ty-dolla-sign-interview-03
Pegah Farahmand-Mobareke

Ty Dollar $ign (otherwise known as Tyrone William Griffin, Jr.) has the confidence of a man who knows he’ll live forever. Maybe it’s just euphoria from all the Gushers he’s been smoking, but there’s a noticeable spring in his step, and I’m sure I can see a glint behind the obsidian black of his luxury sunglasses. “These glasses are Cartier,” he says, “so yeah, you’re right: I’m super confident right now.”

This confidence is more than merited. Ty’s new Featuring Ty Dolla $ign LP is arguably the best record of his career, entrenching his position as the Wordsworth of smut. And in a delicious checkmate of a move, the myth that Ty is a better collaborator than a solo artist is cheekily dispatched in the album’s title. Brimming with invention and non-stop addictive, X-rated hooks (Snoop Dogg recently called Ty the new Nate Dogg) that only he could pull off, the album fully eradicates the career misconceptions which have trailed him for years and stands proudly as an undeniable solo project.

Ty’s grandiose, trap-enthused take on R&B, in which the 38-year-old hops between singing the blues and shit talking your fiancé into bed, has been adopted by just about everybody dominating the charts. Yet his work is too often overlooked – near faultless albums and mixtapes like Free TC, Sign Language, Beach House, and Beach House 3, are packed with risk-taking melodies (“Miracle / Wherever” is the “A Day in the Life” of modern soul) and a diverse array of instrumentation but are rarely spoken of as classics. Ty adds: “Sometimes it takes a long time for certain people to catch up and get it, you know?"

“I’ve been peeping all the comments from my fans and other people," he continues. "I’ve had a lot of success through all the features that I’ve done. But it’s the perfect album title, as it’s about reclaiming that [reputation].”

Ty is from a school of artists that learned how to play just about every instrument in existence after finding out Prince played all 27 parts on his 1978 debut, For You. He’s a perfectionist. It’s been a slog getting to the top (he started out in a pop duo with friend Kory in the 2000s), but you sense this will be the moment that removes any remaining doubts around his ability to be the star attraction. At a time where watching even five seconds of the news can result in an existential crisis, the project (which is only Ty’s third solo studio album) has a commitment to shifting the artist’s signature sticky brand of R&B into a more psychedelic direction. Given the state of the world, it's a much-needed dose of escapist fantasy.

On project-highlight “Everywhere,” Ty pledges to make a lover “hit high notes like Mariah” with a croon which might result in thousands of lockdown babies. Yet Ty balances his skills of seduction with a sobering regret for the fast lifestyle he’s enjoyed. Songs like “Temptations” and “Real Life” hint at exhaustion behind all the failed relationships, an indication that being LA’s most celestial sex symbol since Jim Morrison isn’t all it’s hyped up to be. The up-and-down sequencing of the record seems to represent the brittleness of the male ego. “That kind of lifestyle [of having lots of sex] can definitely get empty [sometimes],” Ty concedes.

At 25 tracks, it’s a vast project, but most of the songs breeze by. There’s hit singles everywhere. The way it shifts between genres seems to reflect all the lessons Ty has learned over the years as the nucleus behind some of the best hits from giants like Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, and YG. “This record is supposed to take you on a frequency ride through my subconscious," he explains. "Exploring the good and the bad. I want every song to connect and for it to be this trip with no skips. It is important to give people an escape right now. Whether you’re in your car, on your way to work, or just in the house chilling, this record was made for you to vibe out to.”

Here, he takes us through the entirety of Featuring Ty Dolla $ign's strange trip, track by track.

"Intro"

TC is my little bro who is in prison. He’s the biggest part of my life and everyone who listened to Free TC knows that. I wanted to update the people on his situation, as this record is for the people. This one’s like a pep talk. TC is getting me ready to go out there onto the court and go do what needs to be done.

"Status"

Shout out to Bongo ByTheWay, as he brought me this beat a year ago and I freestyled the whole verse. The way we mixed the vocals and all the high pitching had those Quasimoto vibes. I listen to J Dilla, Madlib, and MF Dooom every day, like, I could go for hours. I like that [mushroom trip] sound.

On this track, I talk about asking Kanye to drop the OG “New Body.” We shot the video and finished everything, but then Kanye got enlightened and was brought to Christ. It’s the greatest thing that could happen, to be one with God, but I still hope we can find a way to give that song to the fans. I loved that Yandhi project we worked on, and wish it would have dropped. In a sense it did drop, as you can find it on YouTube.

"Temptations" feat. Kid Cudi

Cudi is one of my favorite artists. He has been since the first moment I heard him. I love how he can hop on every genre yet still sound like a fucking rockstar. I’m super stoked about the song, and shout out to Cudi as we got more stuff on the way too. That beat is Skrillex collaborating with Hit Boy, so it is a monster collaboration.

"serpentwithfeet Interlude"

It’s a gorgeous little interlude. I think Paul Epworth has a part on there, but maybe his part didn’t make it. Shout out to Josiah Wise, this is one of his pieces. I’ve been in love with his music since hearing serpentwithfeeet on KCRW radio.

"Spicy" feat. Post Malone

I knew I wanted to get Post on the album, as that’s my boy. I love everything that he is doing with his music. He’s the biggest rock star of our time, for sure, and he just freestyled his verse. Some people say he’s misunderstood, but that boy has had 10 back-to-back number one singles! He is doing his shit perfectly. You can’t put him in a box. This is a vibe.

"Track 6" feat. Kanye West, Anderson Paak & Thundercat

The way the synths and vocals sound like Zapp and Roger Troutman is down to my friend Mr. Talk Box. He also played on Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic,” and when I heard that I knew I needed to get him on this song. I produced this with Damn James and we did it in Chicago when we was working with Kanye on Yandhi. AP hopped on the drums, I did the keys, and then Thundercat came through to bless us with his bass and vocals. It’s a song about regret. It’s like 'just blame me; whatever you need to get past this moment!' Let’s try to get back to where we were before we argued.

"Freak" feat. Quavo

Blueysport and Damn James did the beat. It’s such a banger. When I heard that organ the words just flew out of my mouth. I did my part and the next day I was on the freeway in my lowrider. I’m hitting switches and shit, almost at the studio. It was one of those nice Southern LA days. Some dude rolls up on me in a Mercedes Truck on Monster Wheels and it’s this fool Quavo and shit. He then came down to the studio and murdered it!

"Double R" feat. Lil Durk

I’ve been rocking with Durk since 2014 when we did the XXL Freshman Cover. Durk definitely sings his truth, you know what I’m saying? All my projects from Free TC onwards have had violin sections, and Peter Lee Johnson killed it with the strings. This song is an ode to LA. And it sounds like the city, shout out to LA: I couldn't have done any of it without you!

"Expensive" feat. Nicki Minaj

Nicki came with one of the catchiest verses of 2020. She murdered that shit. I have so much respect for her as she pulled up to the video shoot pregnant as fuck with her husband, did her part and then left. The Dollar Sign is one of the most talented artists to ever have lived and so is Nicki Minaj. If you put them together then you’re going to get magic.

"Burna Boy interlude"

Burna Boy performed at this Grammy party and that’s how we connected. We bumped into each other again and niggas had the same car! The same color Lamborghinis and shit. He pulled up to the studio at 5AM and we did a couple of songs. I told him: “Look, I won’t hit you with the afro beats or give you what everyone else is going to give you.” I told him I wanted him to come to my world, and he just killed it man.

"Tyrone 2021" feat. Big Sean

Everyone used to sing that fucking Badu song at me so I thought, since I had to live with that, I need to re-do the song and sing it from Tyrone’s perspective. About two years ago, when I was on tour with G-Eazy, Lil Uzi Vert, and Murda Beatz, we got to do some shit. It was the same year Mac passed. We got the Badu sample cleared and MB blessed it. We went to Electric Ladyland in New York and I added some drums to give it more of a live feel. It is a revenge song. Shout out to Queen Erykah for clearing the sample.

"It’s Still Free TC"

We break down what is happening with TC. It is still the same movement. We’re still working and pushing to get him released. This is going on all over the world. Not just here. Free TC, Free Greedo, free everybody who is fucked up. Especially when they didn’t do shit! I am the one to raise awareness for sure, especially if no one else is going to.

"Real Life" feat. Roddy Rich and Mustard

Congrats to Roddy. Seeing his come up is amazing. This song is cinematic, definitely. I want to make a small film to accompany the record. I write my lyrics on most songs in a visual way. The artists I love, and I’m inspired by, are the same. Their words hit you. You see the shit when you close your eyes. All the stuff I’m saying, especially about cops still killing niggas in real life, is what is going on right now. It needed to be heard. It needed to be said.

"Nothing Like Your Exes"

This one is dedicated to everyone who is feeling themselves or having that confidence. It’s about feeling like you could have anyone you wanted in a room.

"Be Yourself" feat. Jhené Aiko and Mustard

This song is dedicated to Black women, for sure. Shout out to all the single Black women, doing what you need to do and doing it the right way! I needed to let them know we appreciate them. This is for y’all. I have so much respect for Jhené. She just has that presence. They’ll be playing her music for the next 1,000 years!

"Universe" feat. Kehlani

It feels like this is my time. I’m grateful to God, my fans, family and friends for making me feel the best I can possibly feel [with this record]. This song is my appreciation to them.

"Lift Me Up" feat. Young Thug & Future

I’ve been rockin’ with Pluto since album number one; we’ll be making music together forever. Thug I was always a big fan of too; he gave me this track with his and Future’s vocals already on it. I stacked my vocals behind Thug’s so it sounds like he’s doing a sermon in church. We went crazy.

"Time Will Tell / Dr. Sebi"

I look at these two song as one big track. They’re designed to be paired together. Thundercat is playing bass, I thought it would be dope to mute the 808 and put the real bass from TC on there instead. That’s Thugger on Dr. Sebi. He turned up to my studio and we played some pool. I beat him. He still owes me money, I ain’t forget. He sucks at pool! My mind was blown watching this nigga work the Pro Tunes on the computer, doing the tempo changes and pitching his vocals. Not many rappers can do that. Like, that nigga right there is one of the best musicians of our time, for sure.

"Powder Blue" feat. Gunna

[Highsnobiety: Have you really smoked an ounce and not felt anything?!]

You seen me smoking! Powder Blue is by Chordz, who goes right back to the start of my career. We were the dudes in LA with MPCs who collected vinyls. It was good bringing him back. This track is a masterpiece. It’s one to smoke a blunt to.

"Everywhere"

This song definitely encourages lockdown babies. Bongo brought me the original beat, but we changed it up and Mustard did his thing. I made this song after we all went to my favorite spot in LA. It’s this underground club. I am not going to say it’s name as I don’t want everyone to know about that shit. I was with my friends Tinashe and Wiz. We had a good time. We got fucked up, you know what I’m saying?

"Slow It Down"

This is a classic. I went to Puff’s house recently for lunch and this was his favorite song.

"Your Turn" feat. Musiq Soulchild, Tish Hyman & 6LACK

This is my absolute favorite song on the album. I was fortunate to work with Andre Harris, who did “Caught Up” for Usher. He had his drums set up like The Beatles - it just sounded like that era. Working with Musiq was amazing, as he’s one of my all time favorite artists. I had to leave our session as I had a show. He could have been like: “This nigga ain’t even gonna stay? Fuck this nigga!” But he stayed and did his part.

"Return"

This is the last joint with my brother. We have all been humbled in one way or the other. This is that moment. It’s the end of the album. It comes to an end. You go back to Allah. It needed to be said. It then goes to Ego Death, which I think is the perfect juxtaposition.

"Ego Death" feat. Kanye West, Skrillex & FKA Twigs

This is a new house song. Twigs is crazy. She’s one of those Kate Bush type of artists. I love that she’s unlike anyone else. I love her music videos. We’ve done more than one song together. I’ve got lots of things coming!

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