On Tuesday, April 10 the speakers at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom played host to some serious autotune. What began as an ill-regarded tool for basic vocal enhancement has become one of the main staples of creative expression in hip-hop and R&B. These days, enormously talented vocalists employ the technology not to make up for their shortcomings, but rather to fashion deeply emotional music fit for the digital age. With so many transactions, interactions and romantic developments occurring online it seems fitting that even the most heartfelt music should be filtered through an electronic lens.
Enter Ty Dolla $ign. The Los Angeles-based singer, rapper and member of Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang Records delivered a lovely night of his explicit, erotic and enormously sexy take on club-trap. The sold-out crowd puffed, gyrated and stunted their way through his many hits. “Any of y’all getting fucked up like Ty Dolla $ign?” he asked. The consensus was clear.
Opening the show were a couple of Ty Dolla $ign’s frequent collaborators TC Da Loc and 24 HRS. While Loc’s style favored DJ Mustard-style lowrider funk and pimp-rap pugnacity, 24 HRS was all autotune crooning. The two were well suited for the show, but they mostly unrolled the red carpet for Ty Dolla $ign. The main act took all the best elements of the openers, delivering each bit with greater showmanship and panache.
Ty Dolla $ign, born Tyrone William Griffin, Jr., is the son of funk musician Tyrone Griffin of the group Lakeside. Through his father’s connections, Griffin grew up around some notable musicians, having a chance to meet Earth, Wind & Fire and Prince at an early age. Compared with his predecessors, the stylistic similarities of the young artist are not immediately visible but the legacy is impossible to ignore. Funk and R&B have always been sex-music, with each generation bringing a heavier and more graphic variation to the table. Griffin is the latest in a long line of incredible talent encouraging people to get loose. And he’s extraordinarily magnetic. While his talent is impressive for sure, his distinct style and charm have certainly played a role in his success.
The singer’s music is well-suited to the strip-club — the lyrical content leaves nothing to the imagination. But to suggest that the music lacks the same romantic credibility of its musical forefathers would be doing it a disservice. For a generation raised on gangsta rap, strip-club anthems and explicit pop the ability to appreciate emotional depth amidst vulgarity has become second nature. For plenty of members of the well-dressed crowd, there were many moments of unmistakable sincerity. Love was in the air, though to the untrained eye the scene could have been mistaken for debauchery.
The set delivered a well-balanced mixture of album cuts and features. Playing the hook from 2 Chainz’ “It’s A Vibe” cooled the party down before he brought the hype back up with his own hits “Blasé” and “Zaddy”. While the music never entirely reached tender, much of the set consisted of undeniable slow jams. Griffin seamlessly integrated the slow grind with the more aggressive stuff with brilliant dexterity.
His main success rested in his ability to disguise very heartfelt, gentle sentiments in a haze of bravado, explosive bass and weed smoke. Love has always been complicated, but Griffin’s set proved that whatever mask it may wear, if you look closely enough, it’s great abundance will shine through.