Two by two, young women in heels and miniskirts file into Ty Dolla $ign’s hotel room. Every five minutes, there’s a new knock at the door, and another pair of 20-somethings, scouted from the club by a member of the musician’s entourage, enters with a look of excitement and nerves. Here for a chance to hang out and smoke weed with a burgeoning superstar and his crew for an hour or two, they crowd onto the green-lit balcony of the Holiday Inn, vying for the attentions of the tall, tatted singer/producer. One woman sits on his lap, another sidles up to his hip and the rest of the ladies move in around him, fixated on his every word. He smiles welcomingly, puffing from his ever-present giant joint, handily cracking jokes.
Ty is in Fresno, California, the quiet town where he has just kicked off his Beach House Tour, named for his recent debut EP, which shares its title with the mixtape series that came before it. Given the song he is currently most famous for—the slinky, classic-house-referencing smash “Paranoid,” a delectable ode to juggling multiple side-pieces—the scene is almost comical. Ty Dolla $ign came into his own singing about his acuity with ladies, and here they are, proving his point. During his performance at an 18-and-over venue earlier that night, a host of younger women shriek in a pitch you might normally associate with Beliebers. The entire crowd sings along euphorically with “Paranoid”’s anthemic chorus: I’m fuckin round with two bitches/ But I never make them hoes my missus. None of his female admirers seems deterred. Before the show, a white lady with a blonde dye job has him autograph her breasts.
At 29, Tyrone Griffin Jr. is an unlikely R&B heartthrob: not babyfaced or centerfold-adorable like Omarion, nor cut and oiled like his collaborator Trey Songz. Ty cannot dance as nimbly as Chris Brown, for whom he wrote the skulking pop song “Loyal,” which, in April, became Ty’s first-ever chart-topping hit. His smile is sweet and earnest, yet he does not often sing of love, preferring weeded-up, explicitly sexual lyrics about stealing girls from other men, fucking them and, often, kicking them out before morning. “I’m not tryna promote being the best fucking American man,” says Ty. “I’m promoting partying and having fun and being that type of American. I don’t wanna hurt nobody’s feelings. I’m not gonna front and act like your boyfriend. I’m out here, you know what I’m saying? I’m about to go on tour! It’s like running for the presidency… except without a wife.”
After a few years crafting more straightforward R&B songs in a duo called Ty & Kory in the late 2000s, he broke out on his own, adding the “Dolla $ign” to differentiate himself from British rapper Ty. Last year, friend and fellow weed aficionado Wiz Khalifa signed him to his Atlantic imprint, Taylor Gang, perhaps realizing Ty was born to go solo. As gifted with beats as he is in the booth, Ty also heads up a production crew (D.R.U.G.$.), plays an assortment of instruments and has a penchant for complicated structures (Dilla is a longtime idol). In 2009, he scored his first hit as a producer and singer with YG’s “Toot It and Boot It,” rendering the song’s I met her in a club refrain doubly anthemic with a lilting piano loop. Underscoring his raw talent, he says he had initially considered the beat a throwaway when he made it. “It was the easiest song I ever made in my life, and for it to blow up I was like, damn,” he says, recalling that DJ Mustard had been trying to teach him the value of simplicity. “I didn’t [streamline my sound] at first cause he was the little homie and I was like, nigga? But I was trying to do too much. That was the math I was missing for a long time.”
Ty’s most recent work displays a pared-down style without scrimping on his virtuosity as a musician, slapping punch-drunk synths on snap-music-inspired rhythms as his vibrato emphasizes his lascivious, funny lyrics. Sub-merged in his echoing harmonies, lines like “Float”’s notorious whale-themed come-on—She got that wet/Sea World/and I dive in that pussy like Shamu, girl—sound not so much puerile as breathlessly romantic. Rather than throwing down candy-coated lines to get into panties, he’s straightforward about his intentions, and the sheer fact that he’s honest sweetens the deal on its own. Ty is like Keith Sweat armed with dick jokes.
Mid-puff, Ty comes in from the cabana and starts tapping out a beat on an MPC, occasionally riffing on an acoustic guitar. It’s a banger, and in under an hour, it’s close to finished. Ty keeps a small studio in the corner of the living room, and he’s made some of his biggest hits—“My Cabana,” “Float,” “Ratchet in My Benz”—exactly like this: weeded up and vibing off the dank and torrid California air. Ty’s computer and a handful of synths are flanked by a record collection deep with ’90s and ’00s underground hip-hop, and he sits beneath a framed copy of Sa-Ra Creative Partners’ 2007 debut, The Hollywood Recordings, on which he’s featured twice. His workspace is tiny, but he prefers it to professional studios, rearranging his set-up every so often for a change of scene. “Paranoid,” he says, was written with his back to the wall, synths facing the door. He’s deeply inspired by his Los Angeles surroundings; humid sub-bass sounds great with a view like his, palm trees poking up across the landscape, and even better when you’re speeding down the freeway in his BMW SUV, accelerating to the tempo and letting the breeze hit the kicks.
Having grown up surrounded by music, Ty Dolla $ign is acutely aware of his place within it. “I notice other people wanna get famous,” he says. “I’m more so on music. First you had The Gap Band. Everybody tried to do Charlie Wilson. Then Aaron Hall. After Aaron Hall you got R. Kelly—he’s the new Aaron Hall. And now they’re saying I’m in that same lane. I study that shit, and it helps me with my songs.” Ty’s melodies are couched in this history of prodigious R&B singers, while evoking the essence of ’90s new jack swing artists like Guy, Jodeci and Keith Sweat, who hardened gospel-literate R&B by hybridizing it with hip-hop. Ty’s own four-part harmonies have a similar velvetine warmth to new jack swing mastermind Teddy Riley’s, who actually guested on his Whoop! mixtape. Like the legendary producer, Ty is a consummate band-leader. “I hear everything in my arrangements, and I know exactly what I want,” he says. “To me, everything’s been done before. When I was doing ‘Paranoid,’ I felt like I was Bell Biv Devoe or some shit, like it was the ‘Poison’ of now.”
As a teen, Ty was kicked out of his mother’s house for misbehavior. He stayed with his longtime friend Big B—who, years later, would introduce him to YG and Mustard—and eventually fell in with the West Side Rollin 20s Bloods. He says he was mostly into tagging, but it’s a history he’s reluctant to discuss. “We’re not promoting gangbanging here,” he says, explaining that he was always more focused on music than the life. “Luckily, I got the homies that I got and kept me from doing some stupid shit, and I ended up here, not dead or in jail. That’s what they tell you about gangbangers, one of two things: dead or in jail. I just try to promote positivity. It’s not really worth it.”
Accordingly, he only vaguely resembles the blunt-sparking, lady-tapping persona one might glean from his songs. Despite his many lyrics about stealing the next guy’s girl, he is polite, and never comes off as condescending. During one of his weed sessions, he is forced to engage in the infuriatingly banal activity of calling someone to fix his internet, telling an operator, “This website is not working, sir.” It’s a considerateness that, he insists, he extends to women, despite their position in his songs as conquests and rarely much else. “I’m a nice dude, and I’m fuckin cool, and I’m friends with all kinds of girlfriends and they know,” he says. “My shit is for pure party. In the party you hear girls talking to each other like, ‘Bitch! Girl! Bitch! Girl!’ Muhfuckas is drunk, calling each other names and turning up, and it’s still a fun thing—it’s not a bad thing. I’m not saying, ‘Let’s be disrespectful.’”
There is one girl, though, he says is more important to him than all the others: his daughter, Jailynn, soon to be a fourth grader. She was born when Ty was 20, and he’s always been a fixture in her life, splitting custody with her mother even when he was too broke to pay child support. Jailynn is the spitting image of Ty—the same clear eyes, the same kind smile. He has her name and face tattooed on his right arm next to depictions of his mother, father and grandmother, and he proudly posts her photo all over his Instagram, including flicks that show what he is at heart: a soccer dad, playing practice-goalie and attending every game he can. The day of the branded video shoot, once the camera crew leaves, Jailynn’s mother drops her off at his apartment so she can see her father one last time before he goes out on the road. She’s extra-shy and emanates sweetness, undoubtedly daddy’s girl. “I love Jailynn so much,” he says, as she plays a racing game on her father’s iPad. “She’s the best daughter. I bet every dad says that. At first, I felt like I wasn’t all the way ready. Some birthdays would come around and I wouldn’t be able to get the most, but now I can get them anything they need. Every time I leave her, I’m like, Aww, fuck. I wanna be with her at all times.”
Ty’s paternal instincts seem to fill the space he doesn’t have for romantic love, while his music acts as an outlet for the debauched side he never lets Jailynn see—she is only allowed to listen to his music in its “clean” state, and only if it’s on the radio. Just when you start to think something doesn’t square, in comes Ty with a confession about his love life, straightforward as ever. “Sometimes I just feel like with what I’m doing—it’s not meant for me,” he says. “But I’m definitely not cynical, and I’m not against it. When I see people like Wiz and Amber, they just be FaceTiming and shit—I want that. I love seeing love. I had this one girl that I was really tryna go hard with, but it wasn’t it. I really was on my faithful shit but once I broke out of it, I just went wild. And then I made Beach House 1, you know what I’m saying?”
His grin proves he isn’t lying, but his words point to an artist who has a lot more going on inside than the songs he’s released thus far might suggest. Ty knows his club tracks are commercially viable, as Brown’s no-doubt lucrative acquisition of “Loyal” proves, but it’s hard to picture him at 35, still pumping out party jams. “I’m constantly growing like everybody else,” says Ty. Anybody who says they aren’t gonna change is a goddamn liar.” Ty is at the precipice of much wider fame and, if his future singles are anything to ride on, at the cusp of longevity as well. While he might not be ready to let romantic love into his life yet, Ty is clear-eyed about his music. Beyond Jailynn, it’s one of the only things he’ll commit to, and he’s determined to make it work.
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