2020 Grammys

R&B's Raunchiest Romeo Ty Dolla $ign: 'Whoever Says I'm a Womanizer Is a Dumbass'

Ty Dolla $ign cranks Bad Brains, hangs with Charli XCX and mixes soul, hard rap beats and brash views on women, love and sex.

On a dreary Tuesday morning in New York, Ty Dolla $ign ­reminisces about the previous weekend's ­hedonism. "I just sat right there at that couch two days ago," he says, gesturing across the room with a tattooed knuckle. "I had 12 girls sitting around me." The 30-year-old reclines on a banquette at Hudson Terrace, a currently empty nightclub in Midtown Manhattan. The women in leopard-print boots are gone, as is the Jameson bottle he didn't fully recover from until after last night's show at Highline Ballroom, when he finally crashed at his hotel. "I was tired as f---, I'm not going to lie," he says, feet propped on a black hoverboard. "I probably had 20 bitches in my room. They texted me in the morning like, 'So, you do sleep.' "

Ty Dolla $ign, born Tyrone Griffin Jr., is one of music's proudest lotharios. The singer-songwriter-producer is a master of indiscreet come-ons delivered via party records -- like breakout 2014 single "Paranoid," which peaked at No. 9 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart -- that straddle the bleeding edge between R&B and rap. His sometimes misogynistic bawdiness is ­accompanied by a wink and an irresistible urge to croon along. He has penned hits for Chris Brown and Trey Songz, ­collaborated with Charli XCX and recently traveled to Mexico to record a reported nine records with Kanye West. On Nov. 13, Ty's major-label debut, Free TC, will arrive on Wiz Khalifa's Taylor Gang Records imprint under Atlantic, led by single "Blase" (featuring Future and Rae Sremmurd), which is No. 66 on the Nov. 21 Billboard Hot 100.

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Ty lacks the Q rating of some of his ­collaborators, but his impact on pop has been profound. As co-creator, along with producer DJ Mustard and rapper YG, of the ubiquitous "ratchet" sound, his conversational slick-talk has helped make rap more melodic and R&B more lascivious. "I felt like the R&B guys were lying -- all the songs were selling dreams to girls," says Ty. "Then I came out. Now all the R&B dudes are talking about pussy and drugs and having that life. The real shit took over."

Says YG: "Ty gave R&B some bounce. He turned it up a notch. But you can't really put him in a ­specific category -- the homie can do it all."

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Ty grew up in Los Angeles, the son of a realtor mother and a multi-instrumentalist father who did session work for Death Row Records and Rick James, and toured with funk band Lakeside. The couple divorced when Ty was young; he resented Tyrone Griffin Sr. until he was thrust into fatherhood, split with his child's mother and became a professional musician himself. "I used to hate Pops for a while," says Ty, who has a 10-year-old daughter named Jailynn. "But now, I got to see what the f--- it was like."

Despite associations with rowdy club anthems, Ty is a full-fledged music ­prodigy. He learned keyboard, guitar, drums and how to program an MPC ­sampler at an early age. Today, he ­surprisingly name-checks India.Arie, Black Star, Tha Alkaholiks and Rawkus Records as ­childhood influences and gushes about the late producer J-Dilla. Along with a Supreme hat accessorized by a pinkie-size blunt, Ty's wearing a motorcycle jacket, which he bought off the back of a member of punk group Trash Talk and plastered with a Germs patch and a Black Flag pin. Before shows, he listens to Cro-Mags and Bad Brains. "It gives me hella energy, but people don't get it," says Ty. "I don't care how many bitches or hood n--as there are in the dressing room -- you're going to have to get into it and learn something."

Ty's major-label debut hasn't come easy or quickly. He helped score films Biker Boyz and The Cookout in the early 2000s and was later signed to Buddah Brown Entertainment as part of a duo called Ty & Kory. His stop-start career strained his relationship with his parents and contributed to him splitting with the mother of his ­daughter; he grew dreads, he explains, because he couldn't afford to cut his hair. "People thought I was tripping. I was working with all these famous motherf--ers but nothing really happened."

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Eventually, neighborhood gang affiliations connected him with YG and Mustard. Their third collaboration was 2010's "Toot It and Boot It," an ode to commitment-free sex that has more than 27 million YouTube views and helped ­disseminate the minimalist hip-hop sound that pop stars like Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora are still mimicking. But Ty preferred staying behind the scenes -- until he watched YG collect $10,000 for performing three songs at a club. "I had a kid," says Ty, "so I had to step it up and get that cake."

A flurry of mixtapes introduced listeners to Ty's world, an emotional ice floe where broken men and broken women gleefully mistreat each other. "She got his name tatted on her/She texting me like, 'Babe come over'/I lied and said that I was out of town/I'm with my other bitch right now," he sings on Beach House 2's "Ratchet in My Benz." A ­girlfriend cheated on him, and he admits his feelings bled into the music, ­comparing it to the nihilistic music fellow rapper-singer Future made after a well-publicized split. "As soon as he f---ing broke up with Ciara, he turned up again," says Ty, his easy smile surfacing. "People said that to me, too. When I had a girl, I was turned down. As soon as I didn't, shit started happening."

Ty is single now, but not averse to settling down. "Every person needs to go home and have that person to wake up to -- eventually, when the party's over," he says. "With all these random bitches, as soon as you bust that nut you want them to disappear. Like 'Yo, get away from me. How did this happen? Why did I just stick my dick in you?' "

Hearing such misogynistic views expressed in R&B form can be jarring, but Ty claims his lyrics, frequently called sexist by critics, are gender-neutral. "Whoever says I'm a womanizer is a dumbass. This is ­something a woman could say to a man or ­something a man could say to a woman."

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Free TC has cameos by West, Khalifa and Babyface and, naturally, lecherous records like the Fetty Wap-featuring ­infidelity anthem "When I See Ya." But the title references a ­grimmer subject: "TC" is Gabriel Griffin, Ty's younger brother, who's in prison for murder. In 2004, a member of the Crips was gunned down in apparent ­retribution for ­cooperating with police, and a ­witness ­fingered TC. Ty insists he's innocent. "He got life in prison for a murder he didn't do," he says. Ty hopes to bring attention to both his ­brother's case and America's flawed justice system. "The mass ­incarceration going on in this country and with my people is crazy. People are getting locked up every day for shit they didn't do."

On "Miracle," Ty's favorite song on the LP, he builds a beat under an a cappella verse TC recorded in jail. "He's dead to the world," says Ty, "but there's still a chance. God may change this for him. I got all the women and everything I want, but my brother is locked up. I can't leave him behind."

Back in Los Angeles, Ty recently bought a house with a pool, which he emptied so he can ­skateboard in it; he plans to "trick it out" with a vivid paint job and lights. The fact that he's able to afford such excess after years of struggle is reason enough to be ­optimistic about his brother's fate. "I'm a ­millionaire ­making money off music." He pauses, his green eyes barely visible behind dark glasses. "It's a miracle."

This story originally appeared in the Nov.  21 issue of Billboard.


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