When Tyler, the Creator’s 2011 breakthrough LP Goblin caught the music world’s attention, I almost got fired for talking shit about it in the Montreal Mirror album review section.
If memory serves, I gave it a 5/10, which is hardly a terrible review. I acknowledged, at least, that it was half good. I don’t recall exactly what I said but it amounted to, “This has been done before, Esham said it and Company Flow produced it all, over 10 years ago, and you don’t fool me capitalizing on their lack of success, kid.”
The editor-in-chief at that paper, deep in his cups as we saw off a colleague over afternoon beers at a pub near the newspaper office, had decided that the hype he’d been hearing around California’s Odd Future and the leader Tyler was perhaps merited — he hadn’t listened to them, mind you — and that maybe I was just too old to get it.
I was 33, and believed — and still do — that I knew my shit, and stood firm. Yes, the kids liked it. That didn’t make it intrinsically groundbreaking, or fresh or edgy. It didn’t reinvent anything, in my esteem, and as a bred-in-the-bone fan of progressive indie rap, I felt quite confident in my dismissal of these “don’t trust anyone over 30” types that ate bugs in videos and started fights at their own concerts. I thought of them as brats with little originality to bring to the table, and of Tyler (fuck I hated that comma) as a poster child for not-much-new.
And nearly a decade later, honestly, I stand by how I felt then, despite having learned early on that regardless of anything else, these kids really did know their stuff as pertained to musical history.
People change. And while maybe, just maybe, the notion that I was too old to get it did sting a little, I can still call bullshit because all these years later I continue to appreciate artists 20 years my junior with new takes on my favourite genre because, frankly, I just don’t fuckin’ think much about it.
It was ultimately Tyler’s 2015 Osheaga set that changed my mind about him. As I stood, by fluke, about 30 feet away from him before he walked up the stairs to his stage, I could feel star quality burning off the dude. I’d heard that a bad Tyler show at the time was truly terrible, contingent on his mood, but that a good one was beyond stellar. I’d disdained his whole fame-is-boring schtick but could respect a person who doesn’t pretend to be having a good time for a paycheque. There was certainly nothing phony about his show that night. The promise of greatness fans swore by was delivered, and I experienced a full conversion and became a believer.
That said, I still wasn’t an avid listener. I’d seen him once more in the interim between that first experience and last night’s Place Bell show, and was again impressed that second time by his presence, poise and quiet intensity, at how his demeanour switched from serene to savage on command.
But the arrival of IGOR, his fifth studio full-length, has again altered my relationship to his music and artistic vision, this time elevating appreciation to plain admiration. It’s one of my favourite records so far in a year stacked with great music, its shift toward soul, funk and black ’70s stylistics keeping the danger of Tyler’s aesthetic intact while exposing new depth to his talents as a composer and producer. A meaningful record that departs from terra firma hip hop without ever leaving that orbit altogether, IGOR exhibits, for lack of better words, maturity from its creator.
Which brings us to Laval, last night. After stepping on the scene in full Igor all-mod-everything regalia, appropriately to album opener “IGOR’S THEME,” Tyler greeted the crowd.
“Hello!” he intoned with winning schoolboy charm and cheek.
“I honestly don’t know where I am! I thought this was Montreal. Some nigga said it’s not. I looked on the map. New York is three hours away, and y’all niggas got a French accent.”
He launched into “I THINK” and “A BOY IS A GUN” without pause. If ever a body of work invited crowd participation in the form of mosh pit action and deafening sing alongs, IGOR is it. The album features relatively little in the way of traditional verse-hook-verse rap structure and is vocally quite minimal, and at several moments all Tyler had to do was stand there and let it happen from the floor to the rafters. This is a lazy move when it’s expected with some form of entitlement, but magical when you know that the music was conceived to be put on display exactly this way.
The entire album was performed throughout the 90-minute set, though not by track order, but with a pacing that almost demanded that fans forget which song is their favourite. But “EARFQUAKE,” like Thanos, is undeniable, and after first sitting down at a white baby grand corner-stage to lead an unplugged singalong into the real deal fairly early in the set, one had to wonder where he would go from here.
“You know I wrote that song for that nigga Bieber and tried to give it to him like five times?” Tyler informed us.
“‘Oh bro, I didn’t know!’” he intoned in a nasal Justin-y dude-bro drawl.
“I’m glad I kept it,” he concluded, and the crowd roared our approval.
He of course saved room for fan faves like “Yonkers,” “911” and “IFHY,” but anyone hoping for a career retrospective will have to wait for another time. Achieving rightful stadium status (he takes Madison Square Garden tonight), Tyler, the Creator’s new tour feels a lot like Kanye’s Glow in the Dark days, which if I’m right means even bigger, brighter times ahead for the young talent, still a couple of years shy of those dreaded 30s. I’m all for it.
We didn’t waste any time waiting for an encore, either. “I’m gonna do the song after this,” he said between “See You Again” and “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?,” “before I go where I gotta go.”
Saying a final goodnight to “this random-ass city,” Igor left the Place Bell stage marked forever by his SNL-character-esque swagger and panache.
I missed the first act from Goldlink, who has bored the shit out of me before, so no love lost there, but I’d be remiss not to drop my two on opener Jaden Smith.
Here’s the thing: he’s pretty talented. He grew up in the spotlight and that doesn’t take away from his artistic merit — his music is decent and people like it regardless of his iconic cultural lineage — but it’s impossible not to observe the eager wannabe-ism of his presence or to forget about the scale of privilege this kid came into the world with.
Yeah, he called Tyler his boyfriend again (it’s getting tired, son) and told a little story about how the first time he met the OF crew they spotted him and quipped about robbing him, an anecdote I’m sure I’ve heard before but which nonetheless was preambled with a big, deliberate “lemme think, now,” as if he hadn’t remembered the occasion in years, instead of this being stage banter uttered at every show.
But he sings and dances and carries on like a pre-adolescent being cheered along by his aunts and uncles in the living room at a family gathering, and despite the polish (and an admittedly great moonwalk) he’s got a ways to go before becoming a truly remarkable entertainer. It’s clear he wants to play in the big leagues and clearer still he lacks the confidence he’ll need to do so credibly. I wouldn’t put it squarely on having big shoes to fill, either. He may well one day escape his father’s shadow, but he wasn’t that tough an act to follow for a master of ceremonies like Igor.