Art by Anton Mak
Dan From The Internet has otters in his stable.
If there’s a stripper pole in heaven I truly believe the angels are busting it open to Ty Dolla $ign. The LA-born rapper may not have the mommy porn pedigree of The Weaknd or the lifeless croon of Francis Ocean, but he’s probably R&B’s most engaging star. Only a songwriter as confident as Ty could make a concept album about mass incarceration, fraternal love, and anthropomorphic horses sound unified.
His official debut, Free TC is neither the triumph most of us were hoping for, nor the watershed moment of an oft marginalized star’s career. However, Free TC deserves the praise it’s been receiving: we get gospel tracks from the gutter and bastardized scripture dedicated to strippers. Applaud this man.
Most of his counterparts push completely homogenized and sexless PBR&B. There’s too much Soundcloud Soul, Beta Male Blues, and TumblR&B curated for YT audiences. Ty Dolla $ign is the antidote — the ultimate scumbag unconcerned with saving souls or saving hoes. Hence, ” Saved,” one of the albums best moments, conducted in tandem with the man who wrote “Captain Save-A-Ho.” Not only does it bring to life to a dead concept, it manages to make DJ Mustard sound relevant again — almost two years removed from his terrestrial radio takeover.
Ty sounds best when he abandons all common sense in favor of his most base impulses. “Horses In The Stable” is the first song in a trio of sexually charged bangers that find Ty skirting the boundaries of good taste. It’s equal parts awkward and provocative — the equivalent of a community theater rendition of Equus. Ty effectively cut the head off of the stallion from Ginuwine’s “Pony” and left the head in Mika’s bed. It’s simultaneously the worst and best song on the album. How much of your soul are you willing to sacrifice?
The following two songs, “Know Ya (feat. Trey Songz)” and “Credit (feat. Sevyn Streeter),” are some of the album’s best moments. “Credit,” the better of the two, is the most indicative of Ty’s superior songwriting:
I ain’t never flirt with none of your home girls
I could give a fuck about your home girls
I never smoked weed in your momma’s house unless you sparked that shit and she was out of town
I promise to go to the grave with all of your secrets
And there’s the dichotomy of Ty Dolla $ign. He’s asking the woman in the song to give him credit for doing the bare minimum required to be a civilized human. He’s asking for his girl to cut him some slack for not cheating on her with her friends like this is some type of virtue. Please give Ty Dolla $ign the Nobel Peace Prize already and be done with it. Ty Dolla $ign could have said “I LEFT THE TOILET SEAT DOWN, WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?” and it would have made sense in the context of this song.
“Miracle/Whenever” is the narrative core of the album and really the only song that plays into Free TC’s origins as a concept album. Ty’s little brother (TC) is locked up for life on a murder charge. When he sings to Ty across a prison phone, it’s the most beautiful moment of the year. Ty didn’t have to let us into such an immensely personal moment, but he did and the album’s better for it. While Free TC never directly adheres to its concepts of mass incarceration and TC’s plight (outside of a few sketches), it gives us more than enough of a connection between the listener and Ty. Ty went a long way to humanize himself on Free TC and it does the album a lot of favors.
Ty suffered a disappointing first week of sales, but what does that even matter? He’s the most important voice in a sea of mediocrity filled with R&B muppet babies who never heard “Peaches And Cream” or had the pleasure of watching Jagged Edge parachute in on a bunch of white people’s brunch. He’s far from a traditionalist but Ty Dolla Sign is the best thing R&B has going for it. Maybe that’s enough.