Ty Dolla $ign is a hedonist with a sensitive side

Ty Dolla $ign is on the verge of releasing Beach House 3, his first record in two years, and his life is a blur. I catch a freeze frame, snagging a brief phone call as he whisks between photo shoots and release parties. Over the phone, his presence glows. No words emerge from the singer’s mouth without a coating of mellifluous charm; even a mundane sentence like “I want a place in Malibu” lands somewhere in between a come-on, a prayer, and a sunset. That’s the power of his voice, a once-in-a-generation instrument capable of threading the needle between sex and salvation. Since he first landed on the national stage with his 2012 breakout mixtape Beach House, Dolla $ign has carved out a wide niche for himself within the contemporary R&B landscape. He plays the the role of freaky lothario with a sensitive side; his new record includes an acoustic jam with John Mayer and a song called “Dawsin’s Breek,” an enthusiastic celebration of beautiful cars and women with a wink towards the weepy teen melodrama. Throughout, Dolla $ign cuts a mischievous, playful figure even as he doubles down on hedonism. While contemporaries like Travis $cott and The Weeknd opt for a steely demeanor, Dolla $ign never stops having fun. It’s a quality that never goes out of style.

EZRA MARCUS: You said recently that to you, a beach house is more of a metaphor for success more than it is an actual physical thing. What does success look like to you now? How has your definition of success changed since the first Beach House mixtape?

TY DOLLA $IGN: It’s definitely changed, I’ve risen in fan base, risen financially, and I’ve grown as a person since Beach House one. It’s still a metaphor for success; I’ve got a beach house now in Long Beach, but not the one that I officially want, so I’m working for it. Getting to these levels for me has made it where I can meet people on even higher levels than I’ve imagined were even possible. I brought up Puff and how he got a couple beach houses, one in Miami, one in L.A, everywhere. So now my dreams are even bigger.

MARCUS: So what would your dream life be like?

DOLLA $IGN: Now that I’m doing this music and everything is going crazy and traveling everywhere, it’d be nice to just stay in my own crib instead of hotels. I want a place in Malibu; I want a place out in London as well because I like the vibe out there. It’s all about the vibes.

MARCUS: One thing that I really love about Beach House 3, is that it’s got a really good balance between celebratory good times, and melancholy moods. How do you get that balance right?

DOLLA $IGN: You just make a whole bunch of songs. We made “Message In a Bottle” and I thought, “This is hot I want to start from this point. Then after that, me and Poo Bear got in the studio, who I’ve known for a long time, but I wanted to work with him and finally we were able to lock in some time last December and we did “Famous”, “Side Effects”, and “So Am I” with Damian Marley. It’s just like find great songs, and put them aside for the project.

MARCUS: Tell me about “Dawsin’s Breek”—are you a Dawson’s Creek fan?

DOLLA $IGN: [laughs] Yeah Dawson’s Creek was a dope show coming up in the 90s. We just called it “Dawsin’s Breek” because I said the line, “Ice on creek like I’m Dawson” and I couldn’t name it “Dawson’s Creek” because I didn’t have time to ask if I could clear it, I just wanted to drop the song. So I changed the spelling of Dawson and changed “Creek” to “Breek.”

MARCUS: There’s a lot of guitar on this record; for the past few years R&B has been mostly digital, do you think people want a more instrumental sound?

DOLLA $IGN: Yeah, my philosophy with this, I always tell people, is that instruments last forever. When you listen to a computer sound, those become ‘of a time.’ That’s when you hear people say, “This is dated, that sound is dead.” But you can always pull out an acoustic guitar, and electric guitar, a bass guitar, piano, orchestra, horns, that’s going to last forever. A drum set, that’s going to last forever. Yes, by the way people mix it you can put it in a time zone, but really that’s what makes classic songs to me, and I wanted to make a classic album with Beach House 3.

MARCUS: Tell me about the John Mayer collab, how did that happen?

DOLLA $IGN: How do you know about the John Mayer collab? [laughs] He hit me up on the Instagram under the “Love U Better” artwork. I’d been mentioning John in all my interviews, whenever people asked me what artist I wanted to work with that I haven’t worked with. When he did that, obviously I just went fucking crazy wherever the fuck I was at the time, and I hit him back and was like, “Yo, I want to come to your show when you come to LA,” and he was like, “Cool.” He set it up for my team to come through; we went to two of his shows, and a day later I knew he was still in LA so I hit him up and was like, “Yo, I’m in the studio pull up if you got some time.” And he came through solo. I was like “Wow you ain’t got nobody with you? No guard nothing?” And he was like, “Nah I’m good!” and we just vibed out, talked, chopped it up. I played him some records, he got in a booth and hopped on my song “Famous”, he played guitar and did some vocals and ever since then we’re friends. He’s an incredible dude, musically and as a human being.

MARCUS: You have a unique image, I think, as a combination of mainstream pop appeal with an edgier playboy side—how do you perfect that balance?

DOLLA $IGN: I feel like from when I first came in I was always against the original R&B thing, and that’s why I got accepted. I don’t want to diss anybody or make anyone feel weird but like, you know the R&B thing; it’s like a silky, softer vibe, it’s those dudes. Not to say that you ain’t gonna get a Bobby Brown that’ll come knock your shit out and still dress like that, you know what I’m saying? [laughs] But for me, I’m completely different from that, I’ve always kept my Dickies, my t-shirt, my Vans, I’m a whole new breed. I feel like there’s so many other artists out there, and now there’s the internet and we can chose what we want, you don’t have to be anything, you can just be yourself. I would say I’m one of those; I’m one of the guys that tell people it’s okay to come as you come, just be yourself.

MARCUS: I have to ask, there’s lots of tabloid articles recently about your relationship with Lauren [Jauregui] from Fifth Harmony; I was wondering if there was anything you wanted to say about that?

DOLLA $IGN: Lauren is incredible, I always tell everyone who asks this. I like to keep my personal life personal, and it’s like that.

MARCUS: Over the last two years, since you released FREE TC, obviously the political situation in this country has only gotten crazier. Are there any thoughts you want to share on criminal justice in America today?

DOLLA $IGN: It’s nice to see people get together and rally for what’s right and I think what Free TC did more than anything was, raise awareness for people that are going through injustice across the world. Everywhere I go people come up to be and are like, “Yo Free TC, that’s so cool what you did for your bother.” And some of them are like, “You know I’m going through the same thing, one of my family members or one of my friends is going through the same thing, so I love that you did that, you’re a real one for that.” And that’s all that my brother cares about. After we dropped Free TC he got pretty jail famous, to the point where POs were trying to take pictures with him and get autographs and shit, so they called us Islamic radicals and shit and locked him up for three months, like on super lockdown, then moved him to another prison. But we’re just out here making good music and that’s all it’s really about man, spreading love, light and positivity, we ain’t trying to do no crazy shit we’re just trying to make people come together and enjoy life. Whether it be when our song is on or when we’re on stage, that’s what I’m here to do, inspire people.