What do you do with a guy like Ty Dolla $ign?
The West Coast rapper/singer has been unleashing his particular brand of melodic hip-hop since 2010 when he and YG dropped “Toot It And Boot It,” but Ty is now coming into his own as a cultural force. His Beach House 2 mixtape—and its massive hit single “Paranoid” featuring B.o.B—owned the summer of 2013, and he’s gearing up to do the same to 2014 with his debut album for Atlantic.
He’s hitting his stride at the right time, just when fellow L.A. street stalwarts YG, Nipsey Hu$$le, Dom Kennedy and DJ Mustard are rising together like a mushroom cloud and spreading their brand of West Coast swagger across the country. Most have been around the block a bit already but never with a buzz like this; Nipsey blew the lid off the established music industry with his $100 Crenshaw mixtape, Mustard and Dom Kennedy are coming off bigger years than they’ve ever had, and YG signed with Jeezy and is prepping his Def Jam debut for this upcoming year with Drake, Game and Jeezy features, among others. And then there’s Ty, standing as the scene’s resident hedonistic hook-maker, ready to pop right along with them.
“I definitely have noticed our scene just rising and rising and rising; from the time of the jerk shit or when me and YG dropped ‘Toot It And Boot It,’ up until now, it’s totally different,” Ty says. “When we dropped ‘Toot It And Boot It,’ Mustard didn’t even do beats, and now he’s killin’ it. So it’s just cool to see all of my bros taking over.”
But what Ty is doing is different from his fellow Angelenos. He’s a disruption to the norm, riding a wave that Drake and Future have taken to the top of the charts but surfing it differently than anyone else. His music is more melodic, less reliant on Auto-Tune, more difficult to categorize. So, in a shifting hip-hop landscape where sing-rapping and R&B crossovers are nearly indistinguishable from the rest of mainstream rap music, what do you call Ty Dolla $ign? Is he a singer? A rapper? Does it even matter anymore?
“They say I sing rap lyrics,” he says, laughing; what, exactly, he’s trying to do is a question he’s asked often. “My lane is my own lane, and I think that’s why people fuck with me so hard, because it’s like some shit that they’ve never heard but kind of reminds them of some shit that they have heard,” he says. “That’s where I got lucky; nobody else is doing what I do or really can do what I do. I’m just thankful to be blessed with my talent.”
He’s right, too: while Future and Drake are out here squabbling about whose songs are more emotionally possessive, Ty is out here wondering if a girl can shake her ass with a dick in it or asking her to meet him in the backseat of his car. He’s the decadent party boy, keeping it simple and not worrying about much more than that—a conversation with him will run from his wild show in Denver where he got top on the tour bus to the women he saw earlier that day when the elevator door opened on the third floor instead of the eighth—and that’s what makes his music so perfect for the summer nights it depicts. He’s not trying to be a rapper delving into the intricacies of street life, nor is he trying to be a singer crooning about winning your heart. He’s making his own lane somewhere in the middle, and it’s about to get a whole lot bigger.
“For the last [seven] years I’ve been doin’ my same shit, you know what I mean?” he says. “Back in the day when we used to shop it to different companies, no one was doin’ it, so no one understood. Now you have people like Drake; they took a chance with Drake, the light-skinned dude whose sing-rappin’ and shit. Nobody else was doin’ that at the time, and he did it, so it’s cool now for my shit to come through. But that’s how it goes.”
Now that the groundwork is in place, Ty is ready to take over this year. His first EP for Atlantic—titled The Beach House EP, which he describes as a preview to the album—is due out Jan. 21. He’s been working with YG on My Krazy Life and doing production and writing work for Wiz Khalifa’s upcoming Blac Hollywood. He’s turning his music videos into mini-movies, trying to get away from the standard bitches-cars-and-jewelry formula that permeates the mainstream. And then he’s planning to rule the summer all over again, regardless of how you classify his music.
“I’m looking to get on a couple of tours, festivals, really let the people know with the music what I can do, and then, in the summertime, drop this shit and really kill it,” he says, laughing as he continues. “I’m tryna figure out when I’m gonna do my version of the Moonwalk… It’s coming, you know? That Dolla $ign moon walk is comin’.” —Dan Rys (@danrys)