Historically, arguably moreso than any genre, Hip Hop has always worn many hats. The late J. Dilla’s Donuts is a masterful example of what a supremely talented producer can bring to the table, but this same masterpiece would cause an irrevocable spike in unemployment rates if deejays decided in unison to play the record in a club atmosphere. Variety in this art form is not a luxury but a necessity, and it is the reason why Hip Hop will sidestep the fate of other genres like Disco. We need politically conscious groups like Public Enemy, but we also need lighthearted party jams to balance out the equation. Singer/rapper Ty Dolla $ign will likely never record a “Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos,” but his content is perfect for hours of celebration. Material mostly predicated on fun and romance is exactly the sort of music needed to unwind from the stresses of life and shift our focus to the trivial.
But even the artist who forgoes backpacks and kufi hats for mass appeal is not immune to high standards. Ty’s latest mixtape, Sign Language, comes across as a bit more dialed in than his immensely popular Beach House series. When the circuitry of Ty’s approach is properly wired, we get electric moments like “Intro,” where he is joined by West Coast rookie Jay 305 and Big Sean. The latter is always consistent with hilarious, witty punchlines, and the plush groove allows him ample room to flex, rhyming, “I’m living the life you read about / Lately I’ve been drinking and taking vitamins hoping it even out.” Juicy J and Rich Homie Quan revel in the action on “Dead Presidents,” and Ty is equally vivacious as he provides a generous ode to strippers instead of the 6,000th remake of the ‘Hova classic.
Normally, a mixtape suffused with features is often a clever smokescreen for an artist who lacks the talent or artistic endurance to anchor an entire record, but this is not the case with Sign Language. Ty has proven he can function on his own off the strength of his vocal chords, but his rhythms are augmented when he shares the spotlight with emcees. In this regard, the West Coast native is like a light version of Nate Dogg, fully aware that it ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none. Opting for a solo dolo approach on “Stretch/She Better,” Ty crafts a slow jam that could compete with the work of Chris Brown, Trey Songz, or August Alsina. But “Lord Knows” sounds like an instant radio jam with the lyrical aid of Rick Ross and fellow West Coast partner Dom Kennedy. “Drank N Cranberry,” featuring Casey Veggies, has the same sort of radio magnetism and jolts successfully in the same selfless avenue.
On the flipside, some tracks commence with an aura of prompt catchiness, but ultimately fall apart at the seams. Fabolous and YG join Ty on “Type Of Shit I Hate” but Ty seems to be too preoccupied with the relaying the message of the song rather than buttressing the actual music. The song comes across as a lengthy Twitter rant rather than a piece of memorable music. Clearly, the oft-used phrase among Hip Hop fans of “put it in a song” does not always translate to success. Ty attempts another slow jam with “Can’t Stay,” but despite a promising, catchy beginning, the song drifts off into directionless obscurity once an uninspired hook rolls around. A lackluster (or mediocre) verse from T.I. doesn’t help matters.
Partying and ladies are a few of Ty’s favorite things, but he is surprisingly impressive when he swaps pillow talk for real talk. “Too Deep” is the final cut on the tape, and by far the standout. Ty’s indulgent reliance on Auto-tune can be taxing on the ears at times, but on “Too Deep” he lets his true voice shine through while he and TeeCee4800 provide their own personal autobiographies. Ty’s upcoming tour is appropriately titled In Too Deep, and from this stage on, hopefully he provides more in the way of personal cuts in the future. While not as solid as his Beach House tapes, Sign Language is a persuasive indicator that Ty Dolla $ign will eventually smooth out the kinks in his approach and ultimately realize his potential.