Lil Tjay is manifesting his destiny.
Lil Tjay first broke out in 2017, with a pair of consecutive Soundcloud-viral singles, “Resume” and “Brothers.” The two songs showcase the New York native’s talents, even in an early iteration, clearly: a keen sense of melody, an easy-going flow, and lyrics that showed a certain emotional state and resonated with a wide audience. Tjay would appeal to the streets via reflections on being entangled with them, in the same way he would attract a female demographic thanks to his relationship musings. Finally, wrapped up in at all is his sound-- trendy and TikTok-ready, inherently for the youth, but with a touch of grit, passion and emotion, helping him also appeal to a more mature fanbase. It’s once again in this space that we find Tjay on his second studio album, Destined 2 Win.
While Destined 2 Win may keep certain themes intact from Tjay’s debut album, True 2 Myself, and his early success in general, the growth on this album is still evident, and it’s part of what makes Tjay such an exciting artist to follow. As a fan, we are able to clearly witness an evolution in real time. True 2 Myself was solid enough, however it relied more heavily on the early Soundcloud era of Tjay’s career, and failed to really explore or push that sound any further, resulting in some less-than-memorable moments. On Destined 2 Win, Tjay remedies this-- perhaps one of the most obvious ways is through his production choices-- the Bronx native switched tacts for his sophomore effort and enlisted an entirely different crop of producers this time around, including up-and-coming cats (DMac, JabariOnTheBeat, AriaTheProducer, Non Native and others) who are helping dictate where exactly trap, drill, and any other buzzing sub-genres are headed-- and thus Tjay has ably kept himself at the fore of a new hip-hop generation.
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The album’s opener is produced by one such figure, OthelloBeats (previous credits include Pop Smoke’s “Like Me”), who creates a one-minute backdrop that stews together a mix of sounds, pulling in a soulful sample from 1970’s r’n’b singer Margie Joseph to harmonize with Tjay’s own chorus of ‘oohs’, both juxtaposed beside audio of an unknown man flexing his come-up. It almost feels symbolic in a sense, Tjay both paying tribute to the past and clearly stating his future, which acts as both the album’s title and mission statement. The opening of an album is important in setting the engagement standard for the listener, as well as creating a tone and atmosphere that the listener should ostensibly be looking forward to. If the opening record is not engaging enough, the listener may opt out quickly, and discontinue streaming; if the skit is too long the listener may become equally weary; if the opening song doesn’t capture the album’s essence accurately it could derail the entire listening experience. Tjay, for his part, sets the tone masterfully. “Destined 2 Win” is not a complete record, it’s more interlude than song, however it starts the album beautifully and anticipates the sound that will soon be disseminated across the album’s 21 songs. It also leaves the listener wanting more: whether that be through a quick replay or through the next song, it reels you in to Tjay’s personal journey, from juvenile detention to worldwide fame.
While 21 records has become a new norm in tracklist length, it’s still not always optimal, although here, three of the 21 records, tacked on at the very end as ‘bonuses’ include old records: “Losses,” “Move On,” and even 2018’s Justin Bieber-sampling “None of Your Love.” It’s safe to say these songs, especially the latter, were added on for the benefit of boosting streaming numbers, and while they don’t necessarily detract from the album as a whole, they could definitely be trimmed/neglected. In terms of pulling off the lengthy tracklist, one important factor is often curation, and this is something Tjay has done successfully with Destined 2 Win, creating an album that feels playlist-like enough, and moves quickly as to make for an easy-listen all the way through. And, while all of Tjay’s songs tend to lead with an emotional drive, there’s still a dichotomy between cuts like “Calling My Phone” and “Headshot,” which translates directly to the tracklisting, as Tjay often oscillates from one arena to the other; dividing his time between serenading ladies, coping with his past, and positioning himself for a wealthy future.
Amidst all of this, though, Lil Tjay doesn’t fail to cater to our sense of rhythm, connecting each song by its melody. The hip-hop artist has always had an r’n’b bent to his sound, and it’s one he explores to varying degrees throughout songs like “What You Wanna Do,” “Love Hurts,” and “Irregular Love.” Elsewhere, Tjay appeals to the mainstream pop-consuming listener with records like “Move” featuring two radio darlings, Saweetie and Tyga, repetitive crooning, and a feel-good, bouncy beat. In another direction, “Run It Up” is the hip-hop fan’s banger, and an easy party-playlist addition for any streaming service. The piano-laden beat, produced by Josh Petruccio, tumbles along with Lil Tjay rapping perfectly in its pocket, on top of features from trap rap colleagues, Offset and Moneybagg Yo. As the album veers into its final five records, Tjay brings things full circle in waxing poetic about his past and what his future holds, concisely recalling the album’s title.
It’s becoming clear that Lil Tjay, at just 19-years old, not only has an opportunity to shape and steer hip-hop’s future sound, but to become an icon within the genre, and outside of it. On Destined 2 Win, the young artist makes it known that this is a role he not only takes seriously, but one he plans to succeed in, no matter what.