The “King of New York” conversation has been healthy over the last eight months. Lil Tjay has asserted himself as a focal point in those discussions, putting on for The Bronx streets he hails from (183rd Street and Ryer Avenue). With 2020 entering its fourth quarter in October, the 19-year-old rapper has been sitting sternly in the three quarters of the year with two platinum records ("Leaked," "Brothers"), one two-times platinum track ("F.N"), a four-times platinum song (his feature on Polo G's "Pop Out"), a gold debut album (True 2 Myself) and now a 2020 XXL Freshman Class honor. Since he started taking rap seriously at 16, he’s continued to rack up wins and has undeniably emerged as one of the most promising artists on the rise right now.
The DNA of Lil Tjay’s music is coiled with painful truth and triumph (doing a year-long stint in a Queens juvenile detention center for robbery in 2016 adds to that), the key thing that makes people gravitate to his driven yet dejected sound. When he dropped “Resume,” “Leaked” and “Brothers” on SoundCloud a few years ago after he regained his freedom, the songs gained a riveting momentum right out of the gate and amassed millions of streams. Soon after, he inked a deal with Columbia Records in 2018, which placed him alongside fellow rookie and 2020 XXL Freshman Polo G. Together, the two earned their first platinum plaques with Polo's top 20 Billboard hit “Pop Out” last year.
On his 2019 debut album, True 2 Myself, Lil Tjay uses infinite flows and styles to evince his expertise in merging singing and rapping. His artistic versatility can be traced back to his multi-layered musical influences. “I grew up listening to all types of music," he reminisces. "People like Michael Jackson, Prince. Older people like Tupac, Biggie, G Herbo.”
His wide soundscape has become a cheat code at all times. “I just hop in a whole lotta different pockets all the time on my music, so that’s just one thing I have to offer that other people don’t,” he declares. Whether he’s surfing on the drill wave with Sheff G on "Wet Em Up Pt. 2" and his fallen homeboy Pop Smoke on "Mood Swings" or he’s championing himself as a teen heartthrob alongside artists like J.I The Prince on "My City," he ties each song back to the city that birthed him and the things he went through within it.
In fact, accelerating with his eyes in the rearview mirror is common practice for Tjay. In his 2020 XXL Freshman Freestyle, he brings this notion into play. “I earned my stripes/I'm well respected, I got sentenced twice/I’m on my way to the top now/Fuck the other side, we don’t care ’bout opps now,” he spits. Bouncing back and forth between the past and present, he finds time to flex his now luxurious lifestyle and vows to keep chasing chicken as the sound of his ice echoes in each progressive step.
“’Bout to cop a new whip just so I could flex/Hundreds on me plus I got some diamonds on my neck/AP on my wrist but I should get a new Patek/Life's goin’ good homie look at how I’m dressed,” he flaunts.
To cap things off, Tjay divulges that he's keeping his foot on the competition's neck. And though he weaves in bars about his crew's willingness to spray the Ruger, he ends his verse with a quick, soft melody that’s heard throughout his entire catalog.
Watch Lil Tjay's 2020 XXL Freshman freestyle, powered by Rap Caviar, below.
See the 2020 XXL Freshman Class