IGOR Album Review: Four Years Later

“IGOR” is a masterpiece, a blend of synths, sounds, and styles the likes of which Tyler the Creator has never truly explored before. More than an album, “IGOR” is an experience, a journey through love, heartbreak, and acceptance.

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“IGOR” is a masterpiece, a blend of synths, sounds, and styles the likes of which Tyler the Creator has never truly explored before. More than an album, “IGOR” is an experience, a journey through love, heartbreak, and acceptance.

On May 17, 2019, an album was released that would change the trajectory of a young Malia Lima’s life. I was an eighth grade “graduate,” and Tyler, the Creator’s “IGOR” was the soundtrack of the summer that predicated my first year of high school.

Now, four years later, my life is in a similar phase: as a soon-to-be high school graduate, this summer will again be the prologue for a brand new stage in my life. As such, I’ve found myself reflecting on the past, specifically that summer, one I look back on fondly—memories that are all intertwined with the songs that shaped the era for me, and “IGOR” is front and center.

I’d like to take a moment to reflect on this album, and share insights to its meaning as a whole.

Even four years later, “IGOR” is brilliant, a smorgasbord of sounds, synths, and styles, the likes of which Tyler’s music hadn’t really explored before. “IGOR” was a huge step away from Tyler’s controversial past. His older albums, one titled, “GOBLIN,” are filled with abrasive lyrics, many of which landed the rapper in pretty hot water. “BASED ON LYRICS FROM 2009 I AM NOT ALLOWED IN THE UK FOR 3-5 YEARS,” tweeted Tyler in 2015. In 2014, Tyler was also banned from New Zealand for, “posing a threat to the public order and to the public interest.”

In 2017, Tyler released “Flower Boy,” the rapper’s first step towards his new image, and “IGOR” acted as the final nail in the “old Tyler’s” coffin, severing himself completely from the controversial figure he was known as in the past. “IGOR” features tear-jerking tracks like “GONE GONE / THANK YOU” and “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS,” along with songs perfect for a chill summer drive like “EARFQUAKE” and “RUNNING OUT OF TIME,” and even has some hype tracks like “WHAT’S GOOD” and “NEW MAGIC WAND.” Looking beyond just the sound, the writing on “IGOR” is emotional, vulnerable, and showed a soft side to the artist that fans had yet to see, chronicled in the album’s storyline.

Tyler is known to use characters to tell stories, and as tools to elaborate on his past traumas. For example, one of Tyler’s well known characters is Dr. TC, a psychiatrist who can be heard on albums such as “Wolf,” and who helps Tyler navigate his way through his childhood traumas, such as his absent father. Tyler also uses alter egos to represent himself in his music, like the character “Wolf Haley,” who we meet in Tyler’s first few albums. “IGOR” stars Igor, a new alter ego of Tyler’s, and follows the heartbreak he endured while in a love triangle involving a man Tyler was involved with, as well as that man’s girlfriend. “IGOR” starts as a story of unrequited love and vying for affection before transitioning to an angry heartbreak album, and then finally ends with acceptance and self respect. However, there’s a caveat to that, which will be revealed later in this article.

The album starts off with “Igor’s Theme,” a moody blend of synths featuring vocals by Lil Uzi Vert. This track serves as the introduction to the emotional journey the listener is soon to embark on, and introduces the album’s main character. After starting off with a long, droning synth note, a few phrases are repeated throughout this track, with the words, “He’s coming” and “Running” being repeated several times throughout the chorus and bridge. The motifs of running and chasing something are highly prevelant throughout the album. The track also ends with the words, “Got my eyes open,” a motif that will also be explored later in the album.

Next, the album transitions to “EARFQUAKE,” a sad and desperate plea for a lover’s attention masked by uplifting piano and a “pop song” feel, featuring a verse from popular rapper Playboi Carti. During an Apple Music live show in 2019, Tyler shared that the song was originally written with the intent of being sung by Justin Bieber, however, it was turned down. Tyler also offered the song to Rihanna, who also rejected the track. Thus, Tyler sings with backing vocals from the legendary Charlie Wilson. In the song, Tyler (who is playing Igor) expresses his deep feelings towards a person, and the strong effects they have on him. He compares the love he has for this person to an earthquake, something that shakes his entire world. However, while the song sounds upbeat and happy, the lyrics reveal its much darker theme. The chorus contains a plea, “Don’t leave, its my fault,” and Tyler insists that this person is crucial to him, singing “When it all comes crashing down, I’ll need you.” Tyler also expresses the deep pain this is causing him, as each chorus ends with “It’s making my heart break.”

During the second verse of the song, Tyler seems to plead with his lover, saying:

“I don’t want no confrontation, no
And you don’t want my conversation (I don’t want no conversation)
I just need some confirmation on how you feel, for real (For real)
You don’t want no complication, no
I don’t want no side information (I don’t want no side information)
I just need to know what’s happening
‘Cause I’m for real (For real)”

Tyler is asking a non-communicative partner for any indication that they are as passionate as Tyler is. From the lyrics in the song, we can infer that Tyler is giving his all to this person, however they are sending him mixed signals, thus creating turbulence between the two and within Tyler himself, like an emotional earthquake. Tyler assures his parter he doesn’t want confrontation or a fight between the two despite the harm his lover’s behavior is causing him, he just wants some indication that the rollercoaster will end. He also tells his parter he is “for real,” or serious about this relationship.

A couple more tracks explore the love Tyler feels for this person, including “I THINK,” where Tyler sings, “I think I’m falling in love, this time I think it’s for real,” and “RUNNING OUT OF TIME,” which is preceded by an interlude titled “EXACTLY WHAT YOU RUN FROM.” In this interlude, an audio clip of comedian Jerrod Carmichael plays, which says, “Exactly what you run from, you end up chasing. This interlude and the song that follows it return to the motifs of running and chasing, which were introduced in “IGOR’s THEME.” In “RUNNING OUT OF TIME,” Tyler laments that he is, “running out of spells” and “running out of time” to make his parter love him. “I THINK” has an extremely danceable sound, and features a baseline sample from “Special Lady,” an 80’s disco/funk song by Bibi Mascel, and “RUNNING OUT OF TIME” is a chill, dreamy track with a slower pace. After these two songs, the album transitions into a more aggressive sound. Kicking off with “NEW MAGIC WAND,” the album’s first “hype” track, an angry Tyler raps about his frustrations with his partner who is still in a relationship with another woman. However, while “EARFQUAKE” masked sadness behind a happy melody, “NEW MAGIC WAND” masks sadness behind angry lyrics and aggressive bass. At one point in the track, Tyler begins repeating “please don’t leave me now” between making threats towards the man Tyler is perusing and his girlfriend. “She’s gonna be dead, I just got a magic wand,” says Tyler, before ending the verse with “We can finally be together.” Tyler has shared in interviews and at concerts that “NEW MAGIC WAND” is his favorite song that he has written.

After “NEW MAGIC WAND,” the mood of Igor transitions again, this time to apathy, before finally accepting the sadness. On “A BOY IS A GUN,*” Tyler expresses the danger he feels comes with falling in love with person, over a track featuring samples from The Ponderosa Twins Plus Ones’ “Bound,” which was also sampled by Kanye West for his song “Bound 2.” One of the sampled lines reads, “You started with a mere hello,” which reflects how all of the most influential relationships in our lives begin with a simple exchange of hellos and then from there evolves into something much greater. In Tyler’s case, he is reflecting on how this turbulent, earthquake like bond all started with that simple word. The first verse begins with Tyler rapping,

“Take your hoodie off, why you hide your face from me?
Make your mind up, I am sick of waitin’ patiently
How come you’re the best to me? I know you’re the worst for me
Boy, you’re sweet as sugar, diabetic to the first degree”

Here, Tyler is expressing frustrations that his lover continues to play games with him, and seems to be hiding himself from him. Tyler questions why this person fakes being “the best” to him, even though they’re causing Tyler “the worst” emotional damage. Tyler compares his lover to sugar, something sweet, but contrasts that with diabetes, something harmful that sugar is associated with.

At the end of the song, Tyler says, “I’ma leave it at that, I’ma leave us as friends, but the irony is I don’t wanna see you again,” before repeating “Stay away from me” for the rest of the track.

Next comes “PUPPET,” with a feature from the legendary Kanye West, who was last seen on a Tyler album in 2015, with a feature on “SMUCKERS.” This song has an incredibly somber theme, as Tyler laments the unfair control his love interest has over him. Tyler begins the song by expressing how deeply he desires this person, and compares his desire for them to wanting air. He then reflects on how confusing this desire is to him, and wonders why he yearns for this person so badly. At first, the lyrics seem almost romantic, with Tyler listing the lengths he’s willing to go to for this person, however, they take a dark turn when Tyler says,

“You’re parasitic
I do not have self-control
I am startin’ to wonder
Is this my free will or yours?”

He builds on this idea of being controlled with the chorus, “I’m your puppet, you control me, I’m your puppet, I don’t know me.” During the chorus, Kanye West sings the backing vocals, “Did I wait too long, did I wait too long,” which returns to the idea of running out of time from a few tracks before.

This track seems to contrast “EARFQUAKE,” in which Tyler feels that although this person makes his world feel chaotic like an earthquake, he still needs them. On “PUPPET,” Tyler feels that this person is like a parasite, and has way too much control over him.

The next song, “WHAT’S GOOD” is the album’s last upbeat track before things get really heavy. With distorted synths and loud drums, “WHAT’S GOOD” serves as Tyler hyping himself up before the heartbreak sets in once again. The song ends on the repetition of the phrase, “I see the light,” a callback to what we heard earlier in “IGOR’S THEME” with Tyler repeating “Got my eyes open.” A T-shirt that was sold during the “IGOR” tour features the two lyrics combined, reading, “Got my eyes open…Now I see the light!” Tyler is opening his eyes to his relationship for what it truly is, and “seeing the light’ represents coming to terms with the toxicity of the partnership. The track ends with Jerrod Carmichael’s voice, which goes perfectly with the theme of the next song.

“I don’t know what’s harder, letting go or just being okay with it.”

Every tenth track on Tyler’s albums is a “double feature,” with two titles being separated by a “/.” IGOR is no different, with the title being “GONE GONE/THANK YOU,” a heart-wrenching, tear-jerking journey through heartbreak and acceptance, and one of the most lyrically complex songs on the album. “GONE GONE” explores the feelings Tyler experiences whilst parting from his lover, and “THANK YOU” is an ode to his ex, thanking him for the experiences the two shared. “GONE GONE” samples a guitar riff from Cullen Omori’s “Hey Girl,” and the track’s chorus is sung by CeeLo Green.

Like the quote from Carmichael on the track before, Tyler in “GONE/GONE” seems to be both letting go and learning to “just be okay with it.” Before the first chorus, Tyler sings, “At least I had it instead of never,” which is reminiscent of the famous quote, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Green then sings the chorus,

“Whether its rain or shine, I know I’m fine for now
My love’s gone, my love’s gone.”

Tyler then addresses the third person in the triangle, his now ex-lover’s girlfriend, singing,

“I just hope to God she got good taste,
Could put you on something you’ve never seen
Could play a couple songs that you could dance to
I hope you know she can’t compete with me”

Here, Tyler is saying even though he is heartbroken, he has accepted that his lover has chosen his girlfriend, not him. Tyler wishes the best for them, although remarks that she is nothing compared to him.

In the bridge, Tyler sings over Cullen Omori’s guitar riff, saying

“You kept me going, the bandaid is falling off now
Going away
And now I’m scarred for life.”

Tyler compares his lover to a bandaid, or something temporary he used to cover up his metaphorical wounds. Now that the bandaid has fallen off, Tyler has been left with a huge emotional scar this person has inflicted upon him. This idea of “scarring” ties back in to “A BOY IS A GUN*,” and the danger Tyler felt this person poised to him, inflicting just as much pain as he did happiness.

In the final verse of “GONE/GONE,” Tyler raps, “You got your thing, I got nothing but memories,” referring to the fact that while his ex-lover still has his girlfriend, Tyler is left with nothing but the memories of what him and this person shared together. Tyler also remarks, “I know your secrets,” which suggests that not only was this person having an affair with Tyler, they might also be closeted or not openly bisexual.

Tyler then again laments about the emotional torment and confusion he’s been dealing with while being involved with this person.

“We had two different blueprints, but understood influence
You opened up early on, I thought I had a permit
You started buildin’ a bridge and turned it into a fence
Then my buildin’ got tore down all because of your new tenant”

Here, Tyler reflects on the history of the relationship, using the metaphor of building to describe what the pair had built together. He expresses that he believed the other person was open to building something with him, a bridge between the two, but then turned it into a fence, keeping Tyler out. Then, Tyler vents that his “building” or his place with this person was torn down because of “your new tenant,” his partner’s girlfriend.

This portion of the song then ends with,

“You never lived in your truth, I’m just happy I lived in it
But I finally found peace, so peace”

Here, Tyler finally accepts that he cannot control the outcome of the relationship. He bids farewell to his partner (for now,) and embarks on a new journey towards acceptance.

The song then transitions to it’s second part, “THANK YOU,” with another quote from Jerrod Carmichael.

“I hate wasted potential, that crushes your spirit, it really does.”

This refers to the “wasted potential” of the relationship. Tyler believes that the relationship had the potential to be lifelong, however, his partner just wasn’t cut out for it. One of the worst types of heartbreak is being in love with the idea of what someone could be, and having to separate that from who they really are.

“THANK YOU” then opens, with repeating drum beats and gunshot sound effects. Tyler sings,

“Thank you for the love,
Thank you for the joy,
But I don’t ever want to fall in love again”

Tyler thanks his lover for the experiences they had together, but is so hurt by the past that he hopes he never falls in love again. The first two lines of “THANK YOU” are sampled from Japanese singer Tatsuro Yamashita’s “Fragile,” a love song from 1998. The difference between the two is in “Fragile,” Yamashita is thanking his lover for saving him from loneliness and hoping she never breaks his heart, while in “THANK YOU” Tyler is embracing loneliness and hoping he is never heartbroken again. Throughout “THANK YOU,” we can hear “Got my eye open” repeated at various points. This is once again a callback to “IGOR’S THEME” and “WHAT’S GOOD,” and the motif of opening one’s eyes and seeing things how they really are. Tyler has his eyes open to the fact that it is time to walk away from this person.

On the album’s second to last track, “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE,” Tyler expresses simply that he no longer feels love for this person…or does he? While the song seems like it should be the last of the album, it’s followed by “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS,” which expresses Tyler’s true feelings towards his ex-lover. While the previous tracks made it seem like Tyler has finally let go, “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS” reveals that this was just a front, with Tyler repeatedly asking, “Are we still friends, can we be friends?”

The album’s final words are Tyler repeating, “can’t say goodbye.”

“IGOR” then ends on a synth note that sounds all too familiar, almost as if we’d heard it before.

That’s because we have—kind of. Typically, the chords in a song “resolve” in the end, meaning that the chord progression usually ends similarly to how it started, making the song feel complete. In “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS,” the chords don’t resolve at the end of the song, rather somewhere else: the beginning of “IGOR’S THEME,” making “IGOR” a perfect, heartbreaking loop, with Igor stuck forever falling in love, feeling unrequited love, fighting for love, accepting the lack of love, and starting all over again.

“IGOR” is a masterpiece, a vulnerable, gut wrenching work of art that proves its timelessness year after year. It’s more than an album, its an experience, and should definitely be in your rotation this summer.