Amid the anger and anguish of a breakup, the rapper’s new album finds peace
Whether it’s Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours or Carole King’s Tapestry, some of the best albums of all time have been borne out of heartbreak, and the attempt to achieve catharsis rather than drown in darkness. Other classics that deal with romantic anguish, like Marvin Gaye’s Hear My Dear or Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, are more concerned with releasing bitterness towards an ex than reaching any kind of inner peace, using anger as a kind of self-therapy. Tyler, the Creator’s new album IGOR sits somewhere in the middle.
IGOR is an album brimming with dense textures and flourishes of transcendent beauty (the transition from chaos to serenity on “What’s GOOD”, for example, is basically what the rewind button was invented for). Sonically, it feels like Tyler, the Creator has reached another level as a composer, like Brian Wilson when he followed Pet Sounds with Smile. Thematically, it’s all about loving someone who can’t love you back, and why it’s a valid response to both long for them (On “Running Out of Time”, a desperate Tyler soberly croons about “Runnin’ out of time to make you love me”) and wish that they’d die (love turns into spite on “A Boy Is A Gun”, which reclaims the lush tenderness of previous album Flower Boy highlight “See You Again” and takes it somewhere far more bitter with the cutting lyrics, “The irony is I don’t wanna see you again / Stay the fuck away from me”).
“Tyler works his way through his turmoil and ups the urgency of the music to mirror how he’s gradually coming to his senses and waking up from a slumber”
The sheer electrical noise of opener “Igor’s Theme” is a sign of the darkness on the horizon, which Tyler, who shouts “he’s coming” in a tone that’s filled with dread, must confront if he’s to emerge as a better person. Amid the solitary funk of “EARFQUAKE” and “I THINK”, which both recall Sly & The Family Stone’s dissonant masterpiece There’s a Riot Goin’ On, it’s clear that Tyler is a slave to infatuation and unable to think beyond his ex. On the latter, he boldly raps: “I’m your puppet / You are Jim Henson”. Things enter a more hopeless place on “Running Out Of Time”, where Tyler deals with the concept of “finding the peace in drowning” – an emotion anyone who has ever had their heart broken, spending hours looking at their bedroom ceiling while processing what exactly went wrong and why a certain someone can't love you back, will be able to relate to.
But what makes IGOR so compelling is how Tyler works his way through his turmoil and ups the urgency of the music to mirror how he’s gradually coming to his senses and waking up from a slumber. The previous feelings of desperateness evolve into exhilarating sarcasm on “New Magic Wand” before Tyler finally has a metamorphosis on the defiant “What’s Good” and sees the light, learning to love himself (he venomously spits: “Hard to believe in God when there ain't no mirrors around”) rather than getting lost in loving another person. On the more introspective songs that follow – “Gone, Gone / Thank You”, which sounds like an acid-fried take on Andre 3000’s The Love Below, and everybody’s new favourite break-up anthem “I Don’t Love You Anymore” – Tyler talks himself into accepting there’s more fish in the sea, finally ready for a “re-up” when it comes to love. Both suggest he’s digested having his heart broken and is now at peace.
However, this resolution is completely disrupted on the mournful olive branch that is “Are We Still Friends?” where Tyler’s infatuation unexpectedly resurfaces, as he sardonically pleads: “I don’t want to end the season on a bad episode / Nigga.” It’s perhaps the most important song on IGOR, showing what a merry-go round heartbreak can be and how just when you feel you’ve finally reached a place of tranquility, an image of the person you once loved flashes into your mind, scrambling your emotions and swallowing you whole once again. This song is as raw as an exposed nerve ending. It’s the sound of someone on their knees, desperate to find a solution even though there probably isn’t one.
So who is this mystery love interest? The album appears to suggest Tyler had a fling with a bisexual man who rejected him to return to his girlfriend. The voice of a Caucasian male (who says, “But this might just be better for us, you know?”) on “Gone, Gone / Thank You” could be symbolic of the man Tyler, who barks, “I hope you know she can’t compete with me”, once loved. But even if their relationship was toxic, Tyler is at least happy he wasn’t the one hiding in the shadows — he cathartically raps on the same song: “You never lived in your truth / I’m just happy I lived in it / But I finally found peace / So, peace!”
Yet some will argue this narrative isn’t necessarily the most reliable one, either. When a teenage Tyler emerged on the scene in 2009, he had a reputation as an anarchist, who freely rapped about murdering Bruno Mars and raping women while embracing homophobic slurs. Many were able to forgive these controversial lyrics as Tyler grew older and rapped about more emotionally mature subjects, and with some of the lyrics on Flower Boy, he even appeared to come out. Stil, this hasn’t been explicitly confirmed by the artist himself, with people unsure whether he has been sincerely touching on gay themes over recent years, or just being the ironic provocateur who fuelled albums like Bastard and Goblin.
If, like me, you choose to believe Flower Boy was sincere and genuinely based around Tyler, the Creator coming out of the closet, then IGOR appears to be about him finally living this truth. Even if Tyler has had his heart broken, he now has his freedom – and that’s why the music on IGOR sounds so alive.