For every twenty horrific U.S. singles that miraculously find their way into the upper hip-hop echelon, there is presumably one mediocre U.K. act. This is not to suggest that Ty is mediocre — the odds are clearly in his favor. Upwards, the second full-length from the London-born emcee, is an obvious example of his sophisticated flow. But it suffers occasionally from overtly accessible beats and a too-oft radio friendly approach.
Upwards has seen its share of critical acclaim; DJ Magazine in Ty’s hometown, International DJ Magazine and some others have praised the record consistently. In 2001, Ty met up with good reviews wit his debut, Awkward, also on Big Dada. He supported Mos Def, and some of the stuff on Upwards even sounds somewhat like the Black Star material. The problem is that the majority of the album, if not the whole thing, is that as it’s boasting some solid cuts, it’s rather … happy.
Ty takes a bouncy Brit-pop road here in lieu of something harder, for which his style of rhyming may be better tailored. Opener “Ha Ha” is an entirely catchy opening track, but the title speaks for most of it. “Ha Ha” is backed by a very positive-sounding tumbling beat and choppy synth chords. Nothing wrong with positivity; hip-hop in the United States could use a truckload of it. It’s just difficult to grasp lines like “People wanna fly like R. Kelly/ better get your vests ready ’cause I paralyze eagles” over such a silly backdrop. We shouldn’t look for any additional violence-laden imagery or misery in this genre, but some variety in production methods would strengthen its already-firm foundation.
Ty offers countless allusions to figures and places easily recognizable by any pop culture enthusiast, and does so in a confident rapid swagger. This swagger is countered, though — sometimes intentionally, it seems, such as in “Oh You Want More?” The emcee hands out disses for his critics, threatens to “shatter Ray-Bans” and comically rhymes “mobsters” with “lobsters.” All this over a very lighthearted loop of woodwinds and wispy chimes that lend something of a Dennis the Menace theme aftertaste. Ewww. It’s all a bit too sweet for Ty’s capable quick wit wizardry.