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Headspinning Innovation For Simple Sublimation: Ty Dolla $ign’s Campaign

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Despite its title, cover art, and release date right in the midst of election season, Ty Dolla $ign’s Campaign is better thought of as a collection of belated summer jams than a bold political statement. In fact, only two of the project’s sixteen tracks contain a socially conscious message. The rest are concerned with bragging, sex, and bragging about having sex. But even if Ty’s subject matter isn’t exactly ambitious, his songwriting skills are considerable.

After years of releasing trashy (but slightly promising) mixtapes, Dolla $ign’s debut album — the meandering but often brilliant Free TC — finally proved him to be a force to be reckoned with. And while Campaign noticeably lacks the roster of all-star collaborators and immaculately produced live instrumentation of his previous effort, the LA singer/producer still treats the lower-budget affair seriously, and the result is his most consistent project to date.

Just like Free TC, Campaign kicks off with an excellent spoken word piece from Nate Howard, whose political concerns go beyond partisan squabbling: “I don’t know any politician who’s admitted that gang violence came from strange fruit, watch ’em hang.”

Other than a brief Trump-denouncing interlude from YG — fresh off the fantastic Still BrazyCampaign‘s only other high-minded moment is “No Justice.” Muted, thumping drums and despairing vocal samples provide a moving backdrop for Ty to reflect on police brutality and the prison-industrial complex. Fittingly, the record features Dolla $ign’s incarcerated brother, Big TC, whose performance is captured via prison phone. Hearing the brothers duet is just as powerful here as it was on Free TC. The best R&B lyrics seem to cut the vocalist even more deeply than the listener, and when the two sing “We all created equal but ain’t nothing about us equal / There can never be no justice when killing us is legal,” their pain is palpable.

The rest of Campaign contains songs like the the Migos posse cut “$$$,” the spacey Travis Scott collab 3 “Wayz,” and the Wiz Khalifa and Trey Songz-assisted “Pu$$y.” If those song titles didn’t tip you off, Campaign‘s thematic underpinnings aren’t exactly lofty, nor is there a whole lot for me to delve into and analyze from a lyrical perspective.

But the record’s lack of ambition and adventurousness is more than made up for in immediacy. Of the sixteen tracks here, the only cuts I don’t like are the aforementioned “$$$” and “Pu$$y;” the former drags on way too long while the latter — despite having a hypnotic instrumental — is a little too dumb for its own good.

Beyond that, the material here is as fun as can be.

From the jangly guitars on “Juice” and “Stealing,” to the beautifully harmonized outro on “My Song,” to the frenetic back-and-forth between La Flame and Dolla $ign on “3 Wayz,” Campaign is loaded with ear candy that trades headspinning innovation for simple sublimation.

It also must be mentioned that great attention was given to the album’s structure; most songs are just 2-3 minutes (a good choice considering their straightforwardness) and typically transition into one another seamlessly. If the fact that Ty Dolla $ign put great care into the structure and flow of a mixtape full of ridiculous turn up music isn’t proof that he’s the real deal, I don’t know what is.

And even though it often took me a moment to figure out where one song ended and another began the first couple times I listened through Campaign, I now find myself gravitating towards a few truly excellent tracks. With a sly performance from Ty, some tough-as-nails bars from Meek Mill, a menacing synth/piano leadline, and 808s that hit like a freight train, “Watching” is way more imposing than its sensual lyrics call for, but damn does it sound amazing.

“R&B,” meanwhile, is the closest thing the album has to a love song. Centered around a love interest who doesn’t smoke weed and is obsessed with R&B (a girl after my own heart) — the track has an unexpected charm to it considering how (enjoyably) hedonistic the majority of the album is. Props are also due to ATL producer Zaytoven, who tones back his typically lavish stylings to complement Dolla $ign’s considerable vocal ability.

Last but not least is the retooled version of Campaign‘s title track. GOOD Music producer Charlie Heat’s remix of the Ty and Future collab closes the record, which is incredibly fortunate because no other song on the project could hope to top it. Hell, few songs from this whole year are as good or better. The Charlie Heat version of “Campaign” is a banger of the highest order, swapping out the original mix’s brittle synths for rich grand piano chords and explosive string stabs. Dolla $ign and Fewtch spend their time stunting, but it’s the kind of braggadocio that convinces you that you, too, just signed a million-dollar deal.

If providing that type of vibe is what Ty Dolla $ign is campaigning for, then he’s got my vote.