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Ty Dolla $ign/Jeremih - MihTy Music Album Reviews

On their debut collaborative album, R&B’s most self-aware lotharios synthesize their respective approaches in quixotic pursuit of sexual healing.

Jeremih and Ty Dolla $ign are unquestionably the natural successors to the figure of the of “R&B thug” that defined the R&B charts for most of the aughts. This seems self-evident and unproblematic—until you remember that the progenitor of the term is R. Kelly, whose legacy is now permanently marred by his misdeeds. But that now-instinctive aesthetic wince is exactly why the two artists’ careers have been so refreshing—they’ve proven to be experts at parsing the difference between charmingly rakish and disturbingly loutish that Kelly’s songcraft (and personal life) nearly always elided. Both artists often feel as if they’re singing about their loverman personas as much as they are inhabiting them. With Jeremih, the deconstruction is mostly musical, through the dubby, reflective negative space that the Late Nights mixtape and album both exuded. With Ty, it’s more often manifested in lyrical detail that provokes empathy even toward his most louche stories, especially on last year’s career peak, Beach House 3. On MihTy, their debut collaborative album, they’ve linked up with frequent collaborator Hitmaka and created a project so buttery smooth that you might not realize how much it’s at war with itself.

The sound of MihTy is blockier and brighter than the usual palettes of either artist, often hearkening back to the chunky hip-hop soul of peak Puff Daddy and Jermaine Dupri—sometimes overtly, as in the R. Kelly-aping chorus of “FYT,” or the bassline borrowed from Mary J. Blige’s “Love No Limit” remix for “The Light.” To distinguish themselves, Hitmaka and co. bring neon synth pads and a dash of vaguely Balearic electronic sparkle to the proceedings, eschewing deference in favor of, oddly enough, a chillwave-y evocation of 1990s R&B. The general effect of the production’s geometric wobbliness is a woozy, classicist gilded cage in which Jeremih and Ty are set loose to ping-pong off each other.

Accordingly, there’s something slightly anxious about the album, flitting lyrically as it does (often within the same song) between straightforward fuckbook braggadocio and nervous reflections on success—“You know this shit ain’t me/So you can’t blame me/If I act a little different these days,” croons Jeremih on the hypnagogic slow jam “These Days.” On standouts like that one, the MihTy project lays out a central driving conflict that’s classically hip-hop, with a twist: Rather than negotiating street authenticity, Ty and Jeremih instead unpack the post-fame viability of intimacy. The aforementioned “FYT” has some of Jeremih’s best lines here, as his honeyed vocal gently skewers his diva reputation right along with his lover’s apparent lack of taste: “I’m in Neiman Marcus throwing tantrums/You think you know high fashion/Just to take it off, babe.” Ty, meanwhile, demonstrates a more explicit neurosis, singing on “Perfect Timing,” “Wish that I could take it back/Said some things I shouldn’t have said/Meant it at the time/I know I take it way too far.” His gravelly “Meant it at the time” subtly percolates, until you suddenly realize that it’s a clever inversion of the classic line, “I didn’t mean it, baby!”

Reading MihTy (and, by extension Jeremih and Ty Dolla $ign’s careers in general) as a critical take on R&B’s full-throated embrace of lust before all—“My mind is telling me no, but my body is telling me yes!”—is tempting, but it inevitably brushes against some annoying realities. Chris “ugh” Brown’s presence on this record is aggravating in a way his appearances usually aren’t—mostly because it’s harder to explain him away as a mere hook for hire. When Brown delivers his salacious lines on “Surrounded,” it inevitably draws attention to the incongruity of the song with the savvy, winning self-awareness of the rest of the album. As a result of that track, and a few emotionally one-note cuts in the middle stretch (“New Level” and “Take Your Time,” both of which feel like the result of perfectionism overwork), MihTy fails to shake its creators’ shared albatross of always almost making a classic record.

But in general, MihTy gently gleams with a humanism that is equal parts existential and licentious. The delicate closing triptych of “Lie 2 Me,” “Ride It,” and “Imitate,” perhaps the album’s three best tracks, feels instructive. The first is a swaying ode to paranoia and loyalty. The second inhabits the anxiety of exhibitionism and then lullabies it to sleep. The third fears romantic loss with a choral intensity and seeks to bargain. Each song feels, at first, like it might be a goodbye, or a hello, or a c’mere. Each one is really all three.

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