October 25, 2016

ty dolla sign

Evan Nabavian is more of a Takeoff dude.

Ty Dolla $ign is the fourth Black Beatle, an inescapable presence in rap and R&B . He’s a singer who graduated from ratchet hedonism to an unexpected eclecticism thanks to his serious songwriting bonafides. His collaborations with Metro Boomin, Jagged Edge, and Babyface, his saccharine ballads, his serial womanizing, and his perennial headband and dreads aspire to a bygone rockstardom.

Free TC tried for a larger than life pop record and sometimes succeeded, like with its female empowerment centerpiece that had Kanye, Diddy, and an expensive-sounding string section on it. Campaign has lower stakes; it celebrates simpler, sexier R&B themes than recent Canadian emotional duress. (Campaign is an album in that you have to pay for it and a mixtape in that it’s lighter on features and promo than Free TC. Taxonomize it as you please.)

Ty builds songs around half-sung, half-chanted refrains that owe as much to R. Kelly as they do Quavo. He has a monopoly on catchy hooks whose honeyed melodies invite his scratchy, unpracticed croon. Ty sounds nothing like a “real” singer except that he’s so damn good at it. He has no business making a song as sweet as “Stealing,” an acoustic detour where he sings about “stealing all these bitches’ hearts.” Responses online are equal parts enamored and exasperated. Its aplomb makes “Stealing” a career highlight.

On Campaign, sex is currency and there’s an economic surplus. The second and third-person boasts are about having sex just as often as they’re about having had sex. In Ty’s idyll, you buy a girl a pair of shoes and then have sex with her on a yacht and that’s a healthy relationship. She calls you Zaddy. Jay 305 is there with a dope eight bars and some shit-talk.

Campaign brands itself as political music, as topical, and as having meaning beyond the singer’s hurts and passions, but it’s actually none of those things. Polemic interludes and one song about the American black experience, albeit a powerful one with Ty’s incarcerated brother, don’t count. But it’s better for its lack of message at a time when invective is so cheap and good vibes are so rare.