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There’s no shortage of confidence on Lil Tjay’s latest full-length album, Destined 2 Win. The 22-year-old Bronx, New York native arrived with the assurance of an upperclassman on his swaggering debut, True 2 Myself, in 2018 and the scuffs and scrapes he’s taken since have done little to dull the sparkle in his eye as he guides the listener through 21 tracks displaying his wide-ranging abilities. However, you know how the saying goes: a Jack of all trades is a master of none, and that aphorism holds true despite the poise with which Tjay bears himself on his shape-shifting sophomore album.
There’s a lot to be said for the sort of confidence Tjay projects here. Some of us go 30 years or more without ever finding the level of intoxicating self-belief that allows him to write song titles like “Born 2 Be Great” without a hint of irony. Of course, self-belief and self-awareness seldom go hand-in-hand; whether that’s a boon to this album or a drawback depends on your point of view. I’m ambivalent; on one hand, I’m impressed by how deftly he dips into each stylistic tureen from which he draws his inspiration. On the other hand, I really wish that his own artistic voice would cut through the noise more distinctly, showing us who he is both as an artist and a person.
For instance, as Tjay metamorphoses, chameleonlike, between hood motivational speaker on propulsive tracks like “Hood Rich” and “Run It Up” and heartbroken, crooning lothario on “Irregular Love” and “Calling My Phone,” it gets increasingly difficult to pin down a unique worldview or dodge the sense that we’ve heard all this before. However, there’s an undeniable polish and panache to the proceedings that lends the sense that Tjay really put a lot of thought and effort into these songs to make them sound as catchy and captivating as possible.
When Tjay wants to party, “Move” and “Oh Well” provide plenty of the body-first, brain-second energy that makes such tracks work at their highest levels, then, when he tells us “Love Hurts,” he makes us believe him, worrying such juicy lyrical bones as “I see you postin’, that just put me on alert.” He’s certainly a product of his generation, pain-watching an ex’s social media and reacting in real-time, even as he admits “I know you feedin’ off of what I started first.”
Wearing his inspirations on his sleeve can bite him at times; his outright Drake impression on “Born 2 Be Great” is a microcosm of how much his flow treads in the footsteps of his forebears — ones who still have firm grasps on the pop culture zeitgeist. It also highlights just how little actual innovation he’s doing here. The singsong delivery he uses for most of the project has more-or-less been done to death and the beats, with their church bell chimes and menacing major chords, provide suitably ominous backdrops for his middling boasts and vague threats.
Through it all, his confidence carries, though. There’s a plainspoken earnestness that comes with that lack of self-critique or self-doubt. Few lines will stand out, but he sticks the landing on every one of them. By not taking huge swings, he rarely misses, offering a satisfying listen that doesn’t overstay its welcome, even if the back half of the album tends to drone. At 21 tracks, things could really drag, but instead, he brings the overall run time in at a crisp hour and five minutes, owing most of the dead weight to bonus tracks, which consist of older releases such as the Justin Bieber-sampling “None Of Your Love,” which was likely tacked-on to improve streaming metrics.
Although Destined 2 Win doesn’t offer many surprises or tremendous strides in character development for the burgeoning star, it does its job as a showcase for his burnished songwriting well enough to justify its existence. Eventually, Tjay’s young fan base will want more from him than empty flexes and generic “made it out the struggle” rhymes, and Destined doesn’t do quite enough to convince that he’ll be able to deliver when that time comes. His swagger is enough to coast on for now, with his charm as an artist and gift for imitation giving him a smooth surface to glide on while he figures himself out. Hopefully, no one scratches that surface before he does.
Destined 2 Win is out now on Columbia Records. Get it here.