Lil Tjay – 2020 XXL Freshman
- GOV'T NAME: Tione Jayden Merritt
- AGE: 19
- REPPIN': The Bronx
- TWITTER: @liltjay
- INSTAGRAM: @liltjay
- NOTABLE RELEASES: Singles: “F.N.,” “Brothers,” “Leaked,” “Zoo York” featuring Pop Smoke and Fivio Foreign; Mixtapes: No Comparison, State of Emergency; EP: F.N. ; Album: True to Myself; Guest Appearances: Polo G’s “Pop Out,” French Montana’s “Slide,” Calboy’s “Barbarian,” Pop Smoke’s “Mood Swings”
- LABEL: Columbia Records
- WHO ELSE SHOULD BE PART OF THIS YEAR'S CLASS: “Pop [Smoke].”
- INFLUENCED BY: “I grew up listening to like all types of music. People like Michael Jackson, Prince. Older people like Tupac, Biggie, G Herbo. It was different eras of music in my life. I definitely got influences from a lot of different places.”
- AS A FRESHMAN IN HIGH SCHOOL: “I was absent. I was incarcerated for the freshman year. Life was just like, different. It wasn’t nothing like now. I was just very misled. A lot of different things was going through my head. And I was introduced to streets at a young age.”
LIL TJAY'S 2020 XXL FRESHMAN FREESTYLE
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.—Kemet High
LIL TJAY'S ABCs
After signing to Columbia Records in 2018, scoring two platinum plaques for “Leaked" and “Brothers,” a double platinum honor for “F.N.,” plus a four-times platinum certification for the Polo G-led “Pop Out,” and creating a reputable catalog of songs, Lil Tjay has still been focused on the next step. Though the 19-year-old Bronx native is proud to check these things off of his goals list, his motivation to level up results in his killer instinct when it comes to everything he encounters. His ferocious drive, which is also a reason why he was named a 2020 XXL Freshman this year, is an innate part of his character and it’s also anchored in the theme in his version of XXL's ABCs.
For the most part, Tjay remains reserved whenever he’s not spazzing on a song or his enemies. But in this three minute video, the multiplatinum-selling artist lets loose and humorously reveals his mindset behind the mic.
Tapping into his first character trait, the rapper pairs the letter A with the word ambition. He then provides a teachable moment about financial literacy while dropping off the word bag for B and chicken for C. When it comes to the next few letters, Tjay gives his opps a straight-up warning about what will happen if they try him. And to end the first little chunk of the alphabet, he humbly locks in the word grateful for G. “I’m grateful ’cause I no longer am in the poverty bracket,” he explains.
As one of the rappers who was in the streets with the people during the George Floyd protests earlier this summer, Lil Tjay stamps in the word justice when he gets to J, throwing his fist up simultaneously as he speaks. When L comes up, he charismatically references a valid cliché about the classic summertime drink lemonade and lends words of wisdom to his fans. The streaming giant then reflects on the global quarantine for the letter Q, but unlike those who have been bored in the house and in the house bored, he’s actually been appreciative of the mini lockdown. “I been home making hits so shout-out to quarantine, I guess,” he says.
Capping things off, he playfully drops off some general advice on navigating racism for the letter R. He advises his peers to stay away from drugs once he gets to X. And lastly, he dubs the letter Z with the phrase "Zoo York," referring to the competitive goldmine of entertainment he was born and raised in—it's also a nod to his Billboard Hot 100-charting song of the same name. “I call it Zoo York because it’s like a zoo," he shares. "It’s like a jungle.”
With a solid number of artists exploding in the Big Apple right now, that imagery is vivid. But no matter how you look at it, painted in the picture is Lil Tjay with a growing lion’s mane around his neck.
You can watch Lil Tjay decode his mentality in XXL's ABCs below.—K.H.
LIL TJAY, NLE CHOPPA, ROD WAVE AND CHIKA'S 2020 XXL FRESHMAN CYPHER
The time has finally come. XXL's coveted Freshman cyphers have arrived, and with this particular group from the 2020 XXL Freshman Class, it's a meeting of the bars from the South (Memphis, St. Petersburg, Fla. and Montgomery, Ala.) all the way up North to the Bronx, N.Y. And while gimmicks and stunts have managed to keep vise grip on the rap game in recent years, rapping off the top of the dome is still an essential aspect in hip-hop. NLE Choppa, Rod Wave, Chika and Lil Tjay are a foursome that have proven this to be a pure fact—no cap.
This year, the coronavirus pandemic forced a number of unforeseeable adjustments onto the rap game, but the lyrical content delivered by these four rappers during the cypher was unaffected. Grammy Award-nominated, South Carolina producer Jetsonmade produced the piano-driven beat that each of these Freshmen slide over.
Seventeen-year-old Memphis native NLE Choppa is first up to bat on the beat. Holding the mic close to his mouth, Choppa leaves no room for his words to be misconstrued.
"Grew up around the killing and all the dealing and all the drilling/I just be putting my heart in all of my songs," he spits while taking minimal breaths in between his bars. "I make sure y'all niggas feel it/The nigga, he ratted, we cutting his tongue/Look like paintballs when we hit ’em/Lord forgive me, I'm a sinner and a winner/Rockin’ chinchilla eating at dinner/Know where we lay and we know where we stay/Wet the whole house up, if you play/Fuck that ho shit/Talk what I said/I don't need no mouse hole in my face."
Next, Rod Wave switches up the flow. It's soothing, yet captivating as he casually offers a melodic spin on his rhymes. He uses his smooth delivery to tell how he's risen above his childhood hardships.
"’Member I was broke, I ain't have nothin’/Kicked out of the house, livin' with my cousin/Bank account, car stop runnin'/Problems kept comin', mama kept prayin'/Prayin' God got her baby, it's crazy/One apartment, fo’ niggas/Air mattress got a hole in it," he recounts. "I remember, nigga/All them cold Decembers, nigga/I can't believe that I'm finally winning, nigga," Rod adds.
Chika is accompanied by a special guest, her dog Vision, throughout the cypher. Spitting in a softer, more tranquil tone than her counterparts, the Alabama native raps about her come up and advises listeners not to count her out—all while her dog rests on her chest the entire time. It's endearing, to say the least.
"Do I have a story to tell about glory?/A nigga defeatin’ the odds/Got used to a budget, but now I say, 'Fuck it' in stores," she spits. "I don't care what it costs/I gotta admit it, I never envisioned a life where I wasn't the boss/I think of my ex and the level of stress/He be feeling a hell of a loss/I'm in no position to floss/I'm in no position to plead/I knew I was runnin’ the course, but dammit I'm taking the lead/I'm comin’ from sweeping the floors/To rollin’ a blunt with a lease/When they put my name on the board/Make sure its in permanent ink."
And lastly, Lil Tjay hones in on his mid-tempo cadence while dripped out in a black-and-red Louis Vuitton matching two-piece set to close out the cypher. He, too, tells his story of overcoming adversity in the Bronx hood where he's from.
"Yeah, a nigga really made it out the hood/I got through them rainy days/I still got some real niggas in the cell/They sent the whole gang away/Guess I'm a real nigga from the start/I guess I was trained this way, trained this way/The Audemars, I got a Rolls/Finna cop out on a Rolls/I done seen so much, so, so much shit, should pay a toll/So I be smokin’ all the dope/It kinda help my demons show," he croons.
Watch NLE Choppa, Rod Wave, Chika and Lil Tjay's 2020 XXL Freshman cypher below.—Aleia Woods
See the 2020 XXL Freshman Class