When it comes to the future of Canadian hip-hop, there’s plenty to look forward to, but there are a handful of emcees who I’m really excited about. Hamilton’s T.Y. is one of those emcees. After first seeing him perform at The Come Up Show’s 7th Anniversary, I was floored by his live show and became an instant fan, eager for the next project I could dig into.
That was April of last year. After all this time (and a few noteworthy releases along the way), the wait is over. T.Y. and Chef Byer (who, it should be mentioned, is right up there as one of the best beatmakers in Canada) have collaborated to create The Beautiful Exchange (shouts to Complex on the premiere). I’ve been more than excited to take this in — and, I’ll add, curious to see whether it would live up to what I thought it could be, as my previous experience of T.Y. had been a pretty small sample size.
I’ve decided to do something a little different this time around and share my first-take impressions of the album. What you’ll read are my live reactions, and while they may not be comprehensive, I hope they’ll provide a glimpse into what this album has to offer.
Stream the album and read the first-take track-by-track breakdown below:
1. Hometown Hero
Strong opening. Chef Byer’s opening synths and piano chords grab you right out of the gate. My head’s nodding already. First bars of the album: “I told my haters they can hate me if they want to/ I’mma continue doing all that I want to/ Shit, it’s silly how they hate, but don’t really want to/ They call it secret love/ I guess they hid it in they poncho.” No drums yet. They kick in mid-verse, to great effect — I love songs that do this. Okay, time for the second verse… This feels like the track of the album. How is he going to follow this up? I’m excited to find out.
YEOW. These drums knock. This song has that Cali G-funk vibe. T.Y. sounds cool as hell: “You know the deal. I’ve always given you shit you can feel… They used to tell me that I was a dreamer. And now those same people look at me like they are all believers.” I guess this answers the question of whether the rest of the album can follow through after opening on such a high.
3. P&B pt. II
Ahh, nostalgia. This song has it in spades. Chef Byer is showing a great deal of variety in production so far, and he’s pulling it all off remarkably well. This one is pure boom-bap. I’ve been impressed with T.Y. so far, too. No lapses or filler verses yet. “I’m running circles ’round these n—as with my Timberland boots on,” he raps. (Turns out the P&B is short for “Party & Bullshit.”)
4. Hands are Tied
We’ve got our first love song of the album. More of a breakup song, really. First thought: these music bells are just the right fit. First verse is tight. The hook reminds me of something J. Cole would do: I’m getting flashbacks of “Work Out” — I can see this getting repeated spins. Second verse: rapid-fire! I’m impressed with the range in T.Y.’s delivery so far, too. He’s switching up his cadences and tone, and it makes a world of difference. Here comes the hook again — yep, this one’s catchy.
Well, what do we have here? A nice little string transition to a bit of a postlude. This sounds crazy in my headphones — panning left and right, floating all around my head. I may have referred to Chef Byer as a beatmaker at the start of this review, but it’s becoming clear that he’s a producer in the full sense of the word. He’s done an excellent job of orchestrating this album from one track to the next.
5. Bartender (Interlude)
A bit of a hangover vibe after the breakup of “Hands are Tied.” Very moody. No verses, just a refrain. Chef Byer complements it with an atmospheric, hi-hat-laced backing. Again, I’m reminded of the versatility these guys are showing: two tracks ago, I felt like I was in the 90s Golden Era, now I’m drowning somewhere in the bottom of a liquor bottle, lost in a haze.
6. Fade to Black
Right away, I can tell this one’s all about the bars. It’s the moment where the background fades away, telling you to focus on the words. Here are a few that jumped out:
“I can’t trust church no more, but preach, homey.” “Mama told me to have patience, and I might blow.” “I think you think that I’m depressed because my dad’s gone.” “I’ve seen worse kids with both parents, I ain’t that bad/ F–k it, I’m sorry, sometimes when I drink, I have flashbacks.”
The song ends with a nod to Jay Z, as referenced in the track’s title. This one’s the truth.
7. Nature Boy
Okay, we’re back in boom-bap zone — this is T.Y.’s bread and butter: “They callin’ me the young god/ Flow go hard, Humphrey Bogart/ Do this shit on my days off, busy workin’ a day job.” I had a feeling there’d be at least one Ric Flair reference in here. The horns and vocal samples in here are nice. Another solid track. Still no filler. I was looking forward to this album, but it’s been even better than expected.
8. Forget Me ft. Tyler Nelson
Another moment of truth. First verse: T.Y.’s telling the story of a girl he met who shared her dreams and fear of failure. “I just hope you don’t forget me,” he raps. Second verse: this one’s feeling anthemic. Chef Byer provides a stirring, drum-driven backing laced with a few simple piano strokes. The song crescendoes after verse two, and in come the horns. It dawns on me that this is the last song on the album. I don’t want it to be over already, but damn, it’s a good ending. Well done, gentlemen.
9. Do It ft. Rich Kidd (Bonus Track)
I never know what to think of bonus tracks — whether to include them as part of the album or not. It’s tough to know, because “Forget Me” ended on such a strong note, and it felt like the true album ending. Think of this as the encore, then: if you’ve been listening through looking for the turn-up track, here it is. Chef Byer’s got the trap drums working in full effect. T.Y. shows off yet another cadence, dipping into the “Versace” flow for a span. Rich Kidd delivers the goods on his verse, too.
Overall, I came away very impressed. I had high hopes, but this was better than I thought it would be. T.Y. shows he’s got chops as an emcee, and Chef Byer proves himself as a strong production force behind an entire album. These two have good chemistry. It’d be great to hear them collaborate again.