When Ty Dolla Sign arrived on the R&B scene, he wasn’t the typical crooner. With lyrics that depicted the life of a gangster and a ladies man, the west coast native made sure to not fit any prototypes carved out by singers like Usher or even an early Trey Songz. Obviously inspired by his more soulful predecessors from the 70’s to the 90’s, Ty is a self-taught instrumentalist with a raspy, throaty voice that can help catapult him into the spotlight as a top notch serenader, but it isn’t always showcased due to likeness of his lyrics to rap songs. After releasing a slew of mixtapes, the producer/songwriter has finally arrived with his Atlantic Records debut, Free TC, and he is showing that is more than R&B’s resident ratchet king.
He starts off the 16-track effort with a Kendrick Lamar-assisted ode to his city, titled “LA,” which also features rich vocals from Brandy. On the track, Ty shines bright with hometown pride as he salutes his gang infested city.
With hits like “Paranoid,” and “Or Nah,” the 30-year-old declares that he is the type to love ‘em and leave ‘em, but on the album cut “Credit” featuring Sevyn Streeter, Ty is a changed man as he is trying to clean up his act for a special lady. He sings “Now I stopped talking to them b—hes/ I did everything you asked of me and more/Still you be going through my ‘gram/ Trippin’ when you know them pictures old/ I’m more than focused on this money/ Trying to turn this house into a home.” But it isn’t long before he returns to telling tales about his oversexed love life. On one of album’s standout tracks “Know Ya” featuring Trey Songz, the two reflect on the backwards nature of this generation: having bedroom romps with women before even learning their name. On “Horses In The Stable,” he does a braggadocious rundown of the women he has tapped from coast to coast.
The album’s all-star plus-ones show that Ty has some respected connections in the game. He has the legendary singer/producer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds supplying an acoustic guitar music bed on “Solid” as he croons about being lusted after by the women while maintaining G-status in his hood. Jagged Edge helps to end the album gem “Straight Up” on a nostalgic note with their smooth vocals reminiscent of the “Let’s Get Married” days. Kanye West and Diddy appear on “Guard Down,” a galvanizing tribute to the woman who is on her last string of hope with a vibe similar to Tupac’s “Keep Your Head Up.” R. Kelly, the R&B thug who’s Dolla $ign’s antecedent, also makes a lackluster appearance on the generic sex anthem “Actress.”
Throughout the album’s triumphant moments, the grim inspiration behind it seeps through with interludes from Ty’s baby brother, TC, the LP’s namesake. Big TC is behind bars serving a life sentence for a murder he is allegedly not responsible for. As he checks in through recorded snippets of phone conversations, listening to what he is enduring is heartbreaking. He details having all of his belongings confiscated after a random search of his cell and being on lockdown with no food and not being able to shower. But he still smiles through the pain as he also finds solace in recording music. TC and his brethren D-Loc, who is also locked up, are impressive song-makers even without a top-of-the-art studio and make a cameo on the album on the track “Miracle/Whenever.”
For his long-awaited debut, the Taylor Gang melodist found a balance between being a lascivious rap-singer and a posh musician with a profuse amount of skills whether behind the mic or beat machine. Ty toned down his usual level of lewdness for more radio-friendly songs without straying away from his normal playboy persona. With Free TC, Ty Dolla $ign carves his niche as a vocalist who knows how to perfectly tread the thinning line between rap and R&B.