kingdom in 2015 because of offensive lyrics. IGOR isn’t the Tyler, the Creator who freely used homophobic slurs and depicted violence against women in his first two albums, Goblin and Wolf. IGOR isn’t even the more soulful and less controversial version of Tyler who was introduced to the world with 2017’s Flower Boy, his first Grammy-nominated album and the first time Tyler seemed to address his sexuality in his music. Instead, IGOR is Tyler, the Creator with a more purposeful indifference. He uses his nonchalant attitude to fuse an awkwardly arranged yet instantly enticing project that invites listeners instead of turning them away.
With its experimental beats; masked features from Solange, Kanye West and Santigold; and vocal snippets from comedian Jerrod Carmichael, IGOR poses as a beautiful reintroduction to Tyler, the Creator (a highly-talented and influential producer with underrated rap skills who takes risks for the sake of art) without the controversy. In ditching the mainstream standard to create a new sound that is more concerned with the messaging than the Billboard charts, Tyler has joined a group of musicians risking their popularity for art.
Defying music standards is a trend that popular Black artists like Tierra Whack, Earl Sweatshirt, Solange and Lil Nas X have also followed. Tierra Whack’s 2018 debut album Whack World was cleverly-arranged as a collection of 15 one-minute long tracks that introduced listeners to the Philadelphia native’s avant-garde visuals and playful lyrics, reminiscent of Missy Elliot’s beloved style. Earl Sweatshirt’s latest album Some Rap Songs was a perfect jazz and hip-hop fusion overlaid with several experimental beats that was a refrain from the rapper’s strictly alternative rap sound. Earlier in 2019, Solange released her heavily-anticipated album When I Get Home that boasted the singer’s soothing vocals over tracks that invited listeners to feel and explore their own conceptions of home. Lastly, Lil Nas X introduced the world to country trap in his single “Old Town Road.”
The risk ultimately proved to be successful for Tyler with IGOR as his first number-one album. Not only is IGOR a sonically-pleasing representation of Tyler’s well-needed evolution into an influential rapper, but it’s a sign that there’s a well-needed space for more genre-bending projects from Black artists. As Black artists explore their mental health, sense of belonging and sexuality, it seems the world would welcome more creative offbeat sounds.