By Paul de Revere
Tyrone Griffin Jr., better known as 28-year-old Los Angeles singer Ty Dolla $ign, is a hip-hop rarity. First, Griffin is actually a triple threat: a singer, producer and rapper known for “My Cabana” featuring Young Jeezy and his most recent single “Paranoid” with B.o.B off his latest Beach House EP. The EP is Griffin’s major label debut and a condensed iteration of sorts stemming from his Beach House mixtapes.
Second, as a producer, Ty Dolla $ign is a breath of fresh air in that he plays elements of his beats live rather than programmed.
“Bringing that sound with the snaps and 808s and the hi-hats was refreshing to people,” he said. “We’re making it loose again… I always like natural-sounding s**t better than computerized ‘boop boop.’”
Not that Ty Dolla isn’t down with some boop boop. But with his musical background, his affinity for the analog makes sense. Griffin’s father, Tyrone Griffin Sr., was a session musician for ’80s funk band Lakeside (of “Fantastic Voyage” fame). The funk tradition of the dominant bass line, eschewing programming for a human groove is one thing that sets Ty Dolla $ign’s sound apart from the pack, putting him next to a select few producers in the rap game (Mannie Fresh, Kanye West) that emphasize session players over digital sounds.
“Sometimes I listen to the rock stations and I get jealous,” said Ty Dolla, who listens to KROQ (a Radio.com station) regularly in his native Los Angeles. “Those people are really doing music and really having fun… The feeling of that is so much more rewarding than doing s**t on a laptop, you know what I mean?”
But Ty is a dabbler. His recent dabbles in EDM have put him at the forefront of where EDM and mainstream rap music are starting to meet. His 2013 banger “My Cabana” (produced by D.R.U.G.S., who sampled Zedd’s remix of Skrillex’s “Breakn’ a Sweat”) was one of a only handful of singles in his field embracing EDM sounds in recent years. He’s even doubled down on it, cutting an as-yet-unreleased collaboration with Atlantic Records labelmate duo Icona Pop.
“Their producers and I did that about a year ago now,” he said. “They had a song they wanted me to get on. They [cut] it and said I could have [the track]. I’m just waiting on the right time to drop it because it doesn’t sound like the rest of my s**t. It’s next level. On some 2040 s**t.”
So when can we expect that next level? Griffin said he has plans for one more mixtape release before his full length, for which his recent Beach House EP works as a “teaser,” he said, or “like a long-a** promo single.” At more than 33 minutes and seven tracks, Beach House pushes the typical running time of extended players.
But with his melding of human-played funk and sampled EDM, Ty is definitely one to push limits.