Music

Ty: Upwards

Terry Sawyer

Ty

Upwards

Label: Big Dada Recordings
US Release Date: 2004-03-09
UK Release Date: 2003-09-29
Amazon
iTunes

Could it be that that British hip-hop has finally come of age? The past couple of years have seen our friends across the pond shed their Garanimals and get over the anxiety of influence that comes from working in a genre that was born and bred in America's urban decay and milk fed it's best and worst cultural fixations. Not that the entire world hasn't embraced hip-hop, but us Yanks measure those foreigners by their ability to make some noise on the charts here. When Mike Skinner dropped his debut, the Brits finally seemed to have caught on. The Streets' Original Pirate Material resembled nothing produced on these shores and yet had absolutely everything that makes hip-hop so compelling for disaffected youths banging on the bars of adolescence. Skinner made unabashedly parochial music is some respects, right down to the flex and swagger of his homegrown slang lifted from a roguish world of clubbing, drugging, and PlayStation. Then there was his flow, an anti-rhythmic, stumbled cadence drowning in a slurry accent, an in-your-face refusal to ape any of the American rap Saints. The follow-up breakthrough of Dizzee Rascal carved the path wider, making room for an MC who rhymed like skidding tires over beats of screeching cacophony. Together they heralded a new wave of British hip-hop not slavishly shadowing their American brethren.

In the evolution of British hip-hop, Ty is two steps forward and three steps back. (Hopefully, that sentence didn't make a really bad Paula Abdul track start looping in your head.) On the one hand, he's clearly working from the UK canon, particularly Roots Manuva, and taking his time doing so with a flow that sounds blissfully anesthetized. But there are more than a few missteps and songs which plod, drift, or mine lyrical domains that sound like Barry White reading headline news on CNN, a prospect that all the lovers of the world should find unsettling.

Upwards certainly puts its best foot forward. "Ha Ha" has a lazily wide stride of a beat that plateaus on keyboards that could be a kazoo quartet. It's also the best display of Ty's hilariously lobbed rhythm which sounds like a stoned slinky missing every other stair. Upwards seems to have front loaded all the gems, before it gets swamped in open-mic rough drafts. "Wait a Minute" rapidly skips across a funk-flicked guitar riff and lyrics revealing the scorned man half a bad relationship argument. The best tracks on this album eschew the breathy male R&B choruses and instead use hooks that hit a faster clip. "Oh You Want More?" scores in my book for being the best use of circus music I've ever heart in hip-hop coupled with Ty picking up his scuffled flow to a pace that sounds positively explosive compared to the rest of the album. I don't want to undervalue the bright spots of Upwards because, while they're not as frequent as I might like, they're certainly have enough heft to hold their own against any given new American hip-hop release that is far more likely to be unbridled shit from start to finish.

For every track that licks your ear and does the splits, there are a sloppy handful of desiccated hobblers. "Rain" fits snugly into the maudlin, tear jerking tradition of hip-hop served up with a slice of simpering cheese. With a Boyz II Men chorus and lyrics that traverse everything from the number of Ty's ho's to the unfortunate availability of guns in his neighborhood, it's a by-the-numbers slab of remedial social commentary. There's something sort of slapdash and rote to this song, a patina of "this one's for the ladies" that conjures up images of mood lighting and rose petals dumped on the bed for the video shoot. It's an unfortunate pattern that perpetually clotheslines Ty's every effort at sincerity. "Dreams" addresses the conflict between what people want out of life and how their environments constrain their aspirations. Sadly, the music kills any desire you might have to sift through sentiment with its swinger's party flaccid jazz and chorus harmonies (you guessed it: the title word repeated until your temples cave) so thin that they only serve to neon the track's general flatness.

"Music 2 Fly 2" by far sets a new standard for good intentions gone wrong. Thirteen minutes?! Well, technically it's just six minutes or so with a break followed up an equally bad hidden track, but either way, it's squandering bloat dissipated my desire to cut him a smidge of slack for having something to say but flunking in execution. Baffling for just about any song, this track takes a muzak background from Shaft and allows Ty a free-range reign that's punishingly cliché, To pull this off you'd need mad lyrical prowess and a flow that tickles rather than lingers like a dead tongue on your thigh. "In the inner city/ People are busy being into what they're into" says Ty and I have to wonder how that passes for something interesting to say about anyone. I'm into what I'm into, does that mean I'm deeply in touch with my inner "inner city". This is the kind of abstraction that suffocates many a good statement, by draining it of specificity and believing that you can change people's hearts and minds with platitudes that hit life like a dragonfly on a monster truck grill.

Ty needs a DJ and Ty needs a crash course in the school of hard beats. It also wouldn't hurt to ease up on the bad orchestral soul music which has a tendency to cede all ground to the background, leaving tracks with no bite to their rhythm. But for all his ear-scarring missteps there's that golden sliver of a remainder that telegraphs a bit of funk to your ass and makes this album not just a written-off debt to better American peers. Not every UK hopeful has to raise the bar and there's worse things than a record that does little more than maintain a spotty, middling coast through sedated flows and flimsy backdrops.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.