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Destined 2 Win: The Journey of Lil Tjay

In Celebration of the South Bronx rapper’s sophomore album Destined 2 Win, we take a look back on Lil Tjay’s journey to stardom, from his humble beginnings in The Bronx to becoming a Billboard Hot 100 mainstay.

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New York artist Lil Tjay’s journey can be summarised by the title of his new project: Destined 2 Win. However, it hasn’t been a quest free of adversity.

At age 19, the rapper/singer has faced a lifetime of hurdles, using his passion, talent, and determination to jump them. On his sophomore album, he’s reminiscing on it all; the good, the bad, the ugly, the undeniable learning experiences. It’s granted Tjay a rare sense of wisdom, considering he’s still in the adolescent years of his life.

From living in a crowded apartment in The Bronx to Billboard Top 10 hits like ‘Calling My Phone’, Tjay is striving for success, and working to win with every song he drops. In celebration of this new collection, we’re taking a look back at his story thus far, and how he became the multi-faceted artist we know today.

01. The Foundation

Lil Tjay grew up in the Bronx as one of three children to a single mother. They lived in an apartment, where Tjay spent his time delving into the entertainment, that alongside his upbringing, laid the foundation for the artist we know today. His mother would play the music of Michael Jackson and Usher throughout the house, while he spent his time delving into Justin Bieber videos, and classic Disney and Nickelodeon shows like Big Time Rush and iCarly. “The street shit felt forced upon me. The real me was at home watching all of that shit,” he told Pitchfork in 2019. Outside, he was engrossed in the diversity of the South Bronx culture, which is apparent in his ability to dip in and out of Spanish. This sundry of influences is a clear foreshadowing of the variety of styles Lil Tjay of today tackles in his music.

02. Resume

 

In 2016, Lil Tjay was sentenced to a year in juvenile detention on robbery charges. This was not the only stint he spent incarcerated throughout his teenage years but one that was the catalyst for changing his life. Whilst inside, Tjay began writing lyrics and plotting the start of his musical journey. 

This led us to late-2017 and early-2018, where Tjay began releasing music via Soundcloud. Tracks like ‘Optimistic’ and ‘DON’T GOTTA EXPLAIN’ are early examples of his now-signature melodic style, but the real standout was his single ‘Resume’. It’s an ear-catching dose of pop-rap that found Tjay flexing his vocal chops and natural knack for bars. The song has since amassed almost 40 million plays on Soundcloud alone and kickstarted the young artist’s rapid rise into the limelight.

03. Brothers

2018 proved to be a big year for Lil Tjay. He placed first at the Coast to Coast NYC artist showcase, garnering love for his live performance of ‘Resume’, and shortly after, he released his single ‘Brothers’. It’s another showcase of his unique melodic style, with the lyrics speaking on the determination to change his life in a positive way, leaving his criminal past behind, and striving to be better. Speaking to Genius about the track, Tjay stated “I’m just trying to show people that there are other ways to do things.” His story thus far is already a prime example. 

04. No Comparison

Towards the end of 2018, Lil Tjay dropped his debut EP No Comparison. With all the buzz that came from tracks like ‘Resume’ and ‘Brothers’, he wanted to showcase his abilities over a full release, and this was the case throughout the project. It consisted of 6 new songs, with a lone feature coming from YNW Melly. The EP is rich with Tjay’s signature croons, finding him melodically flexing and reminiscing throughout. A highlight is the closer ‘New Year’s Resolution’, which he opens with the lyrics ‘’My new year’s resolution: I finna change some things, I’m gon’ continue goin’ hard until I change the game.” It’s a testament to his drive, his journey of growth, and the success that’s still to come.

05. F.N

Tjay started 2019 strong, featuring on tracks like ‘Pop Out’ from Chicago Polo G. But things really heated up when he dropped his second EP F.N, which further displayed his ability to craft ear-catching, relatable pop-trap centred around topics of love, and his struggles. The title track became his first solo single to chart, hitting No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the project featured an appearance from New York’s Jay Critch. Not only was it another step in Lil Tjay’s artistic progression, but evidence of his consistency.

06. True 2 Myself

“I knew the journey was only just beginning then. It’s weird because I’ve never felt like I’m successful or never will until I’m the most successful,” Lil Tjay told Gaffer in a 2019 interview surrounding his debut album True 2 Myself. This quote alone summarises the whole album perfectly; the drive of a hungry young artist and the determination of someone wanting to become better is still there. But this isn’t a new prospect anymore, it’s an established star 2 EPs deep, with a handful of hits and standout features to his name. Yet, the 17 songs make the album title ring true; this collection of songs contain the same ambition of the 16-year-old Tjay rising out of the South Bronx. 

True 2 Myself contained a slew of previously released Tjay tracks, including ‘Ruthless’ with Jay Critch, ‘Leaked’, ‘Goat’, ‘F.N’, and ‘Laneswitch’, as well as a Lil Wayne-assisted remix of ‘Leaked’, and a Lil Durk-featured remix of ‘Brothers’. The project also saw Tjay delve further into the R&B world he’s influenced by with tracks like ‘Sex Sound’, and pay homage to the wordsmiths of the city he calls home with lyrical soliloquies like ‘Top Of My Game’. The project featured additional guest appearances from Lil Baby and Riley Lanezz, who in Which Lil Tjay stands toe-to-toe with performance-wise, showcasing his undeniable skills. 

07. State Of Emergency

2020 was a year that saw us locked inside, but Lil Tjay saw it as a way to diversify his sound and talents. The results? His EP State Of Emergency; a foray into the blossoming world of New York drill, blended with his melodic delivery. It featured collaborative tracks such as ‘Wet em Up Pt.2’ with Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow, ‘Gettin Lit’ with Jay Guapo, and ‘Zoo York’ alongside Fivio Foreign and the late, great Pop Smoke. Not only did the project show Tjay’s ability to tap into more aggressive flows and cadences, but it also proved that he can assimilate his high-pitched croons into any genre of music. 

Last year also saw Tjay recognized as one of the 2020 XXL Freshman, standing out in the annual cypher alongside NLE Choppa, Rod Wave, and Chika. In his standalone freestyle for the list, he spits “I done made it here, I be dumb if I stop now.” And now that it was only going to get bigger for the 19-year-old.

08. Calling My Phone

‘Calling My Phone’ was a highly anticipated drop from Lil Tjay, as it had steadily been teased throughout the realm of TikTok before its release. He dropped it on February 4th of this year with a guest verse from 6LACK, intending it to be a Valentine’s Day gift for his fans. It has greatly surpassed that since then, becoming Tjay’s most successful single yet, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. There’s no question why, as its spacey, R&B atmosphere, arena-ready chorus, lyrics about lost love, and the “can’t get you out of my mind” vocal refrain is bound to remain stuck in your head for weeks. While it was already becoming known that Lil Tjay was more than just a moment in time, ‘Calling My Phone’ makes it impossible to deny that he’s a star that transcends virality.

09. Destined 2 Win

Tjay’s quest for stardom has led us to Destined 2 Win, his highly-anticipated sophomore album, that dropped just last Friday. It’s a huge 18 track opus with 3 bonus songs, and finds Tjay gliding through all the styles he’s showcased so far, only now with more finesse. There are R&B rap hybrids like ‘Irregular Love’, luxurious melodic anthems like ‘Slow Down’, and cinematic trap ballads like ‘Hood Rich’ scattered throughout, with each taste of a new sound seamlessly transitioning into the next. The project boasts features from Polo G, Fivio Foreign, Saweetie, Tyga, Offset, and more, all of who venture into the ear-catching melodic world of Tjay with flying colours. 

More than anything, Destined 2 Win is a reminder of how far Tjay’s come. From his humble Bronx beginnings to becoming a Billboard mainstay, Tjay has overcome the adversity he once faced to etch his name in rap’s history books, and build an undeniable legacy that’s bound for longevity. The title of his debut album still rings true, but his constant evolution over this 4-year run has created an artist who’s articulate in their emotions, with a vulnerability people around the world can relate to. It appears that Lil Tjay’s destiny has manifested; because he keeps landing win after win. But at only age 19, more victories are inevitable.