“I’m glad this album came out in 2019 because I couldn’t have handled ‘Don’t leave, it’s my fault’ in 2018,” I told my buddy over a couple of beers. It was a muggy May evening, and we had both just wrapped up work. He drove over an hour to see me, drink cans of our favorite beer, and talk about music. Tyler, The Creator’s opus, IGOR, had just released, and we were rightfully geeked. After 2017’s Flower Boy essentially handed me my writing career, I felt an incredible kinship to Tyler. His coming out story was my coming out story. His commentary on queerness and fear was mine—and on IGOR, Tyler took my thoughts on heartbreak and turned them into his best album to date.
“Yeah? Why’s that,” asked my buddy. I began to explain to him how fragile I felt in 2018, how I felt like I had ruined my own life, how I felt like everything that I touched turned to shit in my undeserving hands. Begging someone to say? That seemed like my 2018 anthem. But in 2019, I was a year removed from my grand ego death and far more equipped to look back on my past with a less intense lens. IGOR, I explained, took me back without holding my head underwater. IGOR took me back and let me glide above my memories. He nodded and slid a beer towards me, one he opened for me, and we lost ourselves in the crazy arrangements that marked IGOR as a massive creative evolution from Flower Boy. As Production Manager for Discovery at Central Sauce Brandon Hill, writes, “The composition is beautiful.”
Hill isn’t the only one who still loves Tyler, The Creator’s IGOR. In 2020, IGOR won the GRAMMY for Rap Album of the Year, despite us not exactly knowing if it is a rap album. Regardless, the project has gone down as especially beloved by fans. “It really expresses my feelings in love, and it’s perfectly crafted,” writes one Twitter user. “Every single nuance and sound is remarkable.” I couldn’t agree more. “The story,” writes another, “The aesthetic. The experimentation. You could see him slowly drifting towards this sonic freedom on his prior albums. I’m just so happy he stuck with it and delivered an eventual classic.”
One year removed from IGOR, I’m not here to debate it’s “eventual classic” status. I am here, though, to discover why we still love the album. For me, IGOR is a manifestation of everything good about music. The album transports you, walks you through a universal narrative, and leaves you on the other side as a changed person. Tyler, The Creator himself has changed. As Dylan “CineMasai” Green wrote for us in December of 2019: “IGOR doesn’t just contain love songs; the album’s narrative details the genesis, evolution, and crumbling of a genuine and very queer love unrestrained by expectation… The peace Tyler finds in himself is more important than the peace he was searching for in other people on ‘VCR… ’ Tyler isn’t afraid of himself or his desires anymore.”
Instrumental in the making of IGOR is engineer and dear friend, Vic Wainstein. Wainstein has credits on “IGOR’S THEME,” “EARFQUAKE,” “I THINK,” “RUNNING OUT OF TIME,” “NEW MAGIC WAND,” “A BOY IS A GUN*,” “PUPPET,” “WHAT’S GOOD,” “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU,” “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE,” and “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS.” For those keeping score at home, that’s the whole album sans the “EXACTLY WHAT YOU RUN FROM YOU END UP CHASING” skit.
“He does things for him first—if he loves it, he loves it,” Wainstein tells me of the making of IGOR. “The thing with Tyler, we’re always working. It was early 2018 when we made the distinction, like, ‘Alright, this is gonna be a thing.’ I was bouncing back and forth, finishing Swimming, and we were starting IGOR. IGOR had started around the last six-month push of finishing Swimming. I was worn thin. I was going in and out of town for both [Mac Miller and Tyler, The Creator]. I had went to Hawaii with Malcolm, focusing on Swimming, and then came back. Worked with Tyler for a bit, and then Tyler was like, ‘Okay, we have a thing.’”
Wainstein continues: “Tyler’s very concept-driven. He maps out a lot of things very meticulously. He draws stuff; he plans stuff. He has books he writes in—lyrics, designs, ideas; he jots things down creatively. IGOR became a manifestation. He started mapping out the look of IGOR, and the aesthetic of IGOR and the music started to make sense in context. I went with him to Italy for almost three weeks, and we focused on getting out of our normal mental state to focus on what IGOR was gonna be musically.”
As for the sonic direction of IGOR, during their time in Italy, and beyond, Vic Wainstein was far from surprised. According to him, he and Tyler, The Creator had been disrupting the sonic space of hip-hop since they first began working together. “All of them!” Vic cites as his favorite studio sessions with Tyler. “My two favorite people to listen to music with are Tyler and Malcolm. Most of our studio moments are favorites of mine.”
“They’re the secret weapons—I’m happy to be in the room,” Vic says, humbly. “I get to benefit from the mind-expanding efforts that happen with them. The magic that I worked on IGOR was convincing him to let me be a part of it. So, thanks, T! You’re fucking tight for that. I did tell him recently, ‘Hey, man, thanks for trusting me to be a part of it.’ He was very grateful for having me. We were both just sitting back, mind blown that it even got as big as it did.”
At the time of our talk, Vic had just received his GRAMMY award for his work on IGOR. Between the performance and the win itself, Vic recalls that day as a “wild dream,” packed with nerves and high-running emotions. But, of course, his work paid off.
“The statement of IGOR means more to me than any one song,” Vic explains. “With IGOR, we did a thing where it was a conscious effort to change the programming of how people ingested music. Really taking it back to more of a cinematic quality of albums that we liked when we were younger. How we had to take an album for a ride to understand the full journey instead of being like, ‘Okay, here’s the one that’s starred, let’s listen to that first.’ He cultivated a very singular listening experience.”
I asked Vic what he believes IGOR means to Tyler. “What it means to T?” Vic muses, “it means a whole lot. It means he gets to continue to have a narrative in today’s music culture—culture, period. His voice is being heard and is gonna continue to be heard. His ideas are gonna continue to be taken seriously, and it puts him in an awesome space moving forward with whatever he feels obliged to do creatively. I can tell, when we spoke, how much [IGOR meant to him] because of his disbelief at exactly how big it got. You never know. This thing, like I was saying earlier, was a scribble in a notebook.”
Shortly after IGOR was released, I scribbled in my notebook and penned a piece titled “Tyler, The Creator’s ‘IGOR’ Is What Happens When ‘November’ Ends.” In it, I wrote: “Through the act of naming, Tyler, The Creator was able to give himself a character through which to heal. Where heartbreak is one of the most spectacular things to happen to a person, IGOR stands as Tyler, The Creator’s creative opus; his most audacious and true album to date.” To this day, exactly a year later, I mean every word. IGOR is truth personified and turned into a deep bass marvel. IGOR is so thoughtfully crafted, with each transition, feature, and quotable driving this grand narrative of heartbreak and healing.
Think of the brilliance of Tyler ending the album with “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” and how the line “I don’t wanna end this season on a bad episode” is such a simple yet powerful close, how it shifts the ethos of IGOR to be one of coping. There’s something so beautifully secure about naming a song “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU.” How many of us can thank our past loves for shaping us into the people we are today? I’m still working on it, certainly. One year on, IGOR is a special album that sounds like birds chirping on a Sunday. One year on, IGOR sounds like peace filtering in, perhaps for the first time in a long time.