Album Review: Ty Dolla $ign- Featuring Ty Dolla $ign

The rapper/singer/producer flexes his diversity with his adept skills at collaborations with artists across multiple genres.

The first thing you might not think about when Ty Dolla $ign’s name pops up is versatility. You may recall his club-ready bangers such as Paranoid and Or Nah and his raunchy mack-esque persona, along with his status as one of the leading figures of the West Coast hip hop and R&B renaissance of the 2010s with peers like Kendrick Lamar and longtime collaborator YG. However, few may know capabilities as a musician among his peers. As the son of a session musician for acts like Rick James and the funk band Lakeside, Ty is noted for his role in helping develop DJ Mustard’s sound as a producer and his own status as the head of his production collective D.R.U.G.S. alongside notable producers such as Mustard and DJ Dahi (best known for Worst Behavior & Money Trees). He’s even gone as far as to spend over $60,000 on string arrangements for the production on his debut album Free TC. His latest album Featuring Ty Dolla $ign captures his varied sensibilities by merging layered vocal harmonies and lush instrumentation with thumping rhythms for the radio into an enjoyable listen.

The album is chock full of songs fitting Ty’s signature West Coast “ratchet R&B” sound that is meant to blow the speakers out at any function. Frequent collaborator DJ Mustard lands two major bangers with By Yourself, a 1990s R&B-sampling duet with Jhene Aiko preaching female empowerment, and Real Life, a collab with fellow LA rapper Roddy Ricch that’s an anthem on the grind from life in the ghetto to fame and success. Spicy with Post Malone finds the pair trading bouncy sing-song melodies as a spiritual sequel to their 2018 hit Psycho and Expensive with Nicki Minaj serves as a strip club friendly successor to last year’s hit Hot Girl Summer with Megan Thee Stallion. Freak with Quavo and Lift Me Up with Future and Young Thug continues Ty’s series of Atlanta-influenced collabs with trap artists including 2015’s Blase with Rae Sremmurd and 2014’s Dead Presidents with Rich Homie Quan. Dolla $ign even provides a self-produced smoother take on DJ Mustard’s modern LA lowrider bounce with the mid tempo track Nothing Like Your Exes.

Alongside Ty’s brand of trunk-rattling hip hop/r&b fusion are highlights that ties the highly commercialized project together with a more experimental and organic flair in the spirit of his musical roots. Temptations with Kid Cudi blends his typical sound with the wobbly dubstep-influenced basslines of the track’s co-producer Skrillex, while Track 6 with Kanye West, Anderson Paak, and Thundercat mixes trap with rock and the latter two artists’ psychedelic neo-soul sound, complete with live drums and bass guitar. Tyrone 2021with Big Sean showcases an homage to 1990s hip hop soul with banging drums as Ty both samples and responds to Erykah Badu’s deadbeat-chastising 1997 song Tyrone. The interludes featuring artists like Serpentwithfeet, Burna Boy, and Young Thug (Dr Sebi) establish a cinematic feel between songs with almost spiritual vocal melodies and guitar-laden textures. For any fans of traditional R&B, Everywhere, Slow It Down, and Your Turn (featuring Musiq Soulchild, Tish Hyman & 6lack) won’t disappoint, with the former two as raunchy bedroom slow jams reminiscent of 1990s acts like Jodeci and the latter as a heartfelt and bittersweet ballad on the evolving nature of romantic relationships. The closer Ego Death with Kanye West, alternative R&B singer FKA Twigs and Skrillex ends the album in high energy simultaneously with radio appeal and an eclectic house beat with plenty of sample flips and Twigs’ robotic vocals.

With an all-star cast of guest appearances and an ever shifting blend of uptempo dance tracks, hard-hitting hip hop bangers, and more melodic and slower R&B ballads, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign is a solid representation of Ty’s value as an addition to an infectious hit song regardless of genre.

Score: 8.5/10

Photo source: Pitchfork

Written By: Kristian Gonzales

Album Review: 21 Savage & Metro Boomin- Savage Mode 2

21 Savage and Metro Boomin redefines what it means to be a savage in the sequel to the rapper/producer duo’s 2016 project Savage Mode.

During the rollout of 21 Savage’s previous album I Am>I Was, he says in the album’s documentary “I can grow as a person, but y’all still gonna want to hear me smoke people, **** **** and wear designer; like ‘Damn! Y’all wanna keep me in a box.” At the time, this sounded like a strange contrast from the Savage who sent threats of gunplay to his rivals using KKK-themed wordplay in My Choppa Hates ****** , rapped about shooting sprees and home invasions  in No Heart, and aptly titled his debut mixtape The Slaughter Tape. Nevertheless, the album was released to huge commercial success and acclaim from fans and critics alike with songs devoted to more introspective subject matter such as romance and tribulations before fame such as Ball w/o You and A Lot. With activities in his hometown of Atlanta such as a visit to a middle school advocating financial literacy with Congressman Hank Johnson and his annual Issa Back 2 School Drive community events for kids and their families, 21 is poised to mature as a person. Savage Mode 2 reunites the rapper with his frequent collaborator and producer Metro Boomin and revisits his hardcore roots while retaining the introspection and maturity seen in I Am>I Was.

From the start, it is already evident that 21 is ready to return to a murderous and confrontational mood. The track Runnin sets off this vibe with an eerie and ghost-like Diana Ross sample in the background while 808 and hi-hats pound with the pace of someone on a stakeout for his enemies. He raps “Called the first one Savage Mode, my mood, that’s what it was/2016, we was ridin around, beatin ****** up in the club” and “He was talking gangster, we caught him at a light/I let my young ***** do it, it was free, he wanted a stripe”, immediately echoing the nihilism of the first Savage Mode. The following track Glock In My Lap continues the onslaught with horror movie-esque strings and piano in the instrumental while Savage fires with bars like “Leave an opp cold, like December, .45 on me it’s a Kimber/AK knockin down trees like timber, Get your baby mama ‘fore we bend her”. Other tracks such as Many Men expand his tales with themes of jealousy and revenge with lines such as “Many men  wanna kill me, dawg, I feel like 50, I got small fries want my spot tryna defeat me/I got real model bitches tryna R&B me, All that cap inside your raps, I ain’t even play your CD”, keeping one foot in the streets and the other in his newfound life of higher status. There’s even a song reminiscent of 1980s and 1990’s gangsta rap in Steppin On ******, with breakbeat-heavy production and a simplified flow evoking classics like NWA’s Boyz N the Hood and Ice-T’s 6 N The Mornin.

Despite the album’s predominantly gangsta rap vibe, 21 balances the grim content with some songs reflecting themes surrounding his current life. Mr. Right Now shows off a somewhat more romantic side for females with a very sexual Drake verse and lines such as “Ayy, turn your phone off, take your clothes off, I’m a savage but I **** her to a slow song”/Turn the lights down, lay the pipe down, I ain’t Mr. Right, but I’m Mr. Right Now.” Rich ***** ****  with Young Thug celebrates the excesses of fame with its hazy mid-tempo production and  bars like “Saint Laurent the only thing I put on my back, Off-White jeans look like cooked crack/I call my Porsche stomach ‘cause the **** snatch, Gave my girl a dub now her butt fat/You might take your women to the Louis store, My ******* be askin ‘Where’s Chanel at”. On a more serious note, RIP Luv laments 21’s more personal struggles with intimate relationships. In this track, he raps “Woulda never went against you ever, I even tried to make the grudge settle/Yeah I heard you slept with a couple fellas, Still treated you like a virgin because I know you better.” Metro Boomin elevates the instrumental with guitar licks to capture its somber mood.

After the release of the original Savage Mode in 2016, one would think that 21’s definition of savage is to dominate all of his opposition in the context of the streets. With this album, he proves that being savage is to stay focused and keep fighting to be at the top of his game. Metro Boomin’s cinematic production and 21 Savage’s ever evolving perspective makes this one of the most memorable hip hop albums of 2020.

Score: 9/10

Written by: Kristian Gonzales

Picture source: Genius

Essential Artists: Three 6 Mafia

Over 20 years after their emergence in the rap scene in Memphis, the group created the blueprint for modern hip hop and lives on through artists such as 21 Savage, Denzel Curry, and Drake.

Back in 2018, the “Who Run It” challenge gained popularity on YouTube, with rappers like 21 Savage and G Herbo performing freestyles over Three 6 Mafia’s titular track from their 2000 album When the Smoke Clears: Sixty 6, Sixty 1. On Twitter, producer Metro Boomin professed his desire to produce a Three 6 album and in response to Mafia member Gangsta Boo over a controversy of remaking their old songs, producer Mike Will Made It explains that he tries to pay homage to the group with approval from members like DJ Paul and Juicy J. Also, Denzel Curry voices his love for Three 6 Mafia, openly playing their music in interviews and references such as “We was Three 6, Wu Tang, mixed with Dipset” in his 2019 track Ricky. These are examples of the impact on hip hop from the aforementioned Memphis-based rap group, commonly credited for the explosion in popularity of Southern hip hop and the creation of modern rap’s most popular sub-genre, trap music. Here’s three particular tracks have significant influence on today’s sound:

Tear Da Club Up

This track off their 1995 debut studio album Mystic Stylez is one of their earliest hits and it’s 1997 reworking was reportedly banned in several states due to its tendency to incite violence in clubs. Both versions of the track found new life in recent years with its usage as a sample on Travis Scott’s No Bystanders and Future’s Sh*t (Remix) featuring Drake. The cult-esque chant of “Tear Da Club Up” and its nihilistic tone as the chorus is reminiscent of songs such as Narcotics by Denzel Curry and I’m Sippin Tea In Yo Hood by XXXTentacion. The synth melodies that form the backdrop are eerily similar to those of horror movie scores, and lines such as “We should begin to come closer to killa dimensions, N*ggas getting lynchin’s from the Triple 6 anti-christians/May I mention the slizzugs I blaze Scarecrow’s unmerciful, Bullets are bombin da enemy n*gga, see death is unreversable” add a feeling of doom with references to Satanic themes for shock value. In recent years, Three 6’s horror-based and demonic themes spread to acts like $uicideboy$ with lines like “Devil laughs and black ski masks, I’m hearing footsteps through my house” in Vivivi, along with City Morgue with tracks such as Tourettes, containing lines such as “Can’t hold my hands down in Hell/Drain the blood til it bail/I’ll die on these tracks, cause I tripped on the rails.” Not to mention, the hi-hats and bass heavy drum patterns and rapid triplet flows, especially in the second verse, bear heavy resemblance to popular trap songs like I Get the Bag by Gucci Mane featuring Migos and Danny Glover by Young Thug.

Slob On My Knob

If you listen to a lot of current hip hop, chances are you might have heard something similar to the lines “Slob on my Knob like corn on the cob/Check in with me and do your job.” The track from the 1999 album Crazyndalazdayz by Three 6 affiliate Tear Da Club Up Thugs has been sampled and interpolated several times in recent years, from A$AP Ferg’s chorus on his 2017 track Plain Jane: “Ride with the mob, Alhamdulillah/Check in with me and do your job,” to the melody from the original track’s bridge (“Suck a n*gga d*ck or something”) on the G-Eazy/A$AP Rocky/Cardi B collab No Limit with the lines “F*ck with me and get some money” and “F*ck him then I get some money.” There’s also the famous line “La di da di da, Slob on me knob” from the Jay Rock/Kendrick Lamar/Future collab King’s Dead. Rapper Megan Thee Stallion, who has credited Three 6 as one of her main influences on her brash persona, mentioned the track in response to predominantly male critics of her sexually-charged single WAP.

Sippin On Some Syrup

This song from When the Smoke Clears: Sixty 6, Sixty 1 is a pivotal one, with its celebratory themes of drug use. Three 6 is no stranger to drug use in their lyrics, with lines like “Snowin, sneezin’, coughin’, chiefin’, blowin’ heavy dope, Playa f*ckin’ blessed by that funk crunk by onion weed/Don’t you think you higher than Lil Fly till you snort that P, P-funk got me goin’, h*e I’m blowin’ on montana pack” on Now I’m Hi Pt.3 alluding to coke usage. Neither is the genre of hip hop to the topic of lean (cough syrup mixed with soda) use, with early references in songs like Smokin and Leanin by DJ Screw and the Botany Boyz along with the former’s noted inspiration from the drug towards the creation of a now-common slowed down subgenre called “chopped n’ screwed.” With it’s chart position at #30 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart, Sippin on Some Syrup is seen as a catalyst for a national exposure to lean in hip hop culture. In the years since, we’ve heard countless songs devoted to lean such as Lil Wayne’s Me and My Drank and Juice WRLD’s Lean Wit Me. In light of the drug-related deaths of Juice WRLD and other rappers like Mac Miller, Mafia member Juicy J acknowledged and apologized for his role in shaping the popularity of drugs in rap on Twitter.

Despite not having the chart topping accolades of their peers like Jay-Z and Lil Wayne or the immediate pop culture visibility of Snoop Dogg, Three 6 Mafia lives on as a fabric in hip hop history with successive waves of young rappers taking inspiration from their sound and persona.

Written by: Kristian Gonzales

Photo Source: Fader

From R&B Rapper to the 6 God

Drake is not considered the most hardcore rapper in the game, but multiple beefs, the weight of fame, and his Toronto roots has sparked a notable evolution in his style as his reign continues.

Initially making his breakthrough with his 2009 mixtape So Far Gone, Drake turned the heads of hip hop fans with his R&B-influenced sound and sentimental lyrical content atypical of the materialistic or violent themes common in rap music up to that point. He vowed to ignore diss tracks towards him and said in an interview with Rap Radar that making full blown R&B music for girls is “wavy,” disregarding any criticism of his music as being too emotional. Nevertheless, there’s been a notable shift in his persona into a cockier and aggressive attitude as he controls his status as the alpha male in hip hop today, dealing with beefs against rappers such as Pusha T, and bringing his hometown of Toronto into pop culture prominence.

The Transition

An early indicator of this transition would be the track “The Resistance” from his 2010 debut album Thank Me Later. He raps, “Maybe it was the fast pace switch up, or the two guns in my face during the stick up/ Maybe cause a girl I thought I trusted, was who set the whole sh*t up,” referencing a 2009 robbery in Toronto in which he was a victim of. This incident, which occurred during his rise to fame as an artist, is a harsh reminder of his vulnerability as a public figure and target in a city known as “the Screwface Capital” for its hostilities between artists.

Another early sign of this change would be on the Rick Ross collaboration “Stay Schemin”, in which he raps “It bothers me when the gods get to actin like like broads, guess every team doesn’t come complete with n*ggas like ours/ That’s why I see no need to compete with n*ggas like y’all, I just ask that when you see me you speak up, n*gga, that’s all.” The significance of this song is the fact that this is Drake’s first overt response to a diss, that being “Sweet” by rap legend Common. Drake’s blunt claim of softness from his rival exudes a disgust similar to that a kingpin would make towards his rivals in a war.

A significant track which almost single-handedly marks the full change is his 2013 track “ 6 AM In Toronto”, in which he raps “The part I love the most is they need me more than they hate me, so they never take shots I got everybody on safety/ I could load every gun with bullets that fire backwards, probably wouldn’t lose a single rapper/ n*ggas make threats can’t hear em over over the laughter, yeah that’s cause I’m headed to the bank, n*gga.” At this point, Drizzy is the king of the rap game with two #1 albums in Thank Me Later and 2011’s Take Care, so he relishes the opportunity to flex on his opposition. He also raps “Cause I show love never get the same outta n*ggas, guess it’s funny how money can make change outta n*ggas/ For real some nobody start feelin himself, a couple nobodies started killin themself/ A couple albums dropped those are still on the shelf, I bet them sh*ts would have popped if I was willing to help.” That nobody he’s referring to is alleged to be R&B singer The Weeknd, who collaborated with him on Take Care and declined a deal with his label OVO Sound. In an interview with Complex, Abel denies any beef, explaining, “The thing about Drake is I told him what my decisions were going to be. And he was down with it from the beginning.”

The 6 God

With the release of his project If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late in 2015, Drake adapted his sound to fit his throne. With dark and trap-influenced production by long-time producer Boi-1da and lyrics about having enemies and dying as a legend, it seems as if he’s not afraid to keep his foot on the rap games’ neck. On Know Yourself, he raps “Reps Up is in here/ Got P Reign and Chubby and TJ and Winnie and whoa.” At this point, Drake starts to openly rep his Toronto roots, including the norm of having a crew around like other rappers. In particular, he shouts out his longtime friend P. Reign and his group Reps Up. Reign has acknowledged the group’s upbringing in the ghettos of the city and past hardships such as drug dealing and gun possession.

In subsequent projects, Drake has continued to flex his affiliation with street-based figures, especially in times when he’s faced with serious hostility from other rappers. In Mob Ties off Scorpion, he raps “I f*ck with the mob and I got ties/ Knock you off to pay their tithes”, a reference to his associate and famed Houston rap mogul J. Prince whose story sounds like a mafia story within hip hop and interfered in the feud with Pusha T and Kanye West in 2018.

Another notable reference is in War on Dark Lane Demo Tapes with the line “Feds wanna tap up man and wire up man like Chubbs did Detail.” This is a nod to his bodyguard and Reps Up affiliate Chubbs, who got into an altercation and legal battle with producer Detail in 2014. 

It is quite clear that we’ve come quite far from listening to Drake rapping about his favorite look on girls to keeping a pistol by his side for the opposition. We may still feel familiar with his sentimental side, but he reminds us he’s not someone to mess with.

Written By: Kristian Gonzales

Photo Source: Vibe