One of the music industry’s most consistently versatile figures returns, and this time it’s with a self-aware and feature-heavy odyssey of an album. Two years after linking up with Jeremih for a great project full of confident R&B come-ons and continuing to contribute his vocals to numerous albums by diverse musical superstars, Ty Dolla $ign saw fit to lean fully into his collaborative side and release a 25-track project featuring just about everyone under the sun. While we’ve seen Ty go rock, pop, EDM and even gospel over the years, here he essentially sticks to his blend of trap and modern R&B sounds. The strange thing is, for a project titled Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, all this project did was make me long for Ty to exercise the dynamic versatility he displays every time artists call on him to spice up their tracks with that distinctive warm and raspy vocal tone. While Ty’s inimitable voice and technical ability does make quite a few of these tracks highly enjoyable, as well as many of the featured artists delivering, a project this long ultimately feels like it lacks a clear vision. Instead of admiring what makes Ty an essential artistic voice in modern music, too much of this project just feels like waiting for your favourite guest performers to show up.
The project kicks off with a voicemail from his older brother praising Ty’s talents and a brief intro track, “Status,” where he essentially regurgitates some tired hip-hop flexes over an eerie and cinematic trap instrumental. In one bar, he mentions how frequent collaborator Kanye West advised him that he was “too good” to contribute to any “generic” content – he’s right, and if Ty had listened to him and cut out all of that, this album would have been much better. Before things start heating up, we get tracks like the first full-length song “Temptations,” a track with a pretty engaging synth bass hook that could have been utilized for anything but a hook this low-effort. Featured artist Kid Cudi is always a little hit-or-miss with how his lackadaisical off-key warbling sometimes magically fits the vibe of a track, but it definitely doesn’t on this one as the energy is brought all the way down. Most of the weaker tracks on this thing come in the album’s middle, however, making me wonder if someone capable of creating the many chills-inducing harmonized bridges on this thing truly saw a need for them past inflating his streaming numbers or showing off his impressive number of famous friends.
In a particularly snooze-worthy run directly at the midpoint, we get “Tyrone 2021,” a bland retelling of an Erykah Badu track about a no-good boyfriend with the genders flipped that comes with an average Big Sean verse shoehorned in despite a drastic tonal shift, “Real Life,” another lyrically awkward one over the same Mustard beat you’ve heard on every other one of his hits as Ty juxtaposes lyrics about police brutality and his own lavish lifestyle, and “Nothing Like Your Exes,” one of the only solo Ty tracks here that essentially sounds like a self-indulgent freestyle.
The album picks up for the first time with the track “Spicy,” which reunites the reliable hitmaking duo of Ty and Post Malone. With some infectious percussion claps and a winding guitar loop that fits the drunken party atmosphere of the track, Ty puts that voice to work with some sharp and rhythmic bars before Malone offers his own melodramatic spin on things that finally adapts a little more to the minor key of the track’s instrumental. It’s another obvious earworm from the duo. The track kicks off a pretty great run of feature verses as the album truly does start to feel like a project full of tracks that feature Ty. At his best, of course, this isn’t a bad thing at all – just slightly disappointing when his previous solo works have been so much more of his own statement.
The aptly named “Track 6” recruits an all-star lineup as two of the world’s most confident and charismatic men in Kanye West and Anderson .Paak link up for the first time, backed up by the virtuosic talents of Thundercat. Quite a few tracks on here feel a little disjointed and haphazardly assembled and the diverse mixture of voices here unfortunately feels similar, but when .Paak demolishes his verse as much as he does, it doesn’t really matter. He continues elevating just about every track he appears on. Surprisingly enough, Quavo of all people drops one of the project’s best features on the track “Freak,” bogged down by Ty’s truly awful and repetitive hook with unlistenable and garbled vocal processing. In the middle of this run, we get the track “Double R,” which has a weaker feature in Lil Durk and a much stronger and personalized performance from Ty, featuring constant soulful backing vocals and harmonizing with himself – it just shows how much better the project could be if we got more focus on Ty’s unique talents. The whole project is a mixed bag that never really gets going, but from time to time we still get tracks like “Expensive.” Ty plays off of a delightfully animated Nicki Minaj and an exotic-sounding guitar loop for a quirky yet immediately marketable banger with a handful of hilarious lines.
The album certainly improves in its second half as Ty starts getting a little more soulful and using the most show-stopping talents in his arsenal. In the much stronger of Mustard’s two appearances behind the boards, he introduces “By Yourself” with a pitched-up sample of “G.H.E.T.T.O.U.T.” before Ty drops in with a boost in energy and some smoother vocals over some spirited trap hi-hats and muted vocal samples, Jhene Aiko ultimately appearing with a confident verse and some vocal work that complements Ty’s nicely. Another R&B superstar in Kehlani appears for a romantic duet on the next track, “Universe.” Ty and Kehlani give their thanks to the powers that be for providing them with a perfect partner, tapping into their most passionate vocal delivery over some rumbling bass and a plucked guitar loop. One of the catchier hooks on the album actually doesn’t come from Ty at all, but Young Thug on the track “Lift Me Up,” Ty’s backing vocals giving a foundation to his quirky delivery as Thugger injects molly directly into his veins. Ty gets right into the effortless blend of R&B and a rap flow that we know from him before a subpar Future verse slightly derails things.
As the album winds down, the consistency becomes an issue once again. The amount of abrupt beat switches and sudden alterations of a track’s tone are seriously confusing over the course of the project, none of them truly landing and often bringing me out of the experience of an otherwise pretty great track. This definitely happens on “Time Will Tell,” anchored by a great hook and some of Ty’s most confessional lyricism, but the energetic beat that drops like a bomb halfway through kills the vibe. Even closing track “Ego Death,” a deep-house banger that features none other than FKA Twigs, Skrillex and another appearance from Kanye, feels like it’s clicking absentmindedly through a playlist – a playlist of great songs, mind you, but it never comes together. Twigs’ verse not being longer is one of the biggest musical crimes of the year.
After “Everywhere,” the kind of profoundly goofy sensual slow jam that truly only could have come from Ty, and “Slow It Down,” another by-the-numbers track which 22 tracks in certainly makes it feel like time is slowing down, we get the album’s best song hidden at the very end. The track “Your Turn” is by far the album’s longest at over 5 minutes, as Ty, Musiq Soulchild, Tish Hyman and 6lack all beautifully and profoundly offer their lyrical takes on the fleeting nature of love. It’s Ty’s best vocal performance here, reaching down to some deep bass notes as he ponders how simultaneously beautiful and sad it is that we can make meaningful connections that can end just as quick with so many over the course of a life. It’s the kind of tear-inducing track you’d never expect on an album like this.
After listening to the entirety of Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, it’s still obvious that Ty is one of the most multi-talented musicians working today – this leaning into a joke about what he’s primarily known for just resulted in a product that’s far from showing the many things we know he’s capable of. I’ll still be excited every time I see that feature credit.
Favourite Tracks: Your Turn, Expensive, Spicy, By Yourself
Least Favourite Track: Freak