What is an artist? How does one define what an artist is? How does an artist define themself? These are all loaded questions that could have thousands of different answers and interpretations, but what truly makes an artist is the figurative paint brush they utilize and how they choose to utilize it on the blank canvas that they begin with.
An artist must be unequivocally honest in their work. An artist must be not just honest, but sincerely vulnerable. If any part of their psyche is left out of their project, then they are cheating their audience, critics, and devoted fans. Fuck the bullshit. Tell us how, what, and why you feel.
That is what makes an artist an artist.
Every single day I count my blessings, and take a moment to appreciate the fact that I exist at the same time period as five of the most talented artists to ever walk on Planet Earth. My favorite kinds of art to consume are poetry and music, specifically hip-hop and all of the sub-genres that fall under it's wide umbrella. These five artists I'll be detailing and worshipping are each considered "rappers", but that shouldn't dilute their impact on culture. They are each poets as well in their own ways.
First of all, there is Kanye West. The pioneer of this genre-less generation; the first man who ever prioritized sound over stereotypical output. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, and this project was a glimpse into Yeezy's private diary that was chalk-full of narcissism, arrogance, ignorance, and the depths of depression. For a man who was so often at the center of the public eye, it was a bold statement for him to release such a personal project. That is what an artist does, and Kanye is an excellent example of who an artist is.
Then there is Frank Ocean. The former Odd Future stand-out. Ocean is a genius in every sense of the word. His projects are so meticulously crafted that it takes almost five years at a time for him to perfect them. Channel Orange and Blonde are each genre-bending, life-defining projects that should be added to the Bible. Certain songs by Frank can strike feelings inside one's mind that no other artist is capable of, the beat switch on "Nights" is the one that most often comes to mind.
There is also Young Thug. Earth's most valuable alien, and hands down the most colorful voice box to ever touch a recording studio (if you haven't heard Barter 6 then what the fuck are you even doing with your life?). This man has been on absolute tear ever since 2014's Slime Season series, and he deserves all the attention that's ever gone his way. Nobody ever knows what's going on in Thugger's head, and maybe that's another way an artist is both interesting and impressive: their unpredictability, and genuine creativity.
There is Kendrick Lamar. One of the most gifted lyricists of all-time, and an unabashed bar-deliverer that has had plenty of ups and downs throughout his decade long career. His attempts at detailing the human condition are potentially second to none. Wherever you stand on Lamar as an artist, you can't argue that at least two of his three most recent albums are legitimate classics: GKMC, TPAB, DAMN.
Then, finally, there is perhaps my current favorite out of all the favorites that exist: Tyler Okonma. Every aspect that I detailed above regarding Yeezy, Frankie, Thugger, and KDot can be said about The Creator. His music, and twitter, suggest that he doesn't even know what a genre is anymore at this point. He's blind to the constructs that exist in the music industry, and decides to be one of one rather than some of a ton. Both Flower Boy and IGOR are purposefully arranged, and meant to be listened to the same way that a story is told: from beginning to middle to end.
Tyler's progression as a musician is unparalleled and undeniable. I talked about this a little bit on the BURBS Final Digest on IGOR, but I feel like this is a topic that deserves to be appreciated more. I recall listening to Tyler, the Creator religiously about eight years ago when I was an oversized, emo, wanna-be-skater seventh grader at a private catholic school.
I'd listen to songs like, "Yonkers," "She," "Her," "Radicals," and any other track off of Goblin that embraced my pre-teenage angst. I wanted Supreme five-panel hats, BAPE hoodies, and black-white vans just like Tyler, Taco, Jasper, and Na'kel. That's what made him stand out above all the others: Tyler made even suburban kids from Des Moines, Iowa feel like they could be apart of his clique filled with radicals that referred to themselves as Odd Future, and I fucking worshipped him for this undisputed inclusion.
Listening to Tyler, the Creator back then wasn't beautiful, perfect, and made me feel like I lived in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory (like it is now), but it was meaningful and outstanding. Nobody else made music like him, and when he won the VMA for Best New Artist, I felt like I was celebrating an achievement with my best friend more so than just cheering for a musician that I adored from afar.
Fast forward six years later, and Flower Boy completely altered both Tyler's career trajectory, and the world's perspective on him as an artist. While the album was mostly popular for his coming out of the closet moment, I wasn't going to let that recognition define the project for myself as an avid fan of his. It was the songs like, "Foreword," "Where This Flower Blooms," "Sometimes...," "See You Again," "Pothole," "Boredom," and "911 / Mr. Lonely," that refused to leave my mind rather than the fact he's homosexual (cause I could truly give a fuck less about someone's sexuality, considering it's a spectrum). I shit you not, I was singing each of these choruses, or at least humming their instrumentals in my head for five to six months following the album's release. It was with this masterpiece that Tyler introduced an entirely new side of himself to me, and he has only ran with it since then while also maintaining the same ferocity that made me fall in love with him in the first place like on the 2018 solo track, "435."
After the unparalleled progression that he made in a span of six years, it's safe to say that I'd never had higher expectations for an artist when I found out that IGOR was approaching. In order to prepare for the wondrous words, vibrant verses, and inescapable instrumentals that were coming for my head sooner than later, I returned to my roots as a Tyler stan and grooved around the house like Tyler says he does on "Yonkers." I'd already heard the leak to "EARFQUAKE" featuring the God, Playboi Carti, but there wasn't a single shred of me that thought I was prepared for what was coming my way.
Honestly, I was a nervous wreck, saying downtrodden things to myself like, "Igor? What the fuck is an Igor? Is T trying to become like homosexual Frankenstein or something? I mean I guess I'm cool with that. But I better get some dope ass features at the very least. Am I going to get any more Rex Orange County features? What about Frank? Frank better be on this shit or I'm fucking done."
Then, finally, after seeing John Wick 3, the album was in my hands. And I couldn't have told you a single soul who was featured on the project aside from Playboi's verse, and Yeezy's beyond recognizable voice on "PUPPET." It wasn't until my fourth or fifth listen through (and several scrolls through Genius) that I realized all of the other features on the project:
Lil Uzi Vert and Solange on "IGOR'S THEME"
Charlie Wilson (along with Playboi) on "EARFQUAKE"
Solange on "I THINK"
Santigold on "NEW MAGIC WAND"
slowthai on the second half of "WHAT'S GOOD"
CeeLo Green on "GONE, GONE / THANK YOU"
Al Green and Pharrell Williams on "ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?"
And of course, Jerrod Carmichael as the interlude narrator throughout the album
Tyler takes each of these popular artists and touches their voices with an auto-tuning wizard's wand. He warps their abilities, and uncaps their potentials in accordance with the message of the album. Overall, IGOR is perfect in every imaginable way, and I won't stop listening to it until the end of time. Now I'd like to include a thank you letter to the man that I adore almost 99% as much as I do LeBron.
Thank you. Thank you for being you. Thank you for creating. Your music has helped me in countless situations, and I wouldn't be who or where I am today without your creations. Please continue to be unapologetically you, because that is what being an artist is, and you are one of the best in the world at being that.