Favorite Track: “Zoo York (feat. Fivio Foreign & Pop Smoke)” Least Favorite Track: “Ice Cold”
Putting your hometown on the map has long been a sign of hip hop greatness, and a sought-after accomplishment from MC’s of all eras. Boasting the glory of your home-turf doesn’t come as a right of passage; instead it’s a subtle acknowledgment that you’re the best that your home has to offer. On Lil Tjay’s latest mixtape, he sets his sights on this mission, recruiting New York’s modern rap roster as an over bloated feature-list. There’s no shortage of guests on State of Emergency and every single one is from the Big Apple; in fact, six of the mixtape's seven tracks have brought along at least one other artist. However, as the mixtape plays out, these names start to feel less like features and more like the best the project has to offer. They seem to overshadow Tjay more often than not, and if anything, they prove that New York’s hip hop scene has acts that are much more innovative, fresh, and exciting than Lil Tjay.
Compared to Tjay’s cutting edge debut True 2 Myself, State of Emergency pulls from a very different set of influences. While it takes more risks than its predecessor, it shoots for a sound that’s far from Lil Tjay’s wheelhouse. Thematically, it covers New York City; from it’s boroughs, to it’s projects, to it’s street life. Stylistically, it attempts the city's most exciting and current musical movement: Brooklyn drill. Although this style of trap music originated in Chicago in the early 2010’s with names like Chief Keef, Lil Bibby, and King Louie, modern artists from New York have given this niche a new flavor, completely re-defining it. Many of the most influential names in that movement show up as features on State of Emergency: artists like Fivio Foreign, Pop Smoke, Sheff G, and Sleepy Hallow. However, among the sea of abrasive adlibs and UK drill deliveries, Tjay sticks out like a sore thumb, effectively outcasting himself from those that he recruited for his own mixtape.
Although he is just as much of a New Yorker as the names on this project’s feature list, Tjay’s prior work maintained a very different type of NYC hip hop sound. His debut blurred the lines between song and rap, effectively putting out a breed of auto-crooned hip hop that stood far above its contemporaries, particularly on a lyrical front where Tjay often set himself apart as one of the most exciting young lyricists in hip hop. True 2 Myself’s brand of New York rap was much closer to that of a Lil Tecca, or a Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, except what made it so great was that it did what those two do except much better. On State of Emergency, Tjay instead attempts to swing with the city's big hitters; names that are more underground but much more talented. Brooklyn Drill has truly bred some amazing musicians, and among them, Lil Tjay fails to compete.
On “Zoo York (feat. Fivio Foreign & Pop Smoke)”, Tjay tries to replicate the movement started by his two guests over a sample of Pop Smoke’s “Make it Rain”. The track is a banger through and through, but no thanks to Tjay’s lead verse. It only gets better in the second half when Fivio Foreign and Pop Smoke remind us what we love about modern drill. Following this, the trio loses the late Pop Smoke, and Tjay and Fivio pay homage to their fallen comrade. “Shoot for the Stars” is a tribute track dedicated to Pop Smoke. The sentiment is a sweet and noble mission statement to live out the request written in the name of Pop’s debut album “Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon”. Unfortunately, the track feels way more like a Fivio Foreign song than one that he features in. Tjay and Fivio receive a similar amount of mic time but Fivio’s heartfelt verse where he discusses his late friend easily overshadows that of Tjay’s.
“Ice Cold” is the only track on State of Emergency without a feature, and it effectively exposes exactly what makes this mixtape so bland. It might be the furthest from Brooklyn drill that Tjay wanders within these seven tracks. Here he stays in a lane he’s more comfortable with, yet this song would peril in comparison to almost any of the songs on his debut project. Here we see that when Tjay attempts this drill sound alone you can barely tell it’s what he’s aiming for. It proves that the only reason that this project maintains a drill inspired edge, is the feature list.
The reason Tjay falters on so many of these tracks is because the production wasn’t meant to compliment his sound as much as it was the other artists on this mixtape. When you put a pop rapper on a track list that’s full of drill beats and drill features, of course he will sound uncomfortable and unconfident. State of Emergency shoots itself in the foot from the get-go and it is a stark reminder of why Brooklyn drill is such a hard sound to pull off convincingly.