Every year since Tyler, the Creator made a cockroach into a gourmet meal in his disturbing 2011 “Yonkers” video, the rapper has become more charismatic, serpentine, and, notably, more human. Much of Tyler’s early subject matter as the frontman of Odd Future was disgusting – designed for maximum offense from conservative listeners. But he matured over time and stepped away from this modus operandi following his absurd debut studio album Goblin, and you can hear how his 2019 collection Igor stands as the product of years of improvement. It’s the entryway to another leg of his career, defined by emotional experiences best understood through sonic experimentation instead of shock value.
Tyler made weird normal, but Igor is fucking strange. It zooms in on a relationship’s demise and frames it around his rollercoaster of emotions, revealing a more personal and nuanced understanding of him than ever before.
There’s some kind of cosmic irony in the fact that, at the height of his commercial bankability following a Grammy nod for Flower Boy and being the face of the music from The Grinch in 2018, Tyler delivered his most twisted, artistic delight — something he strived for, but never quite executed when he was greener around the gills. But this time, he showed everyone. Most importantly, he showed himself.
In the two years between Flower Boy — defined by its textures of love, loss, and identity — and Igor, Tyler largely took a step back. After four albums, what more could Tyler have to say about being misunderstood, beyond hinting at his open-ended spectrum of sexual attraction, and defining obscure relationships that made him into the person that he is today?
He turned to heartbreak. Igor is boldly stubborn in its pursuit of fixing a heartbreak, moving on from decrying a lack of love in Tyler’s life to centering itself around love’s rancid aftertaste. It simmers in insecurities and confusion, evident on “I Think,” in which Tyler spills about an intense passion regardless of an argument that’s destroyed his understanding of their relationship. “I don’t know where I’m going / But I know what I’m showing / Feelings, that’s what I’m pouring,” he raps as he spills liquor that he’s preparing to down, desperate to feel good while he strangles his emotions.
But where the R&B albums that inspired this one utilize words to describe feelings, Tyler uses Igor as an idealistic playground for what relationships sound like. Not the heart-swelling piano strings of first kisses or slow-moving violin strings of heartbreak, but disembodied voices stroking an alien groove and icy, electric vibes snatched out of a time machine.
Of course, you could hear the screaming apology buried in the sweet instrumental of “Earfquake” (and the literal “don’t leave, it’s my fault” that makes up the chorus) or get lost in the kaleidoscopic attraction of “I Think.” But Tyler wants you to hear it, breathe it, smell it, and feel it all in order to experience the emotions that carry the story. At its heart, Igor is what splitting up feels like before it actually begins, wrung through 12 songs that explore the finality of the decision. Tyler goes deep into this messiness as it impacts his psyche. The mood is an anxious one; there’s the threat of an ending with every backward glance and disagreement.
On “A Boy Is a Gun,” Tyler bellows at his partner to “stay the fuck away” with increasing anger. On the follow-up “Puppet,” Tyler he begins with “I want to talk, I want to call you and talk / I want to walk to your front door and knock,” as if he didn’t just forbid them from being in his presence. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that contradicts itself, just as love does.
The LP’s last leg, however, crystallizes a hard-won acceptance, with tracks like “Gone, Gone / Thank You” and “I Don’t Love You Anymore” finding him metaphysically shaking his partner’s hand and sending them off to have a good life. It may conclude with “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” but Tyler doesn’t even sound sure of himself by the end. The second time he repeats, “But this just might be better for us, you know?” it’s apparent it’s more for him than for us, giving the entire LP a shaky feeling.
With a cast of Kanye West, Solange, Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, Slowthai, and others, Tyler tells a heartbreaking story that’s more direct and personal than anything he’s ever done. He never confirmed if any of it was real, but he didn’t have to. It resonated with fans completely, garnering widespread critical acclaim and becoming Tyler’s first No. 1 album on the Billboard Hot 200, moving 165,000 album-equivalent units in its first week. It proved that there’s traces of Igor in everyone’s story.
At the beginning of the decade, Tyler, the Creator embodied an idea: that anarchy festered in all of us. His early horrorcore music contained traces of the musical genius that would slowly evolve, paving the way for him to open up about himself in ways that no one could have predicted. On Igor, Tyler loses himself in his own looming heartbreak so that when it finally comes, you crash into funkadelic hell along with him. You wonder if he has recovered yet. Then, you wonder when you ended up in the hole, too.
Find all of MTV News's 2019 Albums of the Year right here.