When you research the rise of Ty Dolla $ign, the contemporary R&B mastermind from South Central L.A., you'll learn that no matter how much he opens up, he cannot be pegged. Both pure and perverse, Dolla $ign (real name Tyrone William Griffin Jr.) offers a complex narrative that blurs the line between the message and the messenger. A quick Google search will find that his debut album, 2015's Free TC, stirred up some shit behind bars for his incarcerated brother, that he and John Mayer became collaborators through Instagram DMs, and that his first orgy was at his grandmother's house.
But the vision on 2017's Beach House 3 is direct. Dolla $ign will tell you that he's calmed down a bit. The meticulously calculated mischief on the record reveals an artist who reaches high without ever leaving the ground.
Ty Dolla $ign discusses fame, fatherhood, and why he's always turned on.
Metro Times: You're fresh into the Don't Judge Me Tour. Do you feel like you've been judged unfairly in the past? Are there any misconceptions you would like to clear up?
Dolla $ign: Yeah. Like, everybody is going to talk when you're doing something good because nobody wants to see you win if they're not winning. Whatever they're judging, it doesn't matter because I am me and I am happy. Everybody around me knows I'm a nice person to be around. That's all that matters. There are two different kinds of people in this world — good people and bad people. The Don't Judge Me Tour is for the good people.
MT: You've alluded to the philosophy of Beach House 3 as being a metaphor for success. Can you explain why that is?
Dolla $ign: When I was a child my mom and my dad would take me, my brother, and sister to this little beach community in Los Angeles. We would get out on this one empty lot and talk about this imaginary house we were going to build, and where my room was going to be, and where the kitchen would go, and why everything was going to be where it was so they would have certain views. And then my parents broke up. When they broke up all the dreams were gone and we had to start over.
I never forgot about those moments. That beach house and my music were these things that seemed impossible in the eyes of other people. Like, "You'd be better off getting a regular job. You're doing all this music but like, to me it's more of a hobby. Where's the money?" I used to hear that constantly. I stuck to my gut and my goals and I made the music thing happen. I got my first beach house and I'm looking to get another one. I just want to show everybody out there that whatever you want to do, it's going to happen. Don't listen to anybody else because they can't see your vision.
MT: Beach House 3 focuses heavily on the idea of fame. Is being famous at all what you expected? Is it hard to stay grounded?
Dolla $ign: My family, my fans — that's what keeps me sane and grounded. Just the love of making music — that's what it's about. It's not about the facade of what everyone else wants you to be, or what everyone else thinks you are, or who you date. It's been crazy. Over the last year, I finally got my first haters in the comments on Instagram and Twitter. It's funny because I never had haters. To see it now, it's weird because all of them who are talking don't even know me. Yet, they troll me. It's like they're obsessed. Shoutout to y'all. I see you. [Laughs.] Hopefully, you'll change over this year because it's nothing but positive vibes over here.
MT: One of the things people might get wrong about you is that you do not consider yourself a rapper, but a musician. Why is live instrumentation important in your brand of hip-hop?
Dolla $ign: I always try and pull out an instrument here and there — you know, sing some abstract riffs and runs. I've been lucky enough to fit right in the middle, where I get respect from the old crowds and the young people. When you listen to a song that is all digital, it puts you in a time frame. This is the early 2000s type vibe, this is the late '90s vibe. But when you listen to something by Isley Brothers, right? You could play that right now and it sounds new. Why? Because it's real instruments. It's real drums, keys, real bass. That shit will never die.
MT: You're a well-known admirer of the late producer J Dilla.
Dolla $ign: Yeah, man. Detroit's one of my favorite spots in the country to come to, and J Dilla is my favorite producer ever. I still listen to his stuff every week. Sometimes three days in a row. You know what? Last night, I was listening to this song by Black Milk, whose also from out there, and they're destroying it. I can't wait to call them and have them come to the show. I can't wait to play for y'all.
MT: You're a father, an activist, and have a reputation for being a bit of a playboy. How do you balance the hedonism you sing about and family life?
Dolla $ign: When I'm at the house or when I have family around, it's family time. As soon as some outsider walks in the room or I walk out the door I am automatically at work whether I want to be or not because somebody is always going to notice. Like, by the grace of God people notice and that's a blessing. But I've got to be on. I'm not going to act like I'm tired or act like I'm not happy to see them.
My daughter is 13 now and she's on my head like, "Yo, what's up. You got me shoes, you bought me this, but I just want to spend time with you." And the fact that she can say that now? Man. Last weekend she was out here on tour with me and she'll be with me this Friday. It's dope just being able to do that with her now because she's almost old enough.
MT: Is your daughter allowed to listen to your music?
Dolla $ign: I tell her to listen to the clean versions, her mom tells her to listen to the clean versions. I have the parental blocks on the iPhones and I can see what she's looking at and all that crazy shit. But I look at it like this. When I was her age, I first heard Bone Thugs, and Cube, and Pac. I used to go and skate up to the store and buy the CDs or the tapes, and when my mom found them she made me stomp them out. But when I went back to school, all the homies were playing it. It was everywhere.
Really, certain people will say if you listen to this type of music you'll turn out this way. Nah, man. Like I said, there's good people and bad people. You've got to raise your children right. People curse every day. People do fucked up shit every day. With all that being said, I'm sure she hears my music. Now, of course on Beach House 3 I've kind of cleaned it up from talking so crazy. At the same time, I'm maturing as a man. We're all human, man.
Ty Dolla $ign will perform at the Majestic Theatre on Tuesday, March 13; 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; majesticdetroit.com; Doors at 7 p.m.; Tickets are $29.50-$35.