Lil Tjay’s first full-length album, True 2 Myself, is an invaluable addition to the compendium of up-and-coming underground rappers. In just 2 years, he’s transitioned from a 16-year-old SoundCloud artist to being enlisted by Columbia Records at 18, and his major debut released with commandeered help from rap’s massive pool of Lil’s by way of Lil Baby, Lil Durk and Lil Wayne himself.
Crackling out with a belt of bars dedicated to calling for jail pardons and flexing VVS diamond accessories, “One Take” is a polished piece and a threat to the peace of mind of Lil Tjay’s enemies. A deceptively gentle piano leads the song along, and its relentless percussion drums a bit deeper as Lil Tjay promises attacks from his full squad. These themes and instrumental stylings persist in much of the album like the charged “F.N” and the hi-hat spurting hit “Ruthless,” where Lil Tjay’s tightly overlayed lyricism continues to pop off and stay fluid.
“Hold On” also has many similarly rapid-fired bursts of verse. From trapping packs of cocaine to judging the expertise of any opposition’s shooting, the forlorn, dynamic battleground of the track only beckons relief during its simultaneously angelic and ominous chorus. Paced strings and hollow drum bops somberly hold it together in an atmosphere that otherwise revolves around an extended state of duration and hardship.
An interesting mix of sharp synth whistles and ordinary piano are blended on “Decline.” Both he and guest Lil Baby rap skillfully and have decent lyrical content, yet despite the track being somewhat unremarkable, it further marks the beginning of a greater variety of instrumental and atmospheric modes.
The instruments in “Mixed Emotions” ping and smack beside Lil Tjay’s carefree bars. Though it’s insanely upbeat, his motivating words, worries and well-wishes for friends are made to be taken seriously when contrasted with those who change on him, try to use him or end up on the wrong side of his weaponry.
More relaxed instrumentation comes packed with “Sex Sounds” and “Leaked.” “Laneswitch” and “Top of My Game” also host twinkling instrumentals that lend themselves to even more introspective feelings on their tracks. Lil Tjay raps some of his best bars on “Laneswitch” and digs down into his motivations, although some of these songs feel as though they’re cut a little short. “Leaked” is the most outstanding of the group, and its flickering synths elevate the track to an unforgettable level.
“Brothers” is a much more traditional kind of rap song. While this song’s structure in particular is nothing incredibly out of the ordinary, it does a good job of solidifying Lil Tjay’s cemented motifs of melancholic nostalgia, reminiscence and endurance. Lil Durk’s narrative and flow on the remix is immaculate and does a good job of amplifying Lil Tjay’s key musical characteristics.
Comparatively, “Goat” doubles down on the traditional with old school piano keys, but Tjay resumes his style of relentless and agile lyric delivery. His pride is saturated here and gives the song a very dramatic, glorious feel.
In “No Escape,” the album’s hit-or-miss guitar accompaniment strings the whole track together as a lead instrument and it repeatedly echoes out its gruff, nostalgic and weathered riff. He drops the autotune completely here as he ponders original concerns and anxieties, and what he would hope to accomplish by selling weed packs and lean or running up on rivals. It is the most vulnerable, yet also the most durable moment of storytelling and street-soldiering that Lil Tjay has to offer on the album.
Speedy and certain in his destiny, Lil Tjay’s ambition is palpable in his personal history and his music. His adept usage of autotune and mind-blasting instrumental complexity supercharges his already intimidatingly quick delivery and wit. From the struggles of old to the shine of new prospects, Lil Tjay is willing to waste little time in emblazoning his legacy on the face of rap.
Cory Koehler is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]