Ty Dolla $ign — Free TC 8/10

YAY! BACK IN THE SADDLE!

It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to sit down and actually disseminate my thoughts on any new music in the recent past. Chalk it up to midterms, end of semester ennui or what have you, but I’ve not done the best job of keeping up fresh content for you large swaths (swath defined as 6 people best case scenario) of readers out there, and for that I truly apologize.

*waits a few seconds for apology to rebound off echo chamber*

As far as this new record goes I didn’t really go into it expecting that much from it. I had checked out his Beach House EP and wasn’t all that enamored with it. When I saw the tracklisting and the amount of features I was fully expecting to not enjoy Free TC. However, 2015 has proven to be the most unpredictably wild year in music in recent memory, and I figured that I’d at least give it a listen. I figured that a Ty Dolla $ign record I wound up enjoying wouldn’t be the strangest thing to happen to me this year. This was the year I became a Future fan, after all.

My emotional state as I listened to Free TC transitioned from “this is pretty cool” on “LA” all the way to “this record is phenomenal” by the time “Horses In The Stable” started; what’s more confounding is that the latter opinion was the presiding one throughout the majority of Free TC. While this record is not without its flaws, and maybe I could gripe a little about Ty bouncing back and forth between soulful R&B and trap a little too much, overall this record is an exhilarating dive headfirst into Ty Dolla $ign’s world.

First and foremost, if there is any trait this record deserves praise for it is Ty’s impeccable ear for vocal arrangements. Throughout the record he uses this skill to his advantage, and it winds up being the main trait that keeps the spotlight firmly on him rather than his guests. Considering the first two tracks have Kendrick Lamar and E-40 features, this is an impressive feat in and of itself.

Lyrically, he isn’t trying to stray all that far from modern R&B tropes of “hey guys! check out my sexual prowess!” which occasionally detracts from the beauty of his voice. His best lyrics are often his most heartless and cold. Album highlight “Horses In The Stable” boasts a hook (horses in the stable I can ride so many times) that both reaches Frank Ocean levels of eloquence and plainspokenness while also being horrifying in its indifference.

The strength of Ty’s voice, both in terms of his singing and his pen, ensures that each song is fundamentally his even when guest features are thrown into the fray. Granted, some of the features add little to nothing to the album (looking at you, Kanye West and R. Kelly) but the majority of them are tasteful and add color to Free TC. The gorgeous arrangement on “Credit” is bolstered by some beautiful singing from Sevyn Streeter. On the other end of Free TC’s musical spectrum, Future and Rae Sremmurd assist in making Blase the album’s grittiest banger.

The production on this record is gorgeous, regardless of whether the songs are going more for R&B or more modern rap-tropes. DJ Mustard handles “Saved” and “Only Right” which are easily two of the most club friendly tracks on Free TC. “Only Right” features a guest verse from YG, and while it does make this track feel somewhat interchangeable with what they put together on My Krazy Life it doesn’t detract from the album’s overall sound. Metro Boomin hands in one of the lushest beats I’ve ever heard him produce with “Know Ya.” The shimmering acoustic guitars and string section on “Solid” also deserve praise.

What gives this album its emotional undercurrent, and a sorely needed sense of continuity amid the disparate musical styles Ty tries his hand at on this record, is a series of voicemails between him and his incarcerated brother TC. It’s a loose narrative to be sure, but its inclusion is simply another example of Ty’s penchant for songwriting grandeur. His inclusion on album nucleus “Miracle/Whatever” might have been overly heavy handed from a lesser artist; for Ty, it fits his narrative perfectly.

Fav Tracks: LA, Saved, Solid, Horses in the Stable, Know Ya, Credit, Miracle/Whatever, Blase, Only Right

Least Fav Track: Actress