Music

Lil Tjay Flashes Star Potential On His Melancholy Major-Label Debut, ‘True 2 Myself’

On the energetic intro to his debut major-label mixtape, True 2 Myself, Bronx newcomer Lil Tjay addressed the comparisons some fans have drawn between him and another recently-famous Bronx native rapper, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. “They said I’m the new A Boogie, relax / I ain’t never try to copy your swag,” he rhymes over the keys-driven, midtempo rattle of “One Take,” setting himself up and setting himself apart in one swoop.

Of course, with the influx of similar-sounding, melodically-inclined rappers currently flooding the game, it’s important for him to do so in more than words. In just the last year, rap has seen a rise in hits from trap-inspired artists hailing from cities outside of the subgenre’s origin of Atlanta, including Roddy Ricch, TJ Porter, Lil Tecca, and Tjay’s “Pop Out” collaborator Polo G, with whom Tjay scored his first major hit. Once Atlanta-born trap stars like Lil Baby and Gunna get added to the mix, it’s clear that this is a lane which is rapidly filling up; any new artists merging into it must also find ways to distinguish themselves. On True 2 Myself, Lil Tjay makes a promising start, but also shows just how far he has to go.

The 18-year-old New Yorker’s rise began, as with so many of his contemporaries, with a Soundcloud upload that resonated with his young audience, who greedily devoured tracks like “Brothers,” “Leaked,” and “Resume,” accumulating well over 40 million plays and drawing the attention of Columbia Records, who scooped up the young rapper, adding him to a growing roster that includes proven hitmakers like Ambjaay, Joey Badass, Lil Nas X, Polo G, and Russ. A quick review of those rappers’ hits reveals that Lil Tjay fits in — but it’s possible that he blends in a little too much.

For instance, his most popular track on Youtube as of this writing is “Brothers,” the year-old Soundcloud track which produced much of his early buzz and finds its way onto True 2 Myself as its 12th track. It features the heavy kick and melancholy piano that features on many of the tape’s other tracks — and on much of Polo G’s own Columbia debut, Die A Legend. Lil Tjay’s sing-song flow echoes shades of Roddy’s, Tecca’s, and occasionally TJ Porter’s — and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, who first rose to prominence behind the style in 2017 with his hit “Drowning.”

Since his style is so similar to so many of his peers’, the place where Tjay can really push his limits and stand out is in his content and it’s here that he establishes an inkling of a singular identity. For instance, while his flow on standout “F.N” weaves a lilting tone into a rhyme scheme and cadence that would do his Bronx predecessors in D.I.T.C. proud, it’s the flashes of vulnerability that tie his semi-generic threats to real pathos. “I remember catching stains in the park, n**** / Me and Bubba tryna catch an opp after dark, n**** / My mama told me, “Wisen up, be a smart n****” / So all my n****s on ‘go’ like a kart, n****,” he snaps and the pain driving the last bar’s menace can be heard in the first’s nostalgia.

Likewise, on the hook to “Hold On,” he laments that his “broski servin’ time, he been gone for so long,” and unlike imitators like Tecca, Tjay’s biography supports the references to his gritty street tales. A future project on which Tjay delves more deeply into the circumstances of those narratives, employing more storytelling and more varied flow, might be a project that truly sets him apart. For now, though, he has the bearing of a star in the making: A compelling backstory, a knack for picking catchy (if slightly repetitive) beats, a gift for penning inescapable choruses and hooks, and the self-possessed confidence to put it all together into one, marketable package. As long as he remains true to himself, his originality will eventually become undeniable.

True 2 Myself is out now via Columbia Records. You can get it here.

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