Sitting casually in his studio over a Zoom call, Ty Dolla $ign is poised, calm, and seemingly well-adjusted to virtual interviews. Consistently adapting to the ever-changing landscape of Hip-Hop and R&B music, the L.A.-born singer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist has a knack for turning melodic hooks and catchy choruses into platinum-selling records. Despite being known as the ‘featured guest’ on many records in the past three years, Ty Dolla $ign has proved that the science he uses to create hits, including those on his newest album Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, is impermeable.
“I feel amazing and grateful, and thankful for my fans,” he says. Featuring Ty Dolla $ign is his first album in three years, and the first time he’s charted No. 1 on Billboard’s Top R&B Album list. “It is a big reward to make it to those levels in the game, and I’m just gonna continue to keep on doing my best to do it over and over again for as long as I can.”
According to the Billboard charts, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign is R&B’s second best-selling album after Prince’s Sign of the Times. What does it mean to you being toe-to-toe with a legendary artist like Prince?
Wow. I got Prince right here [he shows me a Prince tattoo on his leg]. Rest in peace, Prince. I always tell people he’s my favorite artist because, not only did he sing and perform amazingly, [he] played guitar, drums, keys, did his own records…that’s what I do as well. I’m definitely inspired by Prince to the top.
With three years between this album and your last album, what made you choose to make a 25-track album?
When you listen to the project, it’s only an hour long. [I chose] 25 songs because I had to do with my lawyers and label to be able to clear the songs the way I wanted to—I like to tie all the songs together. Some people have told me that you can’t even tell that it’s a new song until it’s Track 7 [because] it sounds like one long song—that’s what I was going after. I hate fade-outs and I hate when people just stop the song, it pauses for a second and it goes into another song when you could’ve really bridged music with heart. That’s what I did.
The science to my album was that every song that ends, I wanted it to go into the next song no matter if we had to change tempos or change chords. I wanted it all to make sense on some intellectual level. And in order to do that, I had to make it 25 songs, but really, it’s only like 18 songs if you listen to it.
Your fans often tend to debate what their favorite Ty Dolla feature is or which feature is the best. Do you have one?
My favorite feature ever is with that dude Ty Dolla $ign and we worked on this album Featuring Ty Dolla $ign together. It was dope that he took time away from working on everybody else’s stuff to actually put this album together, so that’s always gonna be my favorite feature. Shoutout to that guy—very hard working man.
From hooks and features to full albums, it seems like everything you touch turns to gold. What keeps you from burning out?
Don’t use that word towards me please, it’s never going to happen! Shit, I just do music and it comes from God. He keeps on sending it through and I keep on letting it out. It’s from years and years of practice, and years of just listening to the greatest music. I feel like there’s nothing really new under the sun—which is my mom’s favorite phrase—and there are only 12 notes from A-G, so you just have to figure out how to do different things with them.
I have so much vinyl in my library of music, and when you listen back, you’re gonna [notice that] every song that you hear, it’s been done before. You just have to come with a new flip or even an old flip and make it sound new. That’s what I try to do—I try not to sound like anything that’s out. I try not to do anything that’s like my last. I just come new and re-invent the sound and that’s why it always works, thank God.
You’re the father of a now teenage-daughter—has this new chapter shifted the tone or message in your music?
I definitely know she’s paying attention. Recently, we were in the car and I got her playlist because I was driving already. I got to see what she was listening to; she’s up on the Rondos, Lil Baby, 21 Savage, NBA YoungBoy, all these crazy choppa songs. I was like ‘Oh shit, I know my music ain’t that crazy’. You know, I’ll take her opinion over the professionals because she knows what’s popping out here.
I feel like me and her would’ve had a similar playlist but mine [with artists] from back then. I would’ve been on some Pac, some Snoop…Chingy, Nelly—it was a lot of hot music back then [but] these are all the new guys.
In the past several months that we’ve all been in isolation to varying degrees, it seems like a lot of people have either re-discovered things they love, re-evaluated things they need, or let go of things that didn’t serve them. What has this time been like for you?
This time has been time to hang out with the fam, my girl, my daughter, my mom. I get to see everybody more. We just had game night the other night with Connect 4, Uno, all types of vibes, so that’s been good. It’s been a time to learn; I picked up this new program that the homies tried to tell me a long time ago about called Ableton. I used to be more of a Fruity Loops- or play-everything-straight-into-ProTools- type of guy, but now that I learned Ableton, I’ve been able to do so much. I feel like this next chapter of production is gonna be crazy, so I can’t wait to start releasing some of this new stuff I’ve been doing. No disrespect to Fruity Loops because I still feel like when you do drums in FL, it has a different slap, but Ableton is so fast and you can just do anything you could imagine so quickly.
Speaking of Uno, do you follow the rules of the game?
You can follow the Uno account on Twitter and they always release new rules. So yeah, I play by the rules except we can stack. I don’t know if that’s in the rules; some people say you can’t stack. Basically [yes], but we add stacking and on the one blank card where you can write anything, my family will hit you with the ‘pick up 20 cards’ or crazy shit like that.
You’ve impacted the music industry across genres and spaces, but when you think of what you want your legacy to be, what would you dream of?
Just [to be] one of those artists that always was ahead and always brought something new. Like when we talk about Prince, Dilla, Michael Jackson, Beyoncé; when we talk about anyone who comes with something new. There are so many I could name, but that’s what my legacy’s gonna be. Every time you hear my name, you know it’s new, it’s not like the rest, it’s fire, and that’s what I strive for.