What's stopping the lusty crooner, destined for greatness, from delivering goodness live?
To the many people I attempted to sell Ty Dolla $ign to this past summer, I described him as “the second coming of R. Kelly.” I meant this in the most complimentary sense, seeing parallels of course in their explicitness, but additionally and much more importantly, the genius of their melody and production choices. Apparently though, they share a character flaw too: believing just a few minutes of their time are worth any crowd’s money, something I couldn’t have identified until I watched Dolla $ign bound merrily across stage for some 15 minutes last night as the headliner of Hot 97’s most recent “Who’s Next” showcase at SOBs.
In his defense, he looked happy. He wore a Homme + Femme LA Karl Lagerfeld hockey sweater with huge Fendi Fs on the front where numbers would be and black loc sunglasses. His dreads were braided into larger tresses and pulled back behind his shoulders. A few feet behind him danced an unbelievably swaggy trumpet player he called “Pop,” who was old enough and resembled Dolla $ign enough that I’m nearly positive it was the original Tyrone Griffin of '70s/'80s funk band Lakeside, aka Dolla $ign’s actual father.
“God is great,” Ty repeated between songs, claiming his Beach House EP, released to iTunes the previous night, was number two in downloads. He might have said this five times, at best, because he performed, in order: “My Cabana”; the chorus from “Toot It and Boot It,” the 2010 YG song he co-wrote and last night claimed as his “first hit”; his verse from “Weekend,” a standout from 2012’s stellar Whoop! Mixtape with Joe Moses; “Familiar,” the Travis Scott/Fredo Santana-guesting song from the new EP; “Irie,” which he had to restart after he began giggling uncontrollably a few bars into the first attempt; and finally, “Paranoid,” the big-room smash from his Beach House 2 mixtape. None of these songs received more than a verse, aside from "Paranoid," Dolla Sign’s most recognizable song to date, in spite of the fact that its original “Tiny” Tameka Cottle-dissing Joe Moses guest verse was replaced with a lesser one from B.o.B for the radio version. Onstage, Ty opted for the Moses version, pantomiming his verse while he danced along with the mic mostly at waist-side. Forced to acknowledge a stiff crowd's biting indifference just before "Paranoid," he threw a fistful of one dollar bills into the air in a strange and somewhat bleak attempt to raise the energy level. In all, he ran through the set like he had a plane to catch, and in fact a flyer posted on Instagram revealed a second appearance that night at the infamous Queens strip club, Starlets.
Since the time of my original Ty Dolla Sign campaign, circa Beach House 2, Dolla $ign has hoisted his star a few rungs, collaborating repeatedly with a cavalcade of creative lesser-thans, including the aforementioned B.o.B, Wiz Khalifa and a guy named Berner, who for all I can tell was a weed dealer who hung out in the studio long enough record music after everyone else was fully sedated. Interpreted positively, these collaborations can be seen as a testament to the strength of Dolla $ign’s songwriting ability, but it’s onstage, on his own, that we could have and should have gotten our dolla’s worth, unencumbered by label bosses or studio hangers-on. The ability to sing, in and of itself, is a marvel, one Ty Dolla $ign could have easily exploited with some specialized live arrangement, not to mention refining the story of his brief but wholly worthwhile career arc, going a little deeper into his catalogue to perform the rest of the songs he built his momentum on. Instead he cautiously floated through an opportunity to expand his fan base in one of the biggest markets in the country. This past summer I wondered to myself if he was ready, cause it sure seemed like he was ready to go all the way, but last night reaffirms that a flawless early catalogue of sultry bedroom bangers an R&B hero does not make. At least not yet.