Ty Dolla gives us an enjoyable, very short prelude to his debut album.
Having recently gotten a release date for his debut album after months of uncertainty, Ty Dolla $ign has all the reason in the world to celebrate. Free TC arrives next month, but before we get the full-length tackling the weighty subject of his brother's wrongful incarceration, Ty's surprised us with 24 minutes of escapist jams. It contains five songs that clock in under two minutes, and only ten tracks total, making this "tape" even briefer than 2013's Beach House EP. Clearly, we're going to miss out on some of the grandiose songwriting that we know Dolla $ign is capable of, so instead, the focus here is on his versatility and his D.R.U.G.S. production team.
The crew, who may prove to be the saving grace of Iggy Azalea's career next year, split time with Ty's Pushaz Ink partner DJ Mustard, as well as four of Atlanta's premier beatmakers (Sonny Digital, DJ Spinz, Southside and Mike Will). This means that their baroque, lush style butts up against Mustard's spare creep and those ATLien's trippier but more robotic compositions, making for a mixed-bag affair throughout. Ty certainly sounds more at home over the Cali producers' beats, but his choice to tap another region's sound is a nice change of pace, and does actually yield some surprising results. His and Sonny's woozy "Do Thangs" beat is the closest to his wheelhouse, and the most fitting with the rest of Airplane Mode. Spinz and Southside's "Violent" is somewhat out of place on the otherwise laid-back project, but on its own, it acts as a very capable and enjoyable take on Future's current sound. "One Thing," which has Mike Will deploying the same garbage disposal bass sound he did on Young Thug's "Chickens," sounds like a wasted opportunity by Ty, who squanders the fantastic beat by doing a much less successful Future impression and coming through with one of his blandest hooks ever.
Luckily, nothing lasts long enough to sour the full tape, and for this reason, the short tracks work well, with the stronger ones serving as palate cleansers after the few clunkers there are on Airplane Mode. The very minimal (and uncredited) features are a welcome change from $ign Language and the aforementioned EP, both of which were jam-packed with guests. If anything, this project hammers home Ty's fan's long-standing belief that he's at his best when it's just him and D.R.U.G.S. vibing off each other and continuing to explore the outer reaches of their unique sound. "Sex On Drugs," "No Fake $hit," with their elegant, almost plaintive arrangements, are the best showcases of Ty's ability to sing about emotional numbness and shallow subject matter with "a heartfelt cry from the depths of your soul," to borrow a phrase from David Drake's deft examination of the now-classic "My Cabana." His strength of finding the melancholic beauty in the life of the player (not a pimp, as he informs us on "One Thing") is similar to Future's, but whereas the Actavis Astronaut makes this discovery at the bottom of a bottle, Ty's revelations seem to come from some internal wellspring of morality that tempers every boast.
Ty's definitely noticed these similarities between himself and Future too-- beyond the flow similarities on "Violent" and "One Thing," Ty quotes "March Madness" on the title track and paraphrases "Stick Talk"'s "I'ma put my thumb in her butt" line on "Rich Ni$$a." At best, these references feel like homages by Ty to the reigning king of 2015, at worst, they're yet another example of artists across the country trying to ride Future's wave. A few of these stylistic nods are fine on something as low-stakes as Airplane Mode, but Dolla $ign's been around long enough to have established his own sound, and if he's going to knock Free TC out of the park, he needs to stick to his own guns.