Interview: Ty Dolla $ign is Definitely a Producer, Singer and Songwriter, Not a Rapper
Having inundated the market with a non-stop flow of releases, some as a producer, others as a guest artist, Ty Dolla $ign has become part of hip-hop’s DNA, establishing himself as a evocative wordsmith who touches on social issues as well as other sources of youthful vulnerability. The singer-songwriter, rapper and producer’s career trajectory has made him virtually inescapable: you’ve definitely heard him before. whether you know it or not. His résumé, so to speak, provides a glimpse into his formative abilities, and it was enough to get the attention of Wiz Khalifa, who recently signed him to Taylor Gang Records. When RESPECT. caught up to the artist born Tyrone Griffin, he confided, “There’s been so many crazy shit — girls coming up trying to take pictures, dudes coming up like, “What’s up my nigga.”
It’s a fitting scenario that relates to his highly-anticipated debut EP, Beach House, a 7 track release that highlights the many uncertainties encountered during adulthood. He knows the project is likely to be subjected to scrutiny, but he’s never been the type to shy away from a challenge. “I’m a type of guy with no ego. I fucking hate people with egos. It reminds me of a fucking bouncer at a club that takes their shit too seriously.” That’s Ty Dolla $ign: witty but dead serious. Take what he says and visualize it while stoned and, you’ll probably end up on the same page. We spoke with the Los Angeles, California-born rising star about how a real-life situation inspired his current single, “Paranoid”, his first encounter with Wiz Khalifa, and more. (In the interest of full transparency, Ty Dolla $ign revealed that this was his first ever sober interview.)
I have been fully immersed in everything Ty Dolla $ign the past couple days.
Oh man, thank you [laughs].
How much has your life changed in the last year?
In the last year or so, I’ve made more money. I’ve got more beautiful chicks and a lot more fans, especially since joining up with Wiz. When he took me on tour last summer, I was performing in front of 20,000 people every night in a different state. My fan base went up, and I’m just thankful for everything, man.
People must be following you wanting to take selfies all the time. Any crazy moments?
Yeah, but I don’t know where to start [laughs]. There’s been so many crazy shit — girls coming up trying to take pictures, dudes coming up like, “What’s up, my nigga, not on no fan shit or nothing like that, but let me get a picture with you.” What do you mean, not on a fan shit? [Laughs]… It’s great. I’m loving it.
You started producing music first, right?
Yeah. I don’t remember exactly when I started because I smoke too much weed, but I started making beats at 14 when my dad got me an MPC. Afterwards, I got a Korg Trinity keyboard and a few others. I still have all these keyboards and I even work on all the same stuff. My dad really hooked me up when I was young, and luckily, he did that.
I get the impression that you got tired of producing hits for other artists. Am I reading too much into that?
I didn’t get tired of producing for other artists. I still like working with other people but what I got tired of was writing songs through my publishing company for other artists without being in the room with them. I don’t like to waste my fucking time or my brain power. A lot of the time, I would just be writing songs for nothing. Now I’m able to get around and meet a lot of these artists, and because I’m also an artist it’s easier for me to get in the studio and work with them. I recently did some shit with B.o.B, and so many other people just from meeting them.
Is it safe to say you now consider yourself more of a rapper-songwriter than a producer?
No. I’m definitely a producer, singer and songwriter. I don’t rap. If you listen to all my songs, every word is a melody, even “Dolla $ign,” that’s also a melody. Everything is a melody, so I’m a singer for sure.
Do you feel like you’ve been given a second chance?
This is my first chance [laughs]. I’m definitely taking advantage of it and I intend to keep on going.
From playing your Beach House EP, what struck me, listening to the tracks, is how you’ve embraced a lot of familiar situations such as your amazing ability in juggling multiple relationships. Was that intentional?
My amazing ability… [Collapses into fit of giggles] Yeah, but I don’t know how to answer that. Although I guess I am pretty amazing at juggling multiple relationships.
It’s about gaining more fans and letting them know that my music is quality and when it’s time for me to drop that album, you know it’s time to pull out that motherfuckin’ credit card and press that purchase button. I’m just following in the footsteps of Lil Wayne, Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Their music that they released at the beginning was hella tight, and in some ways, it basically said to you, ‘When my shit drops make sure you buy it.’
So, do you think by placing things in a familiar context — say, for instance the way you express yourself on “Paranoid,” allows your fans to see the real essence of what you’re about?
Oh yeah, definitely. That’s a real-life experience. I remember going to a club with one girl and seeing two other girls that I was also talking to. They both knew each other and were basically trying to get my attention. I thought it was a setup, so I ended up making a song about it. All of my songs are real-life and represent what I am about. I’m about partying and having fun, but I do also have a serious side to me, which you’ll hear on songs like “Never Be The Same.” I have a lot of other songs coming on the album that didn’t make the EP, which will allow people to get to know me. I wanted to put them on the EP, but they were so good, the label decided to keep them for the album.
A lot of your songs seem to speak directly to that or come from your love of weed. Is this a platform for your music, or is it also about the girls and money?
It’s definitely more about expression and for the love of music. I’m actually a real musician. I studied this shit and I know all the shit from the 70s, 80s, and ‘90s to now. I collect vinyl’s and I even used to DJ. I still have the turn tables, like, I really love music. I’m doing this because of my love for music. I’m not one of those people doing this to get famous, and that’s something that I talk about on “Never Be The Same.” I’ve already been having bitches and I’ve already been doing all the shit that these dudes are doing. It’s nothing new to me. I don’t really care about that, all I care about is making good, quality music.
When you’re in the process of writing, do you find that content arises naturally out of the narrative structure you’re working from? Or are you more consciously pursuing familiar themes?
Sometimes I’m not even thinking, man. I’m just talking and it all comes together — occasionally I’ll put on a beat and start with the verse. I’ll say pretty much whatever and then the hook comes. Every now and then, it’ll just be a word in the middle. I’ll think of one line and I’ll be like, “I wanna use that for the sixth or seventh bar.” The song will then start with that, before I go back and get the first, second, third and forth, but whatever the music is saying, usually determines what’s going to come out of the song.
Are there any aspects of your life that you deliberately avoid?
No. I think I’m going to write and talk about everything. I’m on this party vibe at the moment, I’m having fun. However, as I mature and life gets more serious I’m sure the music is going to change.
What’s a Ty Dolla $ign groupie like?
The groupies are great. I love them. They come out, we smoke weed, drink, have fun, and whatever else goes down, you know.
And this “success,” if you want to call it that, was it something that you’d anticipated?
I did anticipate it, but at one point, I doubted it. But when I saw things starting to take off, I knew straightaway that it was on. When “Toot It And Boot It” came out and I saw people liking this shit, I decided to take it more serious and do my own project.
I can see that you’ve got the likes of Wiz Khalifa, B.o.B, Travi$ Scott and Jay Rock on this EP, along with a remix with Trey Songz and French Montana. Do you think collaborations with other artists open you up to a wider audience? Does that even matter to you?
Of course, it matters. I think doing features opens you up to other fans. I want everybody to hear my music. I remember making songs in my studio and playing them to my friends. Everybody around me liked them, but now I’m trying to get the world to hear my music.
I think Wiz Khalifa is such an omnipresent figure in hip hop, I really love his energy. What was it like to work with him on “Or Nah”?
It was incredible. In fact, “Or Nah” was done for his album. He did the first verse, and I came and did the hook, then he had a second verse which was going to be for his album, but that same night, we did another song called “That’s Right.” I produced the beat and did the first verse, and he was like, ‘Yo, I want this one.’ He kept that one for his album and allowed me to have “Or Nah” for my EP. Wiz has always looked out for me. He’s always been cool. He’s not like other rappers out here that have their dicks in their mouth and think they’re all that. I feel like that was one of the main reasons why I fuck with him. I’m a type of guy with no ego. I fucking hate people with egos. It reminds me of a fucking bouncer at a club that takes their shit too seriously, like, ‘Get back. Stand over here,’ that type of shit [laughs].
Do you remember your first encounter with Wiz?
My first encounter with Wiz had to be in either 2007 or 2008. We were at the Record Plant studio in Hollywood, and my homie Terrace Martin brought me into a room where he was. That was the first time.
You and your Taylor Gang Records co-stars— Juicy J, Chevy Woods, Project Pat and of course Wiz Khalifa, are the closest thing we have to a modern super group or rat pack. Who’s the top dog?
Wiz, of course, he’s put the fucking work in. He’s built everything from scratch and has done a lot. He’s got a lot of fans that love him, so he’s definitely the top dog.
Speaking of fans, I think what they love about you is that raw energy that you embody which somehow manages to come across as equally edgy but stimulating.
Yeah. That’s just me, man. There’s no reason at all to sugar-coat this shit or hold back. I’m just being straight up and not bullshitting or trying to sell things to people that aren’t true.
You have a ton of tattoos. Any stories behind them that you’d be willing to share?
I just like tattoos. I got my first one when I was in high school, but I hated it so I covered it up. I’ve got my brother tattooed on me, he’s in jail. I’ve also got my sister, a revolver, my Ty Dolla $ign logo, a big ass L.A. Dodgers logo, a palm tree to represent Los Angeles. I also have a peak bomb and half of it is like red paisley print, and the other half is paisley blue. It represents me being a blood and my brother being a crip. We’ve got bloods and crips with us everywhere we go and everything is all good, but it’s like a time bomb, too. There have been times when blood and crips have been together and then niggas don’t get along no more, so that’s what this represents. I’ve also got a big ass B-dog, my label “Pu$haz Ink”, a portrait of Jesus Christ on my hand, who I very much believe in. I’ve got my homeboy’s name written on my left hand that I did all my early music with including Y.G.’s project, he passed away. I’ve got “Free TC” on my right hand, on my other hand “F.A.S.T” which is our motto, a portrait of my mom’s face, and my most recent tat was my daughter’s face on my back arm, above that I have my sister and cousins names, and on my stomach I have “Griffin,” which is my last name with a big ass skull head. I’m actually planning to get some more tattoos tomorrow; I’m going to get a picture of my dad playing the trumpet. I’m also going to get a choir of angels playing instruments and shit on my back.
People will be very upset if I don’t bring this up: Do you think your marijuana consumption intake is exaggerated?
I think it’s not — people don’t know how much I really smoke. Today, I hit a join three or four times because I woke-up kind of sick, but usually I probably smoke at least twenty joints a day or maybe more. Now, we have this thing called earwax, which is really like, THC, we have been smoking that shit, too, baby. It’s legal out here in California. I even have my own weed named after me, it’s called the OG Dolla $ign kush. It’s like one of the best for sure.
You have already accomplished quite a bit, what are the goals you’ve set for yourself over the next couple of years?
I just want to create an incredible album, continue performing and get better at my shows. As I’m now getting more money for my shows, I ‘m definitely going to put money back into myself and make my shows a lot bigger. I like house shows, like those house festivals where you’d find Skrillex performing. I want to incorporate that kind of vibe in my shows.
Is there anything that we haven’t touched on that you would like us to discuss?
I think we covered most of it, but I just want to encourage people to go ahead and get Beach House. Everybody can follow me on my social networks @tydollasign, but on Instagram it’s thedollasign, because this girl took my name, the fucking asshole. I’m going to get her shut down.