Five Burning Questions: Tyler the Creator’s Career Week on the Charts With ‘IGOR’

Tyler, the Creator had reached every other peak in the Billboard 200's top five with his first four albums: No. 5 with debut Goblin in 2011, No. 4 with third set Cherry Bomb in 2015, No. 3 with sophomore LP Wolf in 2013 and No. 2 two years ago with fourth album Flower Boy. And now, with latest effort IGOR, he's completed the top-five set with his first ever No. 1 on the chart. 

IGOR moves 165,000 equivalent album units this week -- a career-best for the Odd Future rapper -- allowing it to finish above DJ Khaled's guest-heavy Father of Asahd venture, which finishes at No. 2 with 137,000 units moved. Just as impressively, IGOR charts eight of its 12 tracks on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, led by "Earfquake" at No. 13 -- doubly notable, because Tyler had only scored three total hits on the chart before, and none higher than No. 87. 

Are there more hits to come from IGOR? And why is Tyler enjoying this level of commercial success only now, almost a decade after he initially achieved mainstream notoriety? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below. 

1. IGOR arrived with little advance notice, no advance singles, a hidden guest list and few if any obvious radio songs. How surprised are you (if at all) that it was able to outperform DJ Khaled's Father of Asahd -- with its established singles, star-studded guest list, heavy week-of promotion and big swings at big hits? 

Tatiana Cirisano: I’m not too surprised, even if Tyler himself was. Hype doesn’t necessarily equal hits. I think the lack of build-up actually helped Tyler here -- since I had zero expectations for the album, I came to IGOR with a completely open mind, free of the wear that often comes with heavily-promoted projects. (“Just go, jump into it,” he writes in a note on the album art, suggesting this was just what he intended.) And despite the hidden guest list -- or maybe in spite of it -- I found myself replaying certain tracks to hunt down those features. IGOR is that special kind of record where the more times you listen, the more you hear, so I’m not shocked that it garnered this many spins. Of course, you need an established fanbase and a healthy level of notoriety to pull off this kind of surprise drop. Thankfully for him, Tyler has both.

Josh Glicksman: Given that both of DJ Khaled’s last two albums went No. 1, it’s not hard to imagine an alternate reality where he picks up a third consecutive chart-topping record. However, the promotion efforts behind Father of Asahd might’ve cost him such a scenario. Following two singles that were released way too early in advance -- “Top Off” dropped in March 2018 -- there was hardly any buzz surrounding the project until it arrived on May 17. Ultimately, it’s not that shocking to me that Tyler edged out DJ Khaled. The former provides a more appealing and digestible body of work for listening. Other than popcorning around to the tracks from your favorite collaborators, the once-omnipresent jet skier doesn’t provide much content worth repeating on Father of Asahd.

Bryan Kress: I’m pleasantly surprised. Tyler was nipping at that number one spot with Flower Boy, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping he could bring it home this time. Clearly, lessons have been learned since 2017 with the expansion of his reliable merch bundles, but following the release, the album itself proved to be a worthy match to Father of Asahd. IGOR arguably hosts more diverse and thoughtfully implemented features, and attracts a stronger intrigue as Tyler unveils the latest phase of his transformative career.

Carl Lamarre: Not surprised. The thing about Khaled is that he hasn't developed a core fan-base. I think fans are more geeked about his single collaborations as opposed to hearing a full-length album from him. As for Tyler, he's coming off a Grammy-nominated effort in 2017's Flower Boy, and at the time, it was considered his best body of work. I think we were all initially stunned to see his level of vulnerability on that album, and because of that, curiosity drove back to him that format, and with IGOR, it was worth the wait. 

Ross Scarano: I’m not surprised. This is the sort of success Tyler’s been working towards his entire career; he’s diligently nurtured a fanbase of hyper-invested consumers that’s grown large enough to turn his festival, Camp Flog Gnaw, into one of the premier West Coast music festivals. Factor in his clothing line and sneaker work and you have an artist who has convincingly, authentically and sensibly built a brand. At 28, he’s a vision of coherence, a former agitator who has followed his heart into more mellow but nevertheless ambitious musical territory that lays bare his interiority in a way that’s totally distinct from the early years of his career but without feeling disconnected from them. It makes me really happy.

2. IGOR also represents Tyler's best first-week numbers and first No. 1 album, nearly a decade into his career as a solo star. What about this album (or about the industry in 2019) do you think has led to him reaching these new commercial heights? 

Tatiana Cirisano: Tyler has always been a musical shape-shifter, but with IGOR, he’s never been more true to himself. On the album, he explores every sonic whim and curiosity, and treads pulpy subjects like heartbreak, self-worth and the thread that connects love with obsession. I think listeners are responding to that vulnerability. I also think today’s listeners are more open to the kind of genre-blurring experimentation on IGOR, a trend that might be driven by the wealth of music niches available through streaming. After all, it was just a few weeks ago that another genre-bender, Billie Eilish, topped the Billboard 200. In today’s anything-goes musical landscape, fortune favors the bold.

Josh Glicksman: Though Tyler hasn’t experienced a whole lot of Hot 100 success before IGOR, it’s worth noting that he hasn’t been far off from the top of the Billboard 200 with previous efforts, coming one spot away from the top with Flower Boy in 2017 -- held off only by Lana Del Rey’s Lust for Life -- and never charting lower than top five. Tyler’s growth as an artist is continued with each passing work, and he has undoubtedly benefited from today’s streaming age, but let’s not dismiss his successes from earlier in his career, either.

Bryan Kress: Tyler has slowly crept into mainstream consciousness by building an empire on the foundation of his endlessly popular GOLF brand and burgeoning television career. Though IGOR might be less accessible than typical chart-topping fare, Tyler as a public figure has never been more popular.

Carl Lamarre: I think it just comes down to Tyler and his evolution. At the start of his career, he enjoyed going against the grain, churning out inflammatory bars, some of which sparked controversy among the LGBTQ community. The skill-set was always there, but he needed to be a bit more polished. Once he exuded a sense of openness within his music, beginning with Flower Boy, fans embraced him for his refreshing candor and have championed his newfound transparency. The more layers he continues to peel back, the more receptive his audience will be. 

Ross Scarano: If the streaming economy as it exists now existed in 2011, when “Yonkers” dropped, I don’t think we’d be talking about new commercial heights in 2019. That said, this album feels perfect for right now -- a few steps ahead of the curve but on a continuum with recent work from many of the stars in the musical community Tyler fits into. (Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs and Frank Ocean’s Endless also fall into this category, in that they’re going to inspire lots and lots of music to come.) Tyler’s love for Stevie Wonder, especially his warm ‘70s synth work on albums like Talking Book and Innervisions, is a ribbon running through all of IGOR, and rhymes with the weirder slice of Wonder that Solange drew from for When I Get Home. He tapped Playboi Carti for an exquisite verse, continued to further the decades-long excellence of Uncle Charlie Wilson and brought Solange on for vocal flourishes -- it feels like family.

3. "Earfquake" is easily Tyler's biggest Hot 100 hit to date, debuting at No. 13 on the chart this week. He's said that the song was turned down by Justin Bieber and Rihanna -- could you see it being even bigger or better as performed by one of those superstars, or did it end up being recorded by the right person?

Tatiana Cirisano: Bieber’s voice strikes me as too polished to suit the song’s rough edges. I’ll admit: I wouldn’t turn down a Rihanna version, or any new Rihanna music, at this point. Still, “Earfquake” feels like Tyler’s baby. I just don’t think the song’s funky, swerving beat would be the same without his (plus Charlie Wilson’s) soulful, literally quaking vocals to match it. The lamenting track is also crucial to IGOR, setting up the tenuous relationship at its core. (...But seriously, Rihanna, WYA?)

Josh Glicksman: Would it be bigger? Yes. Any time you’re attaching a huge name like that to a track, whether just for a hook or for the whole thing, it’s inherently going to get a huge boost -- Tyler has 8.1 million Twitter followers, versus 91.2 million and 105.6 million for Rihanna and Bieber, respectively. Would it be better? No chance. Everything from its groove cooked with opening piano chords and synths to its Adult Swim-vibe music video screams Tyler, the Creator. The final result likely gets something of a tonal shape-up with either Rih or JB involved, but I doubt “Earfquake” works nearly as well with either of the two parties participating.

Bryan Kress: In its current form, I can only see the song working with Tyler. Though the prospect of Carti sharing credits with Justin Bieber or Rihanna is an enticing thought experiment, Tyler is the only logical fit for a tune that fondly equates heartache to a natural disaster. His wish list artists may have been able to net a higher spot on the charts, but it’s the rare vulnerability and sincerity in Tyler’s voice that gives the song its heart.

Carl Lamarre: Yeah, Rihanna and Bieber would have smashed this song, but there was just something special about Tyler's rendition. He imbued a sense of rawness that only he was able to capture. Tyler knows he can't sing, but sometimes, just owning the song is as good enough. Many of us can't sing like a Bieber or Rihanna, but, we do all have loneliness in common.

Ross Scarano: The song wouldn’t work with a stronger vocalist; you need Tyler’s tentative pipsqueak performance to sell the feeling it describes. The earthquake is most shattering when you, the listener, can hear that this love is bigger than the singer’s body.

4. "Earfquake" is just one of eight songs Tyler notches on the Hot 100 this week. Which of the other seven songs do you think has the most potential to be a breakout track from the album?

Tatiana Cirisano: With its gritty, chopped-up beat and woozy dream of a bridge, “I Think” is a straight-up jam. Positioned at the start of the love story told by IGOR, the song feels like striking a match. That said, the menacing “New Magic Wand” could be a sleeper hit, if for Tyler’s infectious “EEE! EEE!” alone. You read that in his voice, didn’t you?

Josh Glicksman: Maybe it’s because I haven’t been able to get “You so motherfuckin’ dangerous” out of my head since the project dropped, but I’m going with “A Boy Is a Gun*” here. The Kanye influence is fingerprinted on the track with Tyler using the same Ponderosa Twins Plus One sample that Ye utilizes on “Bound 2.” It’s also Tyler’s strongest lyrical performance from IGOR and is riddled with memorable one-liners like “Cause this parka is Comme, you’re my favorite garçon” and “You invited me to breakfast, why the fuck your ex here?” It’s a bit more of a dark horse, but paired with a well-timed music video, “Gun” has the potential to explode into the perfect song for all of your late summer nights.

Bryan Kress: While I see “New Magic Wand” as the next mosh-ready staple of his live show and “I Think” as the dance-y deep cut held in reverence by fans, it’s the sample-laden love song "A Boy Is a Gun" that’d I’d like to succeed the most. It embraces a softer sound that Tyler typically swerves against, but it completely works as the euphoric climax of the album’s concept of love and loss that garners its brightest moment.

Carl Lamarre: I'm huge on song sequence, so, of course, I love how "Earfquake" segues into "I Think." That song has N.E.R.D. vibes all over it. After being in a state of romantic depression the track before, "I Think" not only refuels one's hopes for love but makes you want to race to the floor and party the night away. I can only imagine what the energy will be like when this song comes on during Tyler's headlining set at Gov. Ball this weekend. Dance Fever.  

Ross Scarano: “A Boy Is a Gun” grabbed me most on my first listen. It could be the song that’s destined to be more of a fan favorite than a breakout single -- it’s also the only track on here where Tyler says “you're my favorite garçon,” a line that always gets me.  

5. So much about where Tyler, the Creator is at as an artist in 2019 would have been unforeseeable from his early days as an Odd Future provocateur. What about his evolution have you found the most surprising or impressive?

Tatiana Cirisano: I’m continually impressed by how involved Tyler is in every aspect of his work. The guy just goes above and beyond. He produced, wrote and arranged all of IGOR, and his fingerprints are absolutely everywhere. Even the shaker sound you hear in “Running Out of Time,” among other tracks, is actually his vocals. I find the first part of that question harder to answer -- everything he’s done has been surprising! Knowing that I’m a fan, another staffer looking to get into Tyler recently asked me if IGOR is a good place to start. There is no good place to start, but that’s why I like Tyler’s music so much. You just jump in.

Josh Glicksman: is ability to present listeners with something totally different than the rest of his catalogue with each new release -- and his ability to present it extremely well -- is incredibly impressive. From early Odd Future work to “Hot Chocolate” anthems to more recent melodic cuts, Tyler constantly keeps his listeners guessing and manages to level up while doing so. His maturation in lyrical content and production is among the most impressive of any artist in the genre over the past decade. Simply put, my favorite part about Tyler, the Creator is that I still don’t know how to adequately describe his discography in a way that does justice to its evolution.

Bryan Kress: From the album’s initial announcement as a work "written, produced and arranged by" Tyler himself, it was clear IGOR would be a culmination of his singular vision; the most impressive thing about the album is just how well he was able to execute that. The many sides to Tyler’s persona and the competing sounds of his discography, from the half-baked homicidal lyricism in his OF days to the brash discordant production of Cherry Bomb to the melodic pop/R&B experimentation on Flower Boy, are filtered into a coherent, affecting and surprisingly soulful project. No matter how far he's pushed the boundaries as a rapper and producer, his music always seemed to have obvious ties to his self-professed influences whether it was Pharrell, Kanye, Eminem or Roy Ayers. IGOR feels like Tyler's first album to build off a sound that's uniquely his.

Carl Lamarre: Tyler's willingness to open up has been vital in his maturation as an artist. Reality is, there's a ton of lovelorn twenty-somethings seeking answers. With Tyler, they now have someone who will unabashedly dish out their feelings at the front door with zero regrets. If you need proof, look no further than his IGOR Apple Music concert in L.A., where fans were confidently belting out his lyrics after he had just released the album less than a week prior. Tyler is a crucial leader for this generation of fans, and if he continues to follow that blueprint, he'll be nearing legendary status in hip-hop.  

Ross Scarano: I’m genuinely impressed with his progression from no-holds-barred provocateur to tenderhearted maestro, producing and arranging an album that chronicles a queer relationship -- precisely because it’s unpredictable, but not unnatural. There are through lines for these feelings and sounds.