Release Date: Nov 13, 2015
Record label: Atlantic
Ty Dolla $ign has made a name for himself at the crest of this new wave marriage of R&B and Hip Hop. Ongoing collaborations with west coast artists such as DJ Mustard and YG have left Ty with a pretty solid reputation overall. And, for a time, It felt like every track he touched turned into club gold. There was even a point there where you couldn’t go out without hearing copious amounts of “Paranoid” played throughout.
Often compared to Future, Los Angeles rapper, singer, and songwriter Ty Dolla $ign is more like the duo Rae Sremmurd reduced down to one, offering lean trap rhymes and hooky choruses that stick in the head long after the song is done. Both Future and Rae Sremmurd guest on Ty's debut album highlight "Blasé," where the lead MC spits out "And my bitch cold, she a centerfold/Put her on a stand, and she never told" in a way that's more street than Future, and wiser than the Sremmurd crew. Speaking of wise, Ty seems like an old soul with Jagged Edge ("Straight Up") and Babyface ("Solid") on the guest list, and he's a creative one at that, giving the former a drifting, slightly off R&B number to sing while the latter superstar gets a clever, acoustic-guitar driven masterpiece that could be passed off as K'NAAN, Wyclef, or maybe even the late singer/songwriter Ted Hawkins.
There is a song on Ty Dolla $ign's first mixtape, Hou$e on the Hill, that wouldn't be out of place in a Los Angeles Philharmonic pops concert. On the track, an orchestral sample dances under the near-onomatopoeic effect of Ty's "up and down, up and down, up and down-down-down" chant. The song's title? "Stripper Pole". Ty has honed this musically refined yet lyrically raunchy aesthetic for years, from his Raw & Bangin' tapes to his breakout single "My Cabana", to the louche Beach House series to last month's made-in-a-day Airplane Mode.
Ty Dolla $ign is a dirtbag with soul. Although R&B libertines come a dime a dozen these days, he’s stood out with his economic approach to songwriting. It helps that he’s a gifted vocalist and instrumentalist, one who could knit those abilities into a definitive persona. It’s hard to imagine anyone else transforming the ribald chorus of “Or Nah” into a genuine earworm.
It's long been recognized that Ty Dolla $ign, born Tyrone Griffin Jr., is much more than solely a rapper and R&B singer, but also a talented multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and arranger. Such a skill set undoubtedly requires a high degree of perfectionism, a trait that may have kept his long-anticipated debut, Free TC, out of reach until now. The record's length (which falls slightly short of an hour and a half) and a feature list that could be deemed overcrowded would both be enough to turn some away.But Griffin largely achieves his lofty goals here, with the record serving as a good indicator of his compositional talent.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Like a sonic Crash, Ty Dolla $ign's plots intertwine. His debut album, an anticipated account, boldly narrates the story of life in LA, the story of the R&B singer's own family dynamic, the story of his younger brother TC and the story surrounding America's penal system. TC is imprisoned on a life sentence for murder, a crime his LA hitmaker sibling insists he didn't commit.
The gulf between exquisitely realized music and unapologetically crass lyrics is one that fans of Ty Dolla $ign have been forced to reconcile going all the way back to the L.A. singer's earliest releases in 2011. That divide hasn't gotten any slimmer in the intervening years, and it remains Grand Canyon-esque on his major-label debut – a record that can elicit a joyful head nod and a repulsed wince at the same time.
It seems like it was just yesterday when every culture under the sun — indie, hip-hop, acting, even ultimate fighting — proudly wore a “Free Weezy” t-shirt in support of the “best rapper alive,” Lil Wayne. But that was actually over five years ago, at a time when Wayne was serving a one-year sentence on Rikers Island. Since then, those ubiquitous “Free” rapper campaigns have greatly intensified, unifying likeminded individuals in their passion for music and, inadvertently, their views on the criminal justice system.
Ty Dolla $ign’s debut album has an unlikely purpose. It’s not only a longer format for him to showcase his style (Drakean self-doubt meets Rick Ross’s braggadocio) or his connections (Kendrick Lamar, R Kelly, Babyface and Kanye West all appear) but he claims it’s primarily a way to raise funds to help his incarcerated brother, Big TC. (“I’m gonna give the people a super-quality album and use that money and get him an incredible lawyer,” he said.) Along with songs such as the less than subtle Horses in the Stable, which cover the same ground as his breakout hit Paranoid (ie his hectic love life), there’s a noticeable attempt to take the next step in his career with some grand designs.
A slow, breezy track about the joys and heartbreaks of Los Angeles street life that swells into a storm of fervid strings. An acoustic-soul collaboration with Babyface full of mean-mugging talk. An up-tempo motivational speech with Kanye West and Diddy. A song that, rather than merely sampling the Jagged Edge classic “Let’s Get Married,” unravels its core strands and weaves it into a new tapestry.
AS A COLLECTION of individual tracks, Ty Dolla Sign’s Free TC is one of the year’s most purely enjoyable R&B records. Over an assortment of beats that are equal parts grimy hip-hop and pristine radio pop, Ty and a slew of high-profile guests revive thug-and-B with an onslaught of earworm hooks and quotable lines. Despite this technically being his debut LP, Ty has long been a fixture in modern music and he holds his own impressively alongside the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Babyface and Jagged Edge.
Early into Ty Dolla $ign’s debut full-length Free TC is a song called ‘Horses in the Stable’, which eventually feels like the unsuspecting centerpiece of the album. It’s a tender ode to the women in his little black book, painting a romantic picture out of his own philandering and applying a gauche metaphor — these ladies are the horses, the stable is his phone contacts and you best believe the word ‘ride’ appears in the lyrics — with no regard for fidelity or feelings. While his place as one of r&b’s finest practitioners of pure hedonism is what makes him so great, the concept that Ty has a varied basket from which to choose does not only pertain to who he can take to bed.