As a regular featured artist, Los Angeles musician Tyrone William Griffin Jr – aka Ty Dolla $ign – has helped to showcase R&B and hip-hop’s modern faces in a fuller way. That’s him, for instance, behind the scenes on Fifth Harmony‘s multi-Platinum 2016 album ‘Work From Home’ and adorning Kanye West‘s 2019 rap gospel record ‘Jesus Is King’. In the process, he has propelled himself to the heights of both genres in the latter half of the last decade. A Ty Dolla $ign verse has become most artists’ go-to weapon of choice.
On his third solo release, ‘Featuring Ty Dolla $ign’, he wholeheartedly leans into his contemporary legacy, seeming to poke fun at the music industry convention. Ironically, more than half of the 25-song project boasts featured artists, making the album instantly busy; everyone from Nicki Minaj to Kid Cudi and Kehlani has their say here. Still, beneath the noise, we gain a little insight into Tyrone’s identity as he references his 2015 debut album ‘Free TC’, which honoured his incarcerated brother. On the skit ‘It’s Still Free TC’, the pair praise human rights lawyer Jessica Jackson and Governor of California Gavin Newsom, who is outspoken on the flaws of the US prison system.
Ty is soon joined by super-producer Mustard and rapper Roddy Ricch for the buoyant ‘Real Life’. The former aided Ty Dolla $ign in forming his signature, slow and melodic iteration of West Coast R&B in his early career; here, the pair’s synergy is evident once more, Ty’s husky runs wedded to the plight of African Americans’ struggles. “Cops still killin’ n*ggas in real life,” he sings across the chorus, later juxtaposing this theme with his success and milestones. ‘Real Life’ is a strong example of Ty’s duality.
Much of ‘Featuring Ty Dolla $ign’ boasts near-perfect sequencing, the early numbers – such as the the moody, Post Malone-assisted ‘Spicy’ and ‘Track 6’, a lithe track featuring Kanye West, Anderson .Paak and Thundercat – bleeding into one another with a calculated level of precision. The album is a playful ode to ’90s R&B, Ty marinading his third album in interpolation and sampling.
‘Tyrone 2021’ in particular, is a tongue-in-cheek nod to both his moniker and Erykah Badu‘s 1997 neo-soul classic ‘Tyrone’. While the original song was a playful sass-fest poking fun at a man who spent too much time and energy (and money) on his male friends, here Ty throws the baton back to women, joking that “girls like that be nothing but trouble.” Rapper Big Sean co-signs the message: “I can’t adapt to that habitat”. Later, the main man interpolates Mary J. Blige‘s 1993 rendition of funk classic ‘Sweet Thing’ for the smooth ‘Nothing Like Your Exes’; it’s satisfying to see him pay tasteful and consistent tribute to R&B’s past.
Is ‘Featuring Ty Dolla $ign’ perfect? Not by any means – there’s sure to be filler across 25-tracks. However, when Ty is at his best, he soars vocally and continues to prove that he is both a hook and melody juggernaut. The album is a little scattershot, the self-referential premise interrupted by musical interludes from the likes of Burna Boy and Brooklyn experimentalist Serpentwithfeet. Overall, though, it’s a victory lap for Ty Dolla $ign’s quietly influential career to date, the sound of an artist embracing the worldview he has helped to curate.
Release date: October 23
Record label: Atlantic