The recent news that Skepta would be dropping his new album, Ignorance Is Bliss, at the end of the month was met with excitement and anticipation. The announcement came almost out of nowhere and things are moving quickly as we have now got the album’s first single, “Bullet From A Gun”.
Co-produced by “Shutdown” producer Ragz Originale alongside Chief SK himself, “Bullet From A Gun” is a return to the Skepta of old, with whipcrack bars and classic grime tropes. Not only that, but Skepta’s sounding more fired up than ever. If this is anything to go by, Ignorance Is Bliss could be one of the biggest releases of the year.
The oddball Phoenix trio Injury Reserve seem more like a random selection of three customers at a Zumiez store than a rap group. Their true origin story isn’t that far off: rapper Ritchie With a T moved to the city with his mom so she could launch a Vans store there, and that’s where he met Stepa J. Groggs, who was an employee. Their imaginative 23-year-old producer Parker Corey, a swim-team captain who only got into beat-making when an injury kept him from competing, is so green that Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the first rap album he ever listened to in full. A tinkerer without limits, he’s sampled everything from K-pop idol group f(x) to bebop trailblazer Donald Byrd. Without a rap scene in Phoenix, they played house parties with punk bands, and their debut album is an attempt to make something uniquely modern of all this incongruity.
Their breakthrough mixtape, 2015’s Live From the Dentist Office, which was literally recorded in the office of Corey’s DDS grandfather, was a foray into jazzy alt-rap that threatened to define them, and they’ve subsequently pushed back hard against it. “I say this ain’t jazz-rap; this that spazz-rap/This that raised-by-the-internet, ain’t-had-no-dad rap,” Ritchie explains on “Oh Shit!!!” from the 2016 follow-up tape Floss. Since then, they’ve continued to move outward into weirder sounds without sacrificing their inherent smoothness. “There’s people that can make really accessible music, and there’s people who can make experimental music, but there’s only a handful of people who can do both,” Ritchie told Billboard. They aim to join this handful, making noise music that still scans as pop.
Despite their pursuit of the avant garde, neither Ritchie nor Stepa are particularly groundbreaking MCs. Both are straight-talk rappers that rap a lot about rapping. And yet they’re regularly shown up by their own guests, whether it’s Rico Nasty annihilating them on “Jawbreaker” or Freddie Gibbs slashing through “Wax On” with surgical precision. Neither rap anything as memorable across the entire album as Aminé’s bars on “Jailbreak the Tesla”: “Your engine go ‘Vroom’ and my engine go—/Elon on them shrooms/And Grimes voice gon’ be the GPS.” Ritchie and Stepa are best when playing off each other, and they both have a genuine feel for making the most out of Corey’s productions.
100 gecs is a duo comprised of L.A. via St Louis producer-songwriter Dylan Brady and Chicago-based producer-songwriter Laura Les. Dylan has produced forthcoming material for Charli XCX, and been praised by PC Music head A. G. Cook and producer Kenny Beats, has worked with BROCKHAMPTON’s Kevin Abstract, Night Lovell, and many more).
Dylan Brady is an American producer, songwriter, and artist born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri and currently based in Los Angeles, California. Following an output of self-releases and collaborations, Brady made his Mad Decent debut with his Peace & Love EP in 2018. Brady has built an extensive network of internet-based artists and has become one of the most sought-after producers of the SoundCloud era.
Through his own work for his solo artist project, his duo 100 gecs with Laura Les, and in his productions and songwriting for others, he has received praise from Charli XCX (whom he has been busy in the studio with), rap producer Kenny Beats and PC Music label-head A. G. Cook, as well as collaborations with BROCKHAMPTON’s Kevin Abstract, Injury Reserve, Night Lovell, The Neighbourhood’s Jesse Rutherford, Deb Never, Kailee Morgue, Josh Pan, Ravenna Golden, Dorian Electra, and many more.
he moods of Tyler, the Creator’s albums have largely been defined by absence—of his father, of critical acclaim, of love. He responded to what was missing with antagonism, album after album, until 2017 when he looked back at his life with a sunny lens and twinge of nostalgia to deliver his best work, Flower Boy. That Grammy-nominated album is eminently pleasing, the sound of an iconoclast succumbing to his better judgment. IGOR, the 28-year-old’s sixth full-length, is Tyler finally content in the face of all that agony.
IGOR sounds like the work of a perfectionist giving shape to his more radical ideas. Tyler, who proudly produced, wrote, and arranged the album, is singing more but he’s not worrying whether his tracks have a traditional pop arc. Songs don’t build to a crescendo, they often begin there. The opening “IGOR’S THEME” serves less as a guiding force and more like a recurring motif of doom that hides in the shadows and pops its head in at select moments, like on “NEW MAGIC WAND” where spooky synths erupt below Tyler’s thought process: “I saw a photo, you looked joyous,” goes one of the more poignant lines. Atop this budding dread, Tyler layers candied keys and harmonizing vocals. The brightness is defiant, as Tyler processes the loss of someone he loves.
The first we hear of Tyler’s vanishing relationship is on “EARFQUAKE”: “Don’t leave, it’s my fault.” First pitched-up and later untreated, Tyler’s voice is pleading but not cloying. He doesn’t sound like he’s lying to quickly repair deep damage, as his words may suggest, he’s just being sincere. IGOR becomes a gracious and giving breakup album whose narrative is fleshed out more clearly later in the record: Tyler seems to have fallen for a man (“You’re my favorite garçon,” he sings at one point) who wants to return to his female partner. “I hope you know she can’t compete with me,” he first sings on “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU,” before shifting his tone: “Thank you for the love/Thank you for the joy.”
As the album progresses, Tyler goes through his undulations of denial and acceptance, but spends considerable energy hoping to help his beloved find satisfaction, even if that means a future without him. “Take your mask off,” he advises on “RUNNING OUT OF TIME,” “Stop lyin’ to yourself, I know the real you.” It’s an empathetic turn from an artist previously allergic to other people’s perspectives. The parting ultimately leads to self-discovery: “You never lived in your truth,” he tells his ex. “But I finally found peace, so peace.”
There’s a run at IGOR’s center where each song’s momentum seems to propel him forward emotionally. It’s during this stretch that Tyler is at his most creatively fluid, as on “A BOY IS A GUN*,” where he flattens his voice to sing “gun,” sounding like a laser cutting across the track and maybe also through his own psyche. Combined with the Kanye-assisted “PUPPET,” these tracks in their varied tone and tempo reflect the volatility of Tyler’s emotions across IGOR. Most songs don’t even have a natural ending, they just snap off, like someone pulled the aux cord abruptly.
IGOR may be unsettled but it never feels restless. As Tyler grapples with uncertainty and unfulfillment, he delivers an album that feels like it is suspended in midair. It reminds me of Solange’s When I Get Home or King Krule’s The OOZ, albums that succeed in communicating mood as their own sense of logic. Tyler’s interpretation of this sort of stream-of-consciousness feels weightless. The whole album is sustained by mutating, colorful chords, impressionistic cracks in tonality. On top of that, Tyler’s synthetic falsetto singing adds a surreal element to IGOR. The lines between desire and reality and internal monologue and human conversation all become blurred.
Tyler, the Creator never shied away from sharing what he thought his life was missing. “I ain’t got no fucking money,” he yelled simply enough on the inimitable “Radicals,” an early Odd Future anthem. And when he got what he thought he wanted, he flaunted it: “Also stuck with a beautiful home with a case of stairs,” he taunted his father on “Answer.” IGOR is the first time Tyler has not been motivated by some absence because he lost a bit of himself in someone else. “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?,” the album’s rough and honeyed send-off, is Tyler’s final attempt at salvaging his relationship. He’s finally without his beau and asks for the compromise of friendship. The track, as with many on IGOR, ends sharply with a synth never resolving its buzz. There’s nothing left to say when you’ve given all of yourself away.