Surprising calm in a career maelstrom.
Visibility is the number one law of rap– if they can’t see/hear/feel you, you don’t actually exist for a lot of people. But the main concern is how do you keep them interested? Tyga is one of those artists who has been cursed with a struggle between visibility and interest. He was one of the first of the Young Money crew, with both Wayne and Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz heralding his future. Unfortunately, he failed to surpass the overpowering rises of fellow artists Drake and Nicki Minaj. It didn’t matter that he was the man who put DJ Mustard on the map with “Rack City,” nor that he’d been one of those secret figures of influence in the slowly building ‘ratchet’ scene that’s exploded on us in recent years, bringing to us names like Iamsu!, YG and Problem. Also, he’s arguably been the one guy responsible for encouraging Chris Brown’s continuing career as a rapper (of course, whether or not you’re happy about that is entirely up to you).
It’s not for a lack of hits or talent that has been holding him back, it’s his celebrity (or lack thereof). Tyga simply was not interested or able to cross over into pop stardom like Nicki, nor is he the teen actor turned embodiment of petulance Drake. In the last year, label owner Birdman had seemingly pushed aside his artist in order to flock to the king of controversy, Young Thug. Since then, Tyga has now gone independent to release his third album, The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty, and enlisted none other than Kanye West as an executive producer to finally get the people to give him due notice. Of course, the general populace appears more fascinated with his controversial dalliances with West’s sister-in-law. Given his continuous struggles with the attentions of his audience, can this album finally succeed where his others have failed.
For starters, it has to be noted that Tyga is a solid rapper, arguably one of the better West Coast rappers in his generation based on a purely technical standpoint. He is always dexterous and nimble, and even when a song has a basis in someone else’s style, he takes pains to make it his own. A song like “Muh Fucka” shows him occupying the nasal, throatiness of Kendrick Lamar, alongside the dexterous bursting style of Young Thug. Now for anyone else, simple biting is an easy out that can get you through the day when you’re trying to mine a hit, but rather, Tyga maintains an ever-shifting vocal tone that can be jarring and hallucinatory. Take “Shaka Zulu,” which appears to be simply a Kendrick-influenced take on Drake’s “Energy”; at least until he suddenly bursts into a freeform patois-inflected, auto-tune fried rambling flow that honestly I don’t think either of those rappers would DARE to attempt. For all his limitations on crafting a definitive ‘banger,’ you can’t say the guy isn’t taking risks.
Risks are all part of the game here, especially as a largely introspective section takes hold after we make the transition from the initial aggression. “Hard For You,” for example, has dangerous implications pertaining to his aforementioned underaged paramour, which definitely has the feel of commercial suicide despite his overflowing sentiment and expressions of empathy. In this regard, the following “Down For A Min” is a perfect companion piece; a strangely bleak auto-tune laced sing-rap of wistful angst which closes out from using SIRI’s voice to comfort the nihilism of Tyga’s self-celebratory boasts, thus making the transition of the surreal pomp of “Pure Luxury” go from simple brag rap into something close to PC Music or Dean Blunt style meta-commentary, no matter how unintended.
Tyga isn’t the only creative presence that should get a look from The Gold Album. More than likely the extravagance of the album is going to be mistakenly attributed to Kanye or his co-producer Mike Dean, when in reality its Tyga’s co-pilot Jess Jackson. The duo appear to have learned to gel perfectly over their history of collaboration, particularly manifesting on “Hollywood N***az,” in which the UK transplant provides a surprising lumber to a G-Funk bounce while Tyga’s delivery echoes B-Real of Cypress Hill. Even when various producers such as SAP or FKi arrive to provide some influx of new energy, Jackson keeps the blend seamless and natural. For the first time, Tyga appears to have a solid, cohesive body of work that stands on its own and really suggests he can perhaps divert his energy into breaking the mold cast upon him once and for all.
Certainly there are a few particular errors on The Gold Album, like leaning on a particularly uninspired Wayne on “4 My Dawgz”, or the half-baked vanity on opener “Spitfire”. And in all, there’s still bounds of room for future development to get Tyga past leaning on the framework of hits and styles of others. Yet here we have some real progress and a showcase of why Tyga still matters. And while he’s got all eyes on him now for all the wrong reasons these days, there’s no need to keep it that way. He’s got the skillset required to prove himself, he simply needs the right moment.