“Is that Lil Tjay?” On Feb. 6, herds of girls wearing Brandy Melville and ripped blue jeans scattered into neighboring streets in search of the alley that might hold their beloved teen idol. Little did they know that he wouldn’t show up for hours, but their over-enthusiasm was infectious. That same excitement ran through the line that glistened with fool’s gold and braces, stretching from the Regency Ballroom’s unassuming entrance and wrapping around the corner.
At only 18 years old, Lil Tjay has become an enigma. His True 2 Myself tour celebrates his debut album of the same name while putting a spotlight on what he values most in himself — his authenticity. Hailing from the South Bronx, New York, Lil Tjay struck lightning by taking his R&B and hip-hop influences and combining them, blurring the line between rapping and singing along the way.
Opening for Lil Tjay was the hyperactive The Kid Laroi, an Australian SoundCloud sensation who recently caught viral attention after releasing a music video for “Diva,” teaming up with Queens-born newcomer Lil Tecca. The song was the highlight of his performance, with the crowd bouncing along to its undeniably sticky hook and plucky guitars as Laroi struck goofy poses.
Lil Tjay’s most avid fans could be found whipping their hair in the balcony corners, tucked behind the Regency Ballroom’s gargantuan hanging speakers. Sonic pulses of bass guided their dancing, as the speakers before them blocked most of the stage. To them it didn’t matter, though. They were there simply for the music.
And with that, red light flooded the stage, passionate pianos echoed through the hall and Lil Tjay emerged to serenade the audience. His smile shined through the darkness and his star power filled the room even before he did. Bleached tips bobbed up and down to his first song of the night, “One Take.” Accompanied by a lackluster hype man, Lil Tjay sung over tracks that included his original vocals. But instead of simply singing over them, he harmonized with them, adding a new live element to each song. Lil Tjay’s voice sounded surprisingly similar to its auto-tune-drenched studio quality, proving his real singing chops. Unlike many rappers of the past few years, Lil Tjay’s main appeal is his talent. While the show was packed mostly with high school kids, Lil Tjay’s blend of combined SoundCloud melodies, R&B and old-school lyricism makes him accessible to young and old hip-hop heads alike.
The crowd hopped up and down for “Leaked,” as there wasn’t room to do much more. Pillars of gray smoke shot up into the air. Waving blue lights flashed across sweaty, tired faces in awe. The lights turned a sinister red for Lil Tjay’s gritty banger “Laneswitch,” which had kids flailing around in the first mosh pit of the night. By the end of the song, a bra was tossed onstage. Lil Tjay chuckled to himself and then replied candidly, “Whatchu gonna wear back home?” He then performed with his shirt off for the sultry “Sex Sounds,” crooning about kissing a girl from the neck down. Lil Tjay then stripped down to a capella for his second verse of “Long Time,” wooing the teenage girls in the process.
The infamous producer tag “T-T-TRAP HOUSE MOB” burst out of the speakers, followed by Pop Smoke’s signature husky vocals for New York anthem “War.” Next was Lil Tjay’s first and biggest hit, “Pop Out,” a collaboration with Chicago’s Polo G. Seeing that his fans were tired, Lil Tjay had two cases of water brought out and spent a fair amount of time throwing them to his fans. Finally, he let the audience choose his last song. It was clear what they wanted. Tragic pianos rolled in, lo-fi drums bounced over ominous bass, and Lil Tjay launched into his now infamous “F.N.” flow. By the song’s second chorus, Lil Tjay was already surfing across the crowd, still singing to the best of his ability. Lil Tjay might still be a kid, but that childlike innocence, honesty and love for fun is exactly what puts a fresh spin on rap’s next superstar.