It’s about 11 p.m. in Phoenix, Arizona, and a sweaty Ty Dolla $ign is grinning as he scrolls through his phone. Ty just left the stage (following sets from Migos, Sage The Gemini and a few local artists), and was back in his dressing room waiting to join YG’s set a little later.
No one introduced us as I pulled up a chair next to him for our interview, but as I sat down, the “Paranoid” singer didn’t seem to mind. He was excited to get feedback from a new face. “Did you like the show?” he’d ask me, before I had to admit I only caught the last song. (Thanks, Delta!) As we start chatting about my trip from New York and how I almost didn’t make it, YG and DJ Mustard enter the room and make a beeline toward their longtime friend/Pu$haz Ink crew member.
It’s been quite a journey over the course of the last few years for the trifecta – one that has been unique to each of the three, but yet parallel in the timeline of going from local acts to signed artists with hits dominating urban radio. Who knew a throwaway record about hitting it and quitting it would take them this far? Not even they did.
“Man, this is crazy,” YG said, gazing around the room. James Harden just walked in and was making his way over. “Can you believe they all here for us?” He has a look in his eyes of pure enthrallment. 5 years ago he was behind bars for violating parole on a burglary charge, and now he’s headlining a concert at a venue that holds 20,000 people, alongside 2 of his equally successful friends. YG’s 2 Mustard-produced singles “Who Do Ya Love” (featuring Drake) and “My Nigga” (featuring Jeezy and Rich Homie Quan, with a remix that features Meek Mill, Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne) are burning up the charts, while Ty’s Mustard-produced single “Paranoid” has become the most added on Urban radio, and the tune he penned for Chris Brown, “Loyal,” is quickly coming up as well. This is a talented group of 20-somethings.
Though “Paranoid” had been the song for a minute to anyone with ears, the Dec/Jan. 2014 issue of XXL detailed how Ty actually writes, sings and produces, undoubtedly bringing new fans to downloading his summer 2013 mixtape, Beach House 2 and now, the Beach House EP. His buzz is organic and gradual, comparable to the likes of Nicki Minaj and J. Cole, so he’s in good company to say the least. As he gears up for the release of his debut album, I caught up with the triple threat to pick his brain about this “ratchet music” movement he, YG and Mustard seemed to be spearheading, along with what exactly a ‘boogawolf’ is besides the most awesome word in a song I’ve ever heard.
Interview by: Marisa Mendez
So the Beach House EP just dropped! [Purchase on iTunes here.] Congratulations, that’s big!
Thank you so much. I’m really excited about it.
I know you wanted to just put something small out because the label was pushing, but you weren’t ready for a full album…
Right, so that’s why I came with the EP. I look at it like an extended play of “Paranoid,” but I got some great songs on there. It’s being received good, too. It’s selling crazy. The single is really selling crazy, though, and now that The Weeknd hopped on “Or Nah,” it’s insane.
Yeah, and “Paranoid,” it’s doing even better than “Toot It & Boot It” did, right? It’s charted higher.
Yeah, it’s top 10. I can’t believe that. It just feels like people finally heard it, you know? I think before, they weren’t really hearing it, so it just feels good to be in the position where people really hear my music and enjoy it.
This fame and doing shows on a larger scale is relatively new to you. Has it been a slow, steady progression or did it kind of feel like one week you’re just putting out music and getting love here and there on social media, and the next week you’re booking dates and putting together a road crew and suddenly never home anymore? What has the transition been like?
Nah, it was definitely slow. It was slow. It was definitely Twitter going from 0 to…what is it now? Like 100,000 or something?
105? I want to say 105. [Editor's note - It was 105k as of 2/21, the date of the interview. As of 2/27, it's at 109k.]
And that’s like what, over the course of 3 years? Yeah, like 3 or 4 years.
Yeah, since 2010 I would dub your “start time” because of the YG record.
Yeah it took like that long, you know? It’s cool though. It just feels crazy to keep building with people, and they all just come out. It’s like the same people, but more people each time. Wiz once told me he felt like it was like he gained 5,000 fans every year.
Is that how you feel too?
Nah, I’m definitely tryna get to my 5,000.
Oh, you’re still on the road.
[Laughs] Yeah, I’m still on the road!
Do you feel comfortable doing shows yet? It’s a given at this early stage that there will be some dead audiences, so how do you deal with that?
I mean for me, it’s like whether it’s like 14 people or 20,000 people, I’ma do my shit, you know? Me and Dre Sinatra, that’s my DJ, we always just go in and just come with the bullets and start firing and, you know, people fuck with it! I don’t care. Like I’ma do the same thing you just saw me do right now in front of like, 4 people. If you came to my house and I’m just playing you new music, I’ma turn up when I’m playing it. I’ll act out the whole thing!
Yeah, and you look really comfortable up there, like you’ve been doing this for a lot longer than you actually have.
Hell yeah. Thank you, I appreciate it! I’m trying.
You post photos with your daughter pretty often. Do you have full custody of her?
Oh, nah. Well, yeah.
Oh, that’s really clear. [Laughs] Are you with her mother?
I’m not with her mother but we’re super cool. There was a time when she had full custody but now she’s cool, you know. I just paid off all my child support. Everything’s all good!
She’s 9-years-old so I’m sure she’s very aware of what’s going on around her. How is she reacting to dad becoming Ty Dolla $ign?
Sometimes she’ll be like, “Dad, sometimes I wish you just had a regular job and you could just come here and be home, but I appreciate what you do for me.” So, she’s very smart and very advanced for her age, and she gets it. Her and her mom, shout out to them! They definitely look out.
How do you balance being a father to a growing, young girl and being an entertainer who’s involved in such a crazy business?
I’m scared, man. I’m scared. But you know what? It’s all good. That scary shit is for the devil, and the devil is a liar. God’s got me, so I’m definitely trying to make sure her, my sister, my brother…everybody is straight.
Your sister, you post a lot of pictures with her on Instagram. You guys are really close?
Yeah, really close. It’s me, her and my little brother, but he’s been locked up for a while. That’s going to be the name of my album, Free TC. I already got it tatted on my fingers.
I’ve heard you shout that on songs before.
Yeah, I had a song called “Free TC” on House On The Hill, and then usually all the last songs on my mixtapes are dedicated to him in some type of way.
Does he get out any time soon or does he still have a while?
He got a life sentence but we’re going to try and change that. I’m going to get him a good lawyer and get him to look over the case. He got convicted of a murder that EVERYBODY knows he didn’t do, but you know in LA, everybody is a gang-banger and they go hard on gang-bangers. So, you know, we just have to get the case re-looked over.
I mean, you’re in an amazing position to be able to do so now, financially.
So, is your daughter allowed to listen to your music yet?
Um, she can listen to the radio, and listen to the clean version. I got a clean version of the EP on iTunes that everybody can go get. I got a dirty version as well for the people that like to get turnt up.
Are you getting recognized more when you go out? I mean, you have a very recognizable look…
Definitely. Recently at my daughter’s birthday party – she turned 9 on February 1st – there were a lot of people violating that day. We had it at this place called Sky Zone up in Gardena [California]. It’s such a cool place, man! They should have one in every city in every state. It’s like, a trampoline place where the whole floor and the walls are all trampolines and you can just jump around! There’s basketball hoops, all types of cool shit.
So there was like hella kids up there and we had our private section but as I was coming in, all the kids and all the older people too especially were just like, “Yo, let’s get a picture!” and all this stuff. I was just like, “Let me party with my daughter and then I got y’all.” It’s always cool, though. I’m always going to show love to the fans because they definitely show love to me. I always want to take every picture and hug everybody and shake every hand, kiss every baby. It’s like a presidency. [Laughs]
Do you get more love in L.A. or is it starting to be everywhere now?
It’s starting to be everywhere now. Definitely started in L.A. though. You’ve got to start in your hometown. To any artist out there that’s getting their shit poppin – you’ve GOT to start in your hometown, man. I learned from my nigga YG, for real.
At what point do you feel like you’re going to be ready to put out the album? You’ve previously said that you felt like you didn’t have enough fans yet to put one out now and that’s why you did the EP, but what will be that defining moment?
I think after “Or Nah” and after “Familiar,” my next singles, I think it’s going to be crazy.
Oh, so “Familiar” will be the next one following “Or Nah?”
So after they both do their thing, then you feel like it’ll be time to drop Free TC.
Hell yeah. I think it’s gonna be crazy. I’m already working on it. I’m like 8 songs in to the album.
Who do you have on it so far?
YG, DJ Mustard, Joe Moses, Kendrick Lamar…
So you’re keeping it very L.A.
What they’re calling “ratchet” music has really helped to put California back on the map in the last few years, and the Pu$haz Ink crew is really at the helm of it. How do you feel about how they’re categorizing it and the lane you’re in?
Ty: The lane that I’m in is beautiful, man. It’s just, you know, no traffic. [Laughs]
[Ty's DJ] Dre Sinatra: I want to cut in, man. I hate that “ratchet” box. Listen, it’s not ratchet shit, it’s a way of life. That’s just like, that’s people that don’t know what it is – they just call it ratchet music to try and define it.
Ty: What I look at it like is, it’s like some people be like, “Man, that’s ratchet!” like it’s a negative thing, but to me, ‘ratchet’ is positive. It’s a whole bunch of people having fun, turnin’ up. You know, bitches, niggas, everybody just having a good time with no bullshit.
So then you’re good with the ‘ratchet’ category then?
Ty: I accept it and I love it.
I look at it like the way they named ‘crunk’ music in the south and ‘boom bap’ and ‘trap’ music. Every region kind of has their specific sound.
Ty: Some people are just afraid of it, you know? But it’s cool.
I mean, you, YG, Mustard…you guys really started with this dope sound and you’re owning it.
Ty: I look at it like we really do music, so that’s just one thing that we’ve started and everybody else did it as well. So, that’s just one thing that we can do.
Dre Sinatra: If you look at the XXL article, YG says, “I don’t make ratchet music. This is really how I’m living.” It’s not ratchet, it’s more than that.
Yeah, that’s where I even learned they were calling it ‘ratchet music’ to begin with.
Dre: If you listen to Ty’s songs, they’re all really different.
Ty: We’re gonna go past that and we’re gonna be here forever.
Okay, I need you to explain 2 things for me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m from the east coast or because I don’t smoke, but one – what’s a boogawolf?
I think boogawolf is like a down south term. I just heard somebody say it before and I laughed my ass off. I think it might be Texas or somewhere down south, people call ugly bitches boogawolves. It’s hilarious.
Okay and what is being “irie”? I mean, I get it’s being lit, but where did that come from?
Being irie definitely came from Jamaica. I think it goes back to Bob Marley or even before. I think they mean it as just like, alright. You know, how they say words like ‘fih’ that means for and like, there’s all different shit. So I think it’s just something that means I’m alright. Definitely when you get lit, you just be straight, you know? I actually heard some of my white friends saying, “Let’s get irie, bro!” and I was like, “What? I’m about to use that shit in a song!” That’s what I’m about, you know? I’m from Taylor Gang. Even before that, I’ve just always smoked a lot of weed.
You definitely smoke a lot! I feel like if I had to pick 3 things that define Ty Dolla $ign, it’d be your daughter, music and weed.
Hell yeah, that’s my whole life.
So at the moment, what’s on your tour rider?
On my tour rider, I have a grinder on there. I make sure I have a grinder in each spot since you can’t really travel with grinders because they have weed residue. I once was ticketed for that shit.
My girl got through TSA today with a whole bag of weed in her purse, actually. Oh, and 2 cups of fruit. Someone was slipping at LAX.
I actually got through with a whole joint one time because I forgot it was in my bag. I felt like an asshole, but I was happy at the same time. But yeah, what else? I keep fruit, Bombay Sapphire, Ciroc, Hennessy…
So…liquor, grinders and fruit.
Yeah, and vegetables.
That’s…skimpy. No condoms? No socks? No snacks?
Well I always keep the condoms on me already. Always have condoms on me. Can’t get caught slipping.
Especially with the boogawolves.