Don’t let the Grammys fool you: IGOR was not really a rap album. Not that it contained zero rapping whatsoever, but Tyler, The Creator’s 2019 stunner veered further than ever from the queasy, aggressive, jazz-tinged hip-hop he made his name on in Odd Future’s salad days. The album was a tour de force, voyaging through synthetic funk and soul, brisk organic post-Daft Punk bombast, hard discordant trap beats, and so much more as Tyler unpacked his feelings for a man who became his lover only to go back to his ex-girlfriend. Often, as on the album’s transcendent single “EARFQUAKE,” he did so by bursting into song. If anything, the album was the sound of Tyler going pop and doing it in style.
Tyler would tell you as much, and on the night he won his Grammy for Best Rap Album, he did. While expressing gratitude for recognition at such a high level, he also pushed back on the rap categorization, calling it a “backhanded compliment” rooted in racial stereotypes. “It sucks that whenever we — and I mean guys that look like me — do anything that’s genre-bending or anything, they also put it in a rap or urban category,” Tyler told reporters at the ceremony. “I don’t like that urban word — it’s just a politically correct way to say the N-word, to me. When I hear that I’m like, ‘Why can’t we just be in pop?'”
If Tyler is nominated again for his new Call Me If You Get Lost, this line of reasoning will not apply. IGOR‘s follow-up sounds like the result of Tyler saying, “You want rap music? I’ll give you rap music.” There will always be layers of musical complexity in every new Tyler release — he’s such a visionary producer and a voracious listener that his albums can’t help but capture his love for a vast spectrum of music. That much was true even when he was making shock rap, and it’s become ever truer as his music and public persona have evolved. But with the exception of the 10-minute retro-soul-gone-reggae centerpiece “Sweet / I Thought You Wanted To Dance,” Call Me If You Get Lost is a nonstop barrage of beats, bars, and atmosphere-setting interregna. It’s hip-hop all the way down to the molecular level — a pure expression of love for the genre and its traditions.
In particular Call Me If You Get Lost calls back to the rap music Tyler grew up on. He brought in DJ Drama to play hypeman, bombing the album with enthusiastic asides in the grand Gangsta Grillz tradition. Like Kendrick Lamar recruiting Kid Capri to shout all over DAMN., Drama’s presence is a clear message to listeners about how they are to contextualize this music, as well as a reminder that Odd Future emerged at the end of the peak mixtape era. But if Tyler spent the aughts gobbling up Datpiff classics, he was also immersing himself in the decade’s tentpole rap blockbusters, from The Marshall Mathers LP to Tha Carter III. You can hear that all over Call Me If You Get Lost too. The sheer grandiosity of it all — the elaborate cinematic production, the insane cast of guest rappers — reminds me of “the old Kanye” in all his splendor. Samples from various ’90s legends betray a reverence for the golden age of boom-bap, too. It’s like what a J. Cole album might be if Cole loosened up and had some fun.
There are no trap beats on this album. Tyler is not sing-rapping through Auto-Tune. The aesthetic he has adopted here is deeply classicist — R&B hooks, spoken interludes, sprawling fantasias built from breakbeats and old soul samples — all of it filtered through the kinds of tones and textures that have long been a bedrock of his music, those bleary synth melodies and rich jazz chords he’s been plucking out on his keyboard since the beginning. Along the way he weaves in source material from the hip-hop archives: hijacking Prince Paul’s heaving-machinery beat from Gravediggaz’s “2 Cups Of Blood” for “LUMBERJACK,” crossbreeding Streets Disciple-era Nas with Method Man & Redman’s “Da Rockwilder” on “Manifesto.” Sometimes it’s less a direct reference than an homage, as when the gang vocal on “Runitup” calls back to early Three 6 Mafia. I trust that hip-hop scholars will be digging through Call Me If You Get Lost for days and weeks identifying all the Easter eggs. As DJ Drama exclaims at one point, “Shit like this make me wanna turn my baseball cap to the side!”
If the album plays like a tribute to rap’s good old days, Tyler, who emerged as part of a youth movement himself, is not the type to look down his nose at hip-hop’s current ruling sound. One of the joys of this project is hearing regional breakout stars like 42 Dugg, Teezo Touchdown, and YoungBoy Never Broke Again — whose YouTube kingdom in many ways represents the continuation of that old mixtape circuit — flourish in an entirely different context. Meshing disparate sounds is, after all, a fundamental aspect of hip-hop, and that panoramic anything-goes mentality is key to Call Me If You Get Lost‘s appeal. This is an album where successive tracks can recall Lex Luger’s club-demolishing aggression (“Lemonade”) and ’90s loverman R&B (“Wusyaname”) and anyone from Jamie xx to Westside Gunn can appear in the credits. The guest list is as fascinatingly curated as the stylistic palette, and when those guests show up, they make the most of their moment; a spotlight on a Tyler, The Creator LP is now cause for stepping up your game, whether you’re an R&B singer like Brent Faiyaz and Fana Hues or one of the MCs offered a moment to flex.
And we really should talk about the rapping on this album. Good lord. Lil Wayne gets a regal entrance on “Hot Wind Blows” and instantly ascends to vintage Da Drought 3 form: “Thought all this lean will have me senile, I guess they see now/ Let’s touch down, catch a beat-down like I catch touchdowns/ I fuck ’round and slow the beat down and take the drums out/ The speed of my plum so great, I’ma eat my own flow/ And I’m in need of a flaw, may eat me a rapper, I might as well eat me a ho.” “Juggernaut” brings the best out of both Lil Uzi Vert and Pharrell, who goes wild in a way I haven’t heard since Future’s “Move That Dope”: “If the shit’s fake, I don’t respect it, it’s clickbait/ And that’s distaste like a shit shake/ What a difference your wrist make when it’s Richard-made/ Hungry eyes tend to fixate like a empty stomach for a fish plate/ Shit-faced, get this straight, this is truck wheels that grip tape.” On “Manifesto,” Tyler’s old pal Domo Genesis proves he was more than a Wolf Gang hanger-on, even if he’s immediately upstaged by a head-spinning Tyler verse that sandwiches “Back when I was tryna fuck Bieber” between reflections on cancel culture and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Naturally, his takes on such prevalent cultural issues are presented through the lens of his own experience. His focus on Call Me If You Get Lost is more often personal than big-picture. There’s a lot about his affection for his mom, who he brought with him to the Grammys stage and who gets a riotous track to herself on the album. There’s even more about his latest love interest. The album begins by introducing the new alter ego Tyler Baudelaire, a throwback to the decadent, romantic French poet. In one of his spoken interstitials, Tyler tells us, “The plan was to stick my toe in and check the temperature, but next thing I know, I’m drowning.” By the time we reach the penultimate “Wilshire,” the album’s other epic-length track, he’s spinning a detailed narrative about forbidden flirtation with a friend’s partner: “I could fuck a trillion bitches every country I done been in/ Men or women, it don’t matter, if I seen ’em, then I had ’em/ But with you, it’s a feeling ’cause we twinnin’ and we matchin’/ You stayed in the car when I went on date with that actress/ Whole time I’m eatin’, I couldn’t wait to get back/ In the back of the car with you and talk about who we are.” Think of it as scum fuck flower boy, m.A.A.d. city.
The fixation on attraction, sexual frustration, and the search for true love is one of many throughlines with Tyler’s prior work. Yet who could have seen an album like this one coming? Given the trajectory he’s been on this past decade — from hypebeast rabble-rouser to pastel-clad queer iconoclast, from rickety punk-rap to lush neo-soul hybrids — Tyler was not the most obvious candidate to deliver a monument to the glory and history of hip-hop. But with Call Me If You Get Lost, he’s given the genre one of its most vital adoring tributes in recent memory. His ambitions and abilities may extend far beyond rap music, but in 2021, few artists are making better rap music than Tyler, The Creator.
Call Me If You Get Lost is out now on Columbia.