Interview: Ty Dolla $ign

August 19, 2013

LA's king of filth doesn't trust anyone

This summer, I've judged everything against Ty Dolla $ign's Beach House 2, a plush, polished tape that's openly lewd, and at turns both magnetic and repelling. It makes me cringe and blush, and ultimately, question my own goodness and warmth. If these are the kind of relationship songs that peak my interest, am I a monster? Earlier this month, before playing a New York show with Taylor Gang colleague Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla $ign stopped by FADER's offices, flaunting a small scrape from a skating accident. Equally easygoing and blunt, he opened up about his last long-term relationship, safe sex, musical goosebumps and the year's he's spent lingering on a major label.

How’d you get into playing music? It starts off from my pops. He was in Lakeside, a 70s band. I was around all the instruments so of course I started picking them up, from the drums to the bass, guitar, keys. Now I play every instrument except brass. Anything that has to do with the lips I can’t really play. I tried but it’s hella annoying, to get each note it depends on how tight you’re squeezing your lips and blowing, and it gives me a headache. But anything with fingers, anything you can beat on I can play.

When did you know music would be your career? I think I decided that from fucking 9, man. I started learning how to do beats and fucking with the mic. I hated school after that. I did finish high school though, at a home school. I guess that doesn’t count to some people, but shit, I finished.

For you, what does ‘ratchet’ mean? Ratchet means just having a good time, turning up, drinking, smoking, whatever other drugs are around. You know, and partying with chicks. Everybody can get fucking ratchet. The majority of people at night are going to the club, except the ones that are fucking married and shit. For the single people, of course that’s gonna be the best songs.

Would you call your songs love songs? I think the reason why you say love songs is cause I’m singing and its melodic and smooth, and it could just put you in that mood. But it’s really not. It’s more fuck than love.

How long have you been making fuck songs? 2010 is when I broke up with my last girl. And I just went all the way crazy. I just went ham, I’ll leave it at that. Before that, my songs have always been a little ratchet, I guess that’s just who I am I guess. There’s definitely people that have girlfriends, there are some couples that are faithful. And then there are people I know who have girlfriends and still be out her fucking on all the bitches. And that’s just wrong to me. I’d rather be real and just tell exactly what it is. And if you like me you like me, and if you don’t you don’t. I’ll find girls that have boyfriends and come fuck on me and that’s crazy, but that’s just how it is. That’s just made me have a lower trust level of people. It’s still fun though, it is what it is. All that negative shit—I’d rather just find the happy in whatever.

Are you more wholesome in real life than your songs might suggest? Do you get all your nasty out there? Nah. I might be sicker in real life. Since I started having sex, sex has been definitely one of the biggest things in my life. I mean it’s the best feeling. I’m dirty. I wear condoms though. I take showers, so I’m not that dirty. I’m just down for whatever.

What advice might you give to a younger guy who’s just starting to have sex? Choose wisely. Don’t sex on everything. Wear condoms. Choose wisely, man. Girls out here, man, they can be just as bad as some of the guys. I’ve had girls come over to my house with their babies, and we’re doing it on the floor while their baby’s in the bed, so these girls are pretty sick. I am too.

You’ve got a unique, raspy voice. A decade ago, before vocals could be treated in the studio the way they are now, do you think you would have been a singer? There’s been raspy singers before, in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Like Michael McDonald, people compare me to him. Rasp is cool, man. Future’s raspy as fuck too. But sometimes why I use AutoTune is to take out some of the rasp. I can sing my ass off, but I do like the smoother sound, and I feel like people just dance more to AutoTune. I never know what’s gonna happen when I start and then a song comes out at the end. I just freestyle most of the stuff. Each song is different.

You love instruments and musicality—do you miss any of that when working within ratchet’s relatively simple template? For the people that knew of me before “Toot It and Boot It,” I had this situation with this dude from Kory from New York. It was on some hip hop shit, more music. Then once I made “Toot It and Boot It” it was like, I made that beat in 5 minutes, made the hook in 10 minutes, YG came and did his part. It was the quickest song we ever did, but it was the most popular song. That let me know that I should do more party shit. I just had to dumb everything down, and now I’ve mastered that, I feel like.

"It’s more fuck than love."

It it frustrating to dumb everything down? I enjoy it, it’s fun. It’s still music. It may not be as fucking technical, and it may not give me goosebumps sometimes, like the same that I would get from jazz or some dope shit with hella different chord changes, but it’s still fun. And my shit is still hip-hop in the sense that I’m sampling shit and I’m chopping it up. I have a record collection and I’m doing more hip-hop shit than hip-hop dudes, I’m just singing on it.

What’s unique about DJ Mustard, as a producer and as a sort of leader in the LA scene? I saw him start from nothing. He was the DJ and I was making all the beats. One day he was like, “Yo, let me get some sounds.” We did “Pattycake” together, YG’s second single. Then he did “Rack City,” and things went crazy. Seeing him start and just do one thing taught me a lot. Me, I’ll do a house beat, I’ll do some hip-hop shit, I’ll do a fucking country song and play guitar, I’ll do some rock shit. All that shit is dope, but you gotta just do one thing and be the master of that, and he taught me that. That’s a young homie teaching an older homie some shit, so that’s cool.

Is it any easier for you to be loyal to collaborators, like your D.R.U.G.S. crew, than it is for you to be loyal to sex partners? I’m not gonna even say me and collaborators don’t have problems. Like when “Toot it and Boot It” took off and YG started getting everything, I started feeling some type of way. Like, wait a minute, I’m doing all the music. Where’s my shit? But then I just chilled, I never flashed, and my time came. Right now one of the homies from D.R.U.G.S., he flashed on me like “You’re out here getting rich. I don’t feel like you care about me or my family.” I’m like “What the fuck are you talking about, dog? Give me a beat, dog! You’re going to get your shit.” We all have issues and shit at certain times just like anybody, but we’re brothers. We all got love. Whoever’s up is going to feed the next man, so it’s all good. D.R.U.G.S. is me, my boy Chordz [3D], Buddah [Shampoo], James, Nate 3D, Fuego, DJ Dahi, and DJ Mustard. Certain times we’ll all be together, but we haven’t all done one beat, all eight together. We have a certain sound. It’s dark, fucking crazy, raw, underground, but still radio.

If you’re already signed to Atlantic, why get in with Taylor Gang? I teamed up with Taylor Gang as far as management. I did that because Wiz is the man and he has an audience and he’s taking me to his audience and we’re doing music together. It takes me to where I’m going quicker. Wiz has never once tried me with “If you do this, I’ll do this.” It was always, “Yo, let’s do this. Here: bam bam.” And at the end of the session he’d say, “Give Ty a copy.” You do songs with other people and they don’t want you to have copies, all kinds of weird shit. He wasn’t weird at all. We’d always just smoke up, do songs, and I’ll leave with the songs. He’ll be in meetings with the label and they’ll be playing shit for him and he’ll say “Yo, you should give that to Ty.” He’s always looking out.

When did you start smoking weed? When I was like 17. I started late. I love weed actually, I can’t live without it. You know Wiz is on the wax now, so now I’m the weed king. The last month he’s just been dabbing and shit. I can’t do it. It’s too fucking, it’s too much.

Do you have any plans to release an album with Atlantic? I feel like I have more work to do before I drop the album, specifically as far as promo and letting everybody know what it is. I want to take the Dream or T-Pain or Akon-type approach. Giving out my beats and hooks and getting everybody on it and once they know “Oh, Ty Dolla $ign’s that nigga,” then I’ll drop an album.

How long have you had that neck tattoo? I got it five or six years ago, when “Toot It And Boot It” came out. I saw we had a chance out here and I wasn’t going to have to go get a regular job. My cousin TC 4800 had his first and then I got mine. Like, fuck it, we’re all getting our names blasted so let’s do it.

Do you own a lot of fedoras? I did the fedoras. I’ll come back to it. Right now I’m just cruising up in New York in my hoodie, skating and shit. I can’t skate with a fedora on. Wiz has been wearing a fedora a lot on tours, so you can definitely still swag out the fedora right now.

Do you really get ratchet in your benz? Yes. For sure. Or whatever car I may be in at the time. I got three. They all got wood and leather.

Interview: Ty Dolla $ign