10 steps to songwriting with ty dolla $ign
Self-medicate, sample and press save: the Paranoid hit-maker breaks down the art of crafting compositions.
Photography GL Askew II
Until last year, it would have taken a dedicated music geek to name LA's Tyron Griffin, aka Ty Dolla $ign. Fast forward to 2016, and he's officially hot property: collaborators include The Weeknd and Kendrick Lemar. He's wrapped a US tour with trap king Future and made appearances on Kanye's Real Friends and Fade. Queen Bey herself even proclaimed to be a fan.
How does he do it? Not wanting to give too many of his secrets away, we managed to solicit a few songwriting essentials from the mind of the rapper, producer and songwriter. From self-medicating necessities and sound quality, to throwing aside your ego and writing everyday, here's Ty's guide on to write a smash.
1. First things first...
"All I need is weed. I'm from LA, so I need that OG Kush."
2. Turn it all the way up...
"The right speakers are important. In my real studio, I use Augspurger monitors because those are the best. At the house, I have Yamaha NS10's and then I have the QSC's and the KRK's. I want a track switching between all the speakers, just to make sure it's exactly right. You can be anywhere and hear a hit record and know that's the one because the energy in the room will just change. It's always the one that comes right off the top; when I wrote Paranoid, I knew I had one. It felt like something that they did in the 90s, like Bell Biv DeVoe vibes."
3. Don't be afraid to sample records...
"I haven't sampled in a minute but on my next material that I put out, I'll be sampling. Records always inspire me. I'm staying at the Ace Hotel in London and they give you an acoustic guitar, a little turntable and a stack full of records. I was just playing this record and it started looping itself and I recorded it — I'm keeping this shit!"
4. Content is not always key
"I don't really pay attention to content. When the beat comes on, I just write to it. I try to do that eight or so times a day. The most songs I've done in one day is 13 and that's just doing the hook and the verse and I go on to the next song. Then I play it for all the homies and a whole bunch of girls. I don't ever ask them either, because I don't want to be 'Yes man'd'. So if I see people react to it or hear people say, "Yo what's that?' then I know I got one; I'll finish it, put the second verse and a bridge or a feature on it. Before I made Toot It And Boot It I thought too hard. I still think too hard and I'm still trying to accept the simple shit because I come from listening to like Nas and Jay Z and their crazy lyrics, so dumbing it down to simple shit is hard, but that's what gets the party going. It's cool to have both, so that right there is the difference in every song I wrote since. I realised I needed to stop trying so hard and I needed to just do me. That was definitely a life lesson."
5. Anything can happen at the night show
"I never thought about performing a song live when I was writing before, but now I'm always thinking, I want another Blasé. Because when Blasé comes on, the fucking whole club just starts jumping. My other songs are proper chilled but Blasé is like a fucking monster, so I'm thinking how can I create this again."
6. Always soak up your surroundings...
"Every time I go to New York, something crazy happens. Like the song, LA,with Kendrick on my album; we did that in New York. Just looking out of the window and seeing all the buildings, it's inspiring because then you think of Nas and Jay Z. I just want to appreciate it all."
7. Refine the art of collaborating...
"When I collaborate, I usually go in the studio with each artist and do what comes off the top of the head. Sometimes people send me some stuff or people ask me for a song, and I might just have a few already and we just go back and forth over the Internet. But Real Friends, that was just mad because one day I woke up and I heard it on Soundcloud like, 'Oh shit'. Shout out to 'Ye, that's all I'm going to say about that one. I haven't worked with Beyoncé yet, face to face and I haven't worked with Jay Z and those are some of my idols. John Mayer as well, I definitely need to do something with him, he kills it on guitar. The homie Kendrick sent me a pic of him and John Mayer playing together, so, you know, it might happen."
8. Drop the ego...
"I'm not afraid to take other advice from people. Like say I'm just vibing with you and I got some music on and you say something tight, I will use that - and I'll send you your percentage. Like Toot It And Boot It, that was from my cousin TC 4800 and my homie Nando who's now working for YG. They were like, 'Make a song called Toot It And Boot It'. I was like, 'What's that?' They were like, 'You know, when you fuck her and leave her' and I was like cool, I gave them both 5%. That happens any time I've done a song, whether it was the homeboys or the homegirls that give me their idea. Even with Blasé when I was in the studio with the homie, he gave me a line or two for my verse and I was like, that's tight. Most fucking rappers or singers are so up in their ego, they don't want to give it up to people that help them. Fuck that. I give credit where credit's due and you have the song credit."
9. Never stop writing (and keep it backed up)...
"I've got a studio on my bus so I've recorded a lot from the last tour that was with Future in the States, then I had one day off after that and jumped right back on tour here with Krept & Konan. So I've been recording for a month straight and my computer just kicked out and won't turn back on. I went to four Apple stores and they all told me nothing was wrong with my computer."
10. Envy keeps the creativity flowing...
"There's loads of songs I'm jealous of, but at the moment it's Jeremih, Pass Dat. I love that song. It's written by Starrah [Brittany Hazzard] and of course Rihanna's Work. I love that shit, it's gonna be on the radio for like three years straight, just watch. I mean you've got to be a badman to understand what she's saying."
@tydollasign plays at Fresh Island Festival 12-14 July
Text Nardene Scott