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Review: Ty Dolla $ign’s Featuring Ty Dolla $ign Is Catchy but Lacks Clarity of Vision

The album highlights the artist’s shortcomings as much as it does his sly appeal.

3
Charles Lyons-Burt

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Ty Dolla $ign, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign
Photo: Nabil

Like many of his millennial pop contemporaries, Ty Dolla $ign, born Tyrone Griffin Jr., works loosely in the rap world, collapsing other genres into a mix of sounds tailored to his strengths, each strain recognizable enough to court a general audience. Like his first two albums, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign is sequenced rather starkly: a full hour divided between rap and R&B, the first half stocked with raunchy hip-hop and the second delving into more measured, slinky tributes to both sex and love. The album is a mostly enjoyable listen, but it highlights its maker’s shortcomings as much as it does his sly appeal.

The songs throughout aren’t quite as immediate as Ty Dolla’s past work, and some of the slower jams from the album’s latter half, like “Everywhere” or “Time Will Tell,” would be better placed between “Double R” and “Freak,” grating trap cuts made all the more so due to their back-to-back proximity. The tracks are also all so short—it’s well over halfway through Featuring Ty Dolla $ign before a song exceeds the three-minute mark—that the album begins to feel like a half-baked mixtape. Most of these blip-like tracks adhere to a repetitive structural formula that doesn’t give Griffin much room to stretch.

Griffin has a beautiful, throaty croon that’s laidback and textured and needs none of the Auto-Tune that so many artists in the same lane count as essential. He has a way of imbuing even a one-word colloquialism or simplistic idea with sheer charisma; just the vocalization of his basic but frequently used tags “Dolla Sign!” and “Ooh yeah!” are way more lived-in and infectious than they ought to be. On the brassy banger “Expensive,” for one, he repeats the titular descriptor over and over, demonstrating an expertise with a sing-song melody.

Griffin is skilled at bringing out the best in his collaborators, and using their energies to maximize his own abilities. “Track 6” and “Universe” find him duetting effortlessly with Anderson .Paak and Kehlani, respectively, and “Lift Me Up” (featuring Young Thug and Future) and “Your Turn” (featuring 6lack, Musiq Soulchild, and Tish Hyman) play as expressive collages of their guests’ skills, which are amplified by Griffin’s own swagger and confidence. Remarkably, he never gets upstaged by the expansive and varied list of artists.

As on his earlier albums, especially Free TC, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign’s lyrics are often sexist or objectifying. We’re greeted with such eyebrow raisers as “I just killed the pussy/Need a casket” and an exhaustive checklist of the nationalities of women he’s bedded. But then the album takes a turn in its R&B section, with Griffin affirming a woman’s agency on “By Yourself” (“You don’t need a man/You do it by yourself”) and guest Serpentwithfeet chiming in with a healthy “Your joy isn’t tied to me” on the Skrillex-produced closer “Ego Death.”

For all its contradictory pleasures, though, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign is absent of the sharp hooks and coherent vision of Griffin’s past albums, which, though they have a similar basic structure, are more thematically tied to locations (Southern California and a faraway island vacation spot). By comparison, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign has the air of a haphazard playlist. Griffin is still a formidable center of gravity for a small army of eager collaborators, but the final product wants for some necessary fine-tuning.

Label: Atlantic Release Date: October 23, 2020 Buy: Amazon

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