It’s easy to forget that Ty Dolla $ign turned 30 in 2015, especially so considering he’s nearly impossible to overlook in 2017, seemingly singing the hook to every other top 50 rap album that’s come out this year. Dolla’s new album, Beach House 3, spends some time reflecting on finding fame and wealth, and the lifestyle changes that ensue. While the record provides a cursory musing on these themes, Dolla tends to lose focus and allows the superficial and dull filler tracks and ideas to take center stage.
What made his previous solo projects, Free TC and Campaign, underrated gems were deep tracks that stood out because of the uniquely organic instrumentation. Dolla’s reliance on light orchestral and piano flourishes lightened the projects and differentiated them from the more synthetic pop-tracks he tends to release as singles. While Dolla’s pop sensibilities are undeniable, it was his ability to eschew modern R&B expectations and deliver uniquely produced experiences that really made his personal tracks worthwhile. Unfortunately, Dolla bucks this trend in Beach House 3 and provides a more party-friendly and one-dimensional project.
The first few tracks of the record are well-crafted and exhibit Ty’s depth at song writing. While the lyrics are as thoughtless as the rest of the album, such as in the opener, “Famous,” the variety of production is refreshing and have no thematic pretensions; these songs represent Ty Dolla $ign at his most comfortable, writing ear-catching pop songs, not thinking about fame. The two lead singles that follow “Famous,” “Love U Better” and “Ex,” are prime Dolla. The former is a DJ Mustard produced club beat from an alternative universe where soul samples are as ubiquitous as trap beats. The soul vocals and light keyboard, topped with The-Dream’s confident chorus, is a sunny and sexy piece that is well-layered but not overdone. The latter is a laid back west-coast bop, littered with studio claps and a square baseline in place of trap cymbals. Dolla and his feature YG sound perfectly comfortable in this relaxed piece of west coast goodness. Both are succinct, each clocking in around 3 minutes, but still express enough unique ideas to keep the attention of the listener. These songs are excellent and represent Dolla’s skirt around 2017’s imagining of a hit song.
The issue with the less successful songs that follow is two-fold: they tend to be overly long, and they tend to express too few ideas to warrant their length. A song like “Don’t Judge Me” exemplifies these issues well. The hook feels half-baked, leaving Dolla’s falsetto vocals exposed as he repeats the phrase “don’t judge me” ad nauseum. What’s worse is the hook repeats four times, only interrupted by weak verses from Swae Lee and Future, who use the same meter from the hook inside their verses. This decision ultimately hurts the song, as the lines fail to differentiate themselves from the verses. So while “Don’t Judge Me” is only a minute longer than “Ex,” it feels much longer because the production, verses, and chorus all blend together.
Beach House 3 is wounded by its attempts at consistency. “Don’t Judge Me” and “Don’t Sleep on Me” find Dolla solemnly expressing his woes in the form of a pop-hook, but he doesn’t successfully balance expressing himself and maintaining pop-rap tropes. He goes from mulling over his usage of substances to nullify his feelings in the chorus, to grandstanding about the finer virtues of Gucci, Saint Laurent and the like in his verses. His inability to consistently maintain focus through songs in the middle of the project make them come off as far less genuine.
Lyrical content is not an issue on the tracks that do succeed, because they don’t let the writing take center stage. A song like “Message in a Bottle” isn’t successful because of its lyricism, it’s successful because the vocal delivery, droning synths, harp, and multi-tracked harmonies all work to develop the woozy and drunken ideas that the lyrics outline.
Most of the tracks on Beach House 3 don’t follow through with as much thoughtful writing as this. The result is a tedious and uninteresting mixtape, in which Dolla finds himself delivering repetitive hooks under the guise of different instrumentals. Songs like “Don’t Sleep On Me,” “Lil Favorite,” and “Stare” prattle away with beats that don’t cater to their genre or artists. A slow-paced and simplistic Pharrell-beat, as found in “Stare,” doesn’t work with Dolla because the monotony of his delivery is not broken up by the beat. The song works better in a rap setting, where the variety of the delivery can break up the tedium of the beat–as exemplified by Wiz Khalifa’s fun, if stupid, verse, in which he opines about women, weed, and other finer things.
All of this is extremely frustrating, because for as many tedious and filler songs Beach House 3 provides, Dolla still shows extreme promise. He’s a serious hit-maker with an ear for unconventional pop goodness, as evidenced by songs like “Ex” and “Love U Better.” Dolla even comes close to providing a thoughtful reflection on the hedonistic and tiring nature of finding fame at 30 on songs like “Don’t Judge Me” or “Message in a Bottle.” But he doesn’t follow through. The sheer quantity of filler, thoughtless hooks, and melodies bog the majority of this project down into an unlistenable mess. Beach House 3 is a promising, but ultimately deeply unsatisfying project, from an artist who seems to be holding himself back.