Updated: Jan 18
Favorite Track: By Yourself (feat. Jhené Aiko & Mustard)
Least Favorite Track: Freak (feat. Quavo)
Something that artists commonly struggle with as they develop their musicality and sound is balancing the pursuance and celebration of the success of other artists with their own value and pleasure in making music. For example, as I continue to encourage and support my fellow Jazz musicians as they compose and showcase their playing, I sometimes find myself overlooking my own progress, ignoring the interpretation and meaning of what music means to me to help someone else reach their full potential. An R&B/rap artist who might relate to my experience is Ty Dolla $ign, who some have deemed a collaboration virtuoso. He’s appeared on many of my favorite albums including Mac Miller’s The Divine Feminine, Thundercat’s It Is What It Is, Jacob Collier’s Djesse Vol. 3, and so many more. His voice gives tracks a touch of sensitivity, making him the perfect collaborator for rap/R&B artists who are looking to season their sound with a sensual and smooth falsetto voice.
In regard to his own music, I love Ty Dolla Sign’s 2010 debut project Free TC, an epic collection of bedroom jams filled with grotesque lyrics and raunchy aesthetics. This record shows off his many musical gifts, including writing catchy hooks, creating amazing four-part harmonies, and producing some cold trap beats for YG, Wiz Khalifa, and Kendrick Lamar to spit over. Six years later, his project Campaign felt underwritten, as if he went with the first musical idea in his head and ran with it. Ty’s 2018 release Beach House 3 was disappointing to say the least. His message to those seeking fame is lost in the type of generic rap/trap sounds that fans have seemed to expect from him. Ty’s duo project, MIH-TY, with pop/R&B singer Jeremih, was a very welcomed follow-up, going back to his traditional seductive tone that I have come to admire. Yet, something bothered me about most of this music; he feels disconnected and submissive to the very tracks he makes and even the collaborators he works with. With the release of his 2020 project Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, I expected much of the same thing, given the very title of the album. However, my expectations were proven wrong, as his mastery over these twenty-five tracks creates an album that showcases his excellence.
Since Ty is someone who has assisted other artists achieve massive breakouts in popular music, it is refreshing and thrilling to see him in such a powerful and in control state on Featuring Ty Dolla $ign. The opening track “Intro” features a heartwarming phone call recording from his jailed big brother TC, who reminds Ty that he can “sing, rap, write, produce, engineer, mix, and master” and how he has “really been doing them a favor, blessing them with your talent.” What follows is some of the most authentic and best Ty Dolla $ign that I’ve ever heard, chalked full of his serene vibrato and some of the sweetest instrumental beats/grooves he’s ever produced. I can tell he put a lot of thought and work into this project, with every single synth, drum track, and guest verse carefully placed in perfect alignment. For example, the track “Track 6 (feat. Kanye West, Anderson .Paak, & Thundercat)” has a wonderful balance between Ty’s voice, his dense harmonies, the piano/synthesizers, the 808 subwoofer bass, and the trap beat drums. Shortly after his verse/chorus, there is a spacey, dissonant piano section that contrasts the prior musical atmosphere. Here, Anderson .Paak. and Ty hymn jarring yet interesting harmonies before Anderson spits fire accompanied by Thundercat’s electrifying bass playing. The track ends with an outro from Thundercat, made up of his soothing voice, riffing bass-lines, and an ear-pleasing modulation, making it one of many examples of Ty’s recovered mastery. The emotional track “By Yourself (feat. Jhené Aiko & Mustard)” and the groovy “Your Turn (feat. Musiq Soulchild, Tish Hyman & 6LACK)” are other examples demonstrating his revisited revolutionary performance and ability to keep the spotlight on him even after collaborating with these great artists who he has featured for in the past.
Even though I am thrilled with Ty Dolla $ign’s re-found mastery, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign still has some faults. Some of the solo Ty singles are weak, especially if played out of the album’s order. Tracks like “Everywhere” and “Time Will Tell” objectively feel like they are still trying to pander to the generic Ty Dolla $ign who has been taken for granted in the past. I sometimes found myself more excited for the artists he featured than for what Ty was actually presenting on his solo cuts, which is ironic since in the past, I’ve always jumped to whatever track was featuring Ty on new albums. Featuring Ty Dolla $ign also drags on for an entire hour, comprising twenty-five tracks, which feels a bit excessive. I found myself approaching complete boredom due to completely unnecessary tracks that if removed would not diminish the mastery and quality of Ty’s arguably best work yet. The song “Freak (feat. Quavo)” has super lazy lyricism and an unoriginal trap beat paired with a very uninspired Quavo verse. Likewise, the track “Lift Me Up (feat. Future & Young Thug)” is another that disappointed me, even though I expected more based on who was featured. Future has a very awkward flow here, almost as if he was unclear on the tempo and the beat as he stumbles through his verse. Again, I don’t find either of these songs, or other unnecessary tracks like “Double R (feat. Lil Durk)” and “Powder Blue (feat. Gunna)”, terrible; I just know that Featuring Ty Dolla $ign would be just as magnificent without them.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this album. I’ve always been a huge fan of Ty Dolla $ign and his amazing voice, and to see him produce something like Featuring Ty Dolla $ign is nothing more than a total testament to his undeniable mastery in music. I totally went in expecting something like Campaign, but ended up enjoying all that he had to offer through this memorable and beautiful body of work. To announce the album, Ty captioned his Instagram post “Many people have said that when you see a song that says ‘featuring Ty Dolla $ign,’ you know it’s going to be fire.” I think he has reminisced and rejoiced in the fact that being a fantastic collaborator has been his only notable accomplishment, and now, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign has sealed his legacy in the R&B/rap world. People need to remember that loving an artist means supporting all forms of their music. Recognizing and celebrating their solo work is fundamental in keeping them excited and loved in the popular music culture. Furthermore, I find I gain a deeper appreciation and connection to them, such as the one Ty Dolla $ign and I have had over the years of hearing him paired up with some of my favorite artists and hearing him create masterful pieces of art that hit deep.