As the past and the present continue to co-mingle throughout R&B, Claire Lobenfeld takes a side-by-side look at Bad Boy’s boy band 112’s comeback album Q Mike Slim Daron and the latest entry in Ty Dolla $ign’s Beach House series.
October saw the release of two albums that sampled early hits from R&B group 112. ‘Ex’ from Ty Dolla $ign’s Beach House 3 is a G-Funkified redux of 112’s star-making ‘Only You’, right down to YG’s cameo which he ends by interpolating Puff Daddy’s “thought I told you that we won’t stop” ad-libs. ‘Only You’ is essential 112 – it may not have been as big as ‘Peaches & Cream’, which peaked no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 2001, or Allure’s late ’90s schmaltz-ballad ‘All Cried Out’ on which the group featured, but it was proof Puffy could create a similar magic to what he A&Red with Jodeci.
October’s other notable 112 sample, curiously, occurs on Q Mike Slim Daron, 112’s own comeback release. Reunited after a hiatus-of-sorts supposedly caused by disagreements over money, the Atlanta quartet sample ‘Only You’ follow-up ‘Cupid’ on ‘Without You’, the album’s most contemporary-sounding moment and a track not unlike Ty with its west coast sheen.
Which, in a way, is fitting. The group’s last album, Pleasure & Pain (2005), found them ramping up the risqué tone of their past releases. Its big single, the twinkling ‘U Already Know’, embraced carnality more than their past more sensual hits like ‘Anywhere’ and ‘Come See Me’. Pleasure, in its own way, foretold the hedonistic R&B to come. Soon artists like The-Dream, J. Holiday and Jeremih would be dominating the radio, paving the way for singers even more devilish, like Dolla $ign.
The enduring influence of mid- to late-90s Bad Boy is not what makes 112’s newest stand out. It is not a novelty project. The four sing with the same passion and vibrancy as they did on their self-titled debut and throughout the rest of their career, even if lead single ‘Strawberry’ was a soft pitch with a mismeasured mix of contemporary sound and their more classic singing style. Few singers with hits right now can reach the notes that Daron Jones in particular can; 112’s dexterous singing, in general, sort of proves that a lot of the singers who get radio play right now don’t really have the range.
You hear this particularly on a track like ‘Dangerous Games’, which has a better balance of their tried and true, church-raised vocal style and more modern production. The skittering percussion is tranquil enough that it doesn’t reek of Old Men Try Trap Drums. ‘Both of Us’ meanwhile features vocal contributions from Jagged Edge, another R&B group who had similar popularity in the early aughts.
While the group has been popping back in and out of music over the past seven years, one of their biggest moves in the 2010s was appearing on Ty Dolla $ign’s debut full-length Free T.C. That album, as FACT noted after its release in 2015, was missing the lothario alchemy of releases like Beach House 2 and $ign Language. Ty sounds best when he is wrapped up an aesthetic that he carries across a release. Even the half-formed sketches on Airplane Mode, which preceded T.C., had a sonic-through line that was missing from that album. This is not to downplay the flexibility of his genre-exploration on the album, but Ty has his father, Tyrone Griffin Sr.’s natural bandleader abilities and it feels good, as a listener, when the album feels live.
On Beach House 3, Ty reclaims his talents for something more holistic, but it’s missing something. He is still hosting the same depression-repression party he’s been holding for the past couple of years – see: FaceTimeing-your-ex meditation ‘Message in a Bottle’ – and the playlist no longer sounds entirely fresh. He sings, “On the liqs right now don’t judge me / Right now, off a bean don’t judge me / I might pop a seal in the morning / Lately, I’ve been goin’ through a lot of things” on ‘Don’t Judge Me’ featuring Future and Swae Lee. It is one of his stronger vocal performances on the album, but it is devoid of something real. Ty’s entire short verse is dedicated to VVS diamonds, not the heft of “things” he’s going through. He’s proven himself adept at flipping standard song modes with his libertine POV, like on Free T.C. standouts ‘Solid’ and ‘Horses in the Stable’, but that trick is starting to lose its magic.
The production and his deep voice are lush; there is no denying that the polish on Beach House 3 is on par with Ty’s best, but because he has previously shown that his talents are vast, it’s hard not hope for evolution on each project. His songs always allude to or admit a deep sadness and when Ty is ready to let us into the dark part of his world, he has the potential to make something transcendent. One of the things that defined him as superlative to his peers is how he sold himself as the smoothest reprobate on the radio. When he sings lines like, “I used to love these hoes, but now I love this money,” as he did on 2014’s ‘Work’, he did it with >K-Ci Hailey character, pulled by the emotions of his own fucked-up feelings. Now he just sounds like he’s pretending not to be bored by the tedium of having too many nagging exes. So why use one of the most beloved ’90s R&B song about wanting someone so badly? Good question.
Claire Lobenfeld is FACT’s news editor. Find her on Twitter.