"Beach House 3" displays Ty's full range as a songwriter and a newfound confidence in his vocals.
Ty Dolla $ign is not a rapper. For anyone who’s followed the L.A. songwriter since his breakthrough on 2012’s “My Cabana,” where he belts the word “hoes” with more emotional power, and frankly, more ‘O’s, than anyone in history, this isn’t exactly news. However, as rap and R&B grow increasingly close in their use of melody, Ty’s identity as a singer is often lost to the casual observer. “I kept getting confused with some guy named Ty Dolla $ign the rapper,” he told Ebro in an interview with Beats 1. “But I feel like there's not one Ty Dolla $ign song that you can name where I'm just doing a full on rap. I don't rap I sang, or sing -- whatever you learned in your household.” Seconds into Ty’s Beach House 3, which is at once his sophomore album and the third installment in his groundbreaking Beach House mixtape trilogy, confusion over what Ty does should be put to rest. Co-written with Justin Bieber collaborator Poo Bear, with additional guitar and vocals from John Mayer, opening track “Famous” puts Ty’s crisp singing voice front-and-center over a spare acoustic arrangement. His vocal range and precision on the track may surprise even the biggest of Ty fans.
After the soft opening, things kick into gear with a pair of familiar singles: “Love U Better,” a glossy collaboration with The-Dream and Lil Wayne that pulls liberally from Mary J. Blige’s 1997 single “I Can Love You,” and “Ex,” a pumped-up rework of 112’s “Only You.” Leaning back on a recognizable hit is something Ty is too strong of a songwriter to do, and he makes the songs his own with the same confidence of master interpolator Puff Daddy’s best work (both sample sources also happen to be Bad Boy-adjacent). Here again, the sheer force of Ty’s vocal performances is evident, as he hovers within his mid-range core rather than letting his voice drag in a rap-like cadence. When in this zone, Ty reveals an expert control in delivering surprising vocal runs and graceful slips into falsetto.
The throwback launch is the first of many movements throughout the album. It serves as a safe setup, earning the trust of the crowd and filling the dancefloor before moving on to more experimental ground. Ty has always had a knack for seamless song transitions, whether that be on the synth washes that merged two-part, 10-minute epics across the original Beach House projects or the grandiose string arrangements flowing through Free TC. On BH3, he achieves the same effect through a stacked team of producers who composed the transportive snippets between tracks, each beginning with the word “Famous.” Frequent Beach House collaborator D’Mile and go-to violinist Peter Lee Johnson jam out with Mike Dean (on a modular synth) and Skrillex over the course of the album, making sure there are no hiccups between the sometimes drastic shifts in Ty’s songwriting. “The-Dream's first album, from the first song to the last song -- everything just flowed into each other. That's how I like to model my albums,” Ty told Ebro of the fluid full-length experience that has been bolstered by his producer side throughout his career.
Beach House 3’s mid-section finds him approaching rap from a singer’s perspective, while his collaborators largely do the opposite. The robustly catchy “Don’t Judge Me” puts Ty with Future and Swae Lee, uniting three of the greatest top-liners working. For this reason, it’s a slight disappointment that Ty is the only one who really deviates from the central melody (save for Future’s 3 Stacks turn on the outro), but this also means that he really separates himself as a singer on his masterful verse. “Don’t Sleep On Me,” while disguised as a braggy, by-the-numbers crew track, is one of the most daring songs on the album, while “Droptop In The Rain” proves Ty can do the dark, trendy side of R&B better than most of its central figures. This run of songs is the most guest-heavy on the project, but unlike Beach House 2, the collaborations rarely sound forced. Even “Stare,” which makes the blasphemous decision of booting Ty from the hook of his own song, brings out the best performances from Pharrell and Wiz Khalifa in recent memory.
In the time between Free TC and BH3, Ty earned the biggest hit of his career with his guest appearance on Fifth Harmony’s “Work From Home,” something he’s had mixed feelings about. “It is a great song. But I feel like I’ve made other, better songs that didn’t blow to the top,” he told Billboard earlier this year. With that being said, there are moments on the new effort that replicate the song's formula. Ty has said the “Work From Home” beat immediately reminded him of the chimey Rugrats theme, and the Sons Of Sonix-produced “Side Effects” creates a similar effect in its intro. It’s the most radio-ready song on the album, and much like the equally accessible “Bring It Out of Me” from TC, it's curiously buried at the end of the tracklist. It’s the kind of song that, much like the Ty-penned “Loyal,” would be a surefire hit in the hands of a Chris Brown-type. Another song that isn’t too far removed from “Work From Home” is “In Your Phone,” a collaboration with Lauren Jauregui, a member of Fifth Harmony who Ty is rumored to be dating. It’s part of a stretch on the album that finds Ty, normally a proud hedonist, at his most monogamous. “Lil Favorite” is a modest, but extremely charming, R&B-pop gem that stands as one of the album’s strongest tracks, perhaps containing the most romantic “SKRRT” ever committed to tape. “I'm done with chasin' love, I'm fuckin' with you only,” he sings, hinting at an emotional maturity he’s been approaching as he learns to "set an example" for his daughter.
When he pairs with Skrillex on the reggae-tinged “So Am I,” it feels less like a crossover attempt than a natural expansion of the Beach House sound. On the first Beach House mixtape, Ty was already experimenting with EDM, often much more inventively than his peers. On “My Cabana,” he sampled Skrillex and Zedd to make a thrillingly sleazy electro-R&B concoction that the rest of the music world is still catching up to. But perhaps what’s most telling about the collaboration is Ty’s value of the songwriting craft. Ty has praised Skrillex for making instrumentals on the spot, rather than providing him a list of co-producers to sign off on after the fact. It’s clear that even when Ty, like any major label artist, has to play by the book, his love and respect for the creation process is always the number 1 priority. He might be curious as to why he’s never had a solo song as big as “Work From Home,” but that success isn’t something he craves more than making a lasting work of art. On "Famous," he speaks directly to those musicians who've either lost sight of the art or never saw it in the first place: “They ain't worried 'bout who they steppin' on Just as long as they reach the top / They don't wanna die nameless / They just wanna be famous.”
Amid the many collaborations, a few more uniquely Ty moments like the wrenching balladry of “All The Time” or meditative harmony-building of “Message In A Bottle” would probably benefit the album. On the plus side, Ty has provided more entry points than ever in a versatile but carefully-curated package. Stepping into Beach House 3, people should know exactly who Ty is. Once they do, they may never want to leave.