Label: Columbia Records
Released: May 17

Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR is an expression of freedom. It’s the kind of album that could only be made by a musician who spent the past decade patiently perfecting his skills and building a massive group of fans who loyally support his every artistic whim. It’s a project created without the weight of expectations—fully unconcerned with any preconceived notions of what a Tyler, the Creator album should sound like. Instead, it’s IGOR, a defiant release that confidently bucks traditional genre boundaries and song structure norms. It’s the album Tyler has always wanted to make.

Hours before the project arrived, Tyler shared a note on Twitter and famously told fans not to “expect a rap album.” IGOR is still guided by his hip-hop sensibilities, and it contains flashes of exceptional rapping on songs like “What’s Good,” but the warning served as our first hint that Tyler was about to take his furthest leap yet from the genre most still associate him with. After emerging with raw, rebellious rap songs like “Yonkers” and “Sandwitches,” he now prefers coloring with a blend of R&B, funk, hip-hop, and neo-soul influences. He’s been showing signs of these yearnings since experimental, genre-defying cuts on Goblin like “She” and “AU79,” but in 2019, nearly a decade later, his technical skills have finally caught up with his grandest ambitions. IGOR is an album full of nimble compositional maneuvers, as Tyler freely dances from one sonic palette to the next, and the 28-year-old auteur is uniquely equipped to pull it all off.

Armed with a sharpened set of tools, Tyler made a breakup album that you could play at the beach if you wanted to. These are heartbreaking songs about the dark side of romance, but Tyler chooses to pair most of them with sunny musical backdrops. “Gone Gone / Thank You” features lyrics about losing a lover, contrasted by euphoric arrangements that sound like something you’d expect to hear during a warm and fuzzy love sequence in a coming-of-age film. “Are We Still Friends?” asks heavyhearted questions of a former lover, paired with twinkling production and soothing vocal harmonies. Delivered with the most emotionally nuanced songwriting of Tyler’s career, IGOR is at once brutal and sugary sweet—a reflection of love itself.

Tyler happily embraces risk throughout IGOR. His impossibly deep vocals have always found a natural home on rap songs, but he decides to sing all over this album instead. He’s reached the level of visibility to attempt down-the-middle radio hits if he’s so inclined, but he chooses to make artful pop music that matches his personal tastes. He has access to enough A-list collaborators to build a star-studded tracklist, but he opts to discreetly utilize talents like Kanye West and Lil Uzi Vert with unlisted guest spots. And, as he proudly announces on the album cover, he elects to write, produce, and arrange each song entirely himself. Every one of these gambles paid off on IGOR, and Tyler, the Creator wound up with the best album of 2019. —Eric Skelton