There’s a secret behind the last three decades of pop music: Writer-producers run the show. This is partially a numbers game — Whitney Houston had an inimitable voice, but Babyface had a hand in over 200 R&B hits, so who exerted more influence over the direction of a genre? When it turns out that, like Babyface, gifted writer-producers can also sing well, that only helps their cause.
Enter Ty Dolla $ign, a triple-threat capable of writing for stars (see Rihanna’s “FourFiveSeconds”), jumpstarting singles with guest appearances (Fifth Harmony’s “Work From Home”) and making his own solo hits (“Paranoid”). He’s an expressive singer with an interest in the throaty drama that characterized R&B in the Nineties, and he’s helped encourage the genre to share his vision by writing and singing for just about everyone and anyone. It’s working — in June alone, Ty’s voice or writing appeared on albums by several of the biggest stars on the planet: Kanye West, Beyonce and Jay-Z, and Drake.
The same month, Post Malone’s “Psycho,” which benefits from a gummy Ty verse, hit Number One on the Hot 100. At the time, Ty was holed up — where else? — writing new songs. “I’m always in a studio at all times,” he says, and he has no interest in slowing his pace: “Me and my other homie just made a whole album together on the tour bus the first week of the tour.” He also has a full-length collaborative album in the works with Jeremih, which was originally supposed to come out in July before the release date was pushed back.
Speaking with Rolling Stone over the phone before a performance, Ty looked back on his summer of ubiquity.
Drake, “After Dark”
A late highlight of Drake’s Scorpion album is “After Dark,” a lusty cut indebted to early 2000s R&B radio hits — think Marques Houston or Donell Jones. “[Drake] just sent me the beat and his hook and told me, ‘Whatever you hear, go in,'” Ty says. “I sent it back and he hit me like, ‘Yo, bro, this is magical.’ But I don’t know what he’s gonna do. The next thing you know, the tracklist comes out, I see my name, I’m like, ‘Oh yeah! We in there!'”
“It’s been a long time coming with me and Drake,” Ty continues. “We been talking about doing music since when I put out ‘Or Nah.’ He was supposed to send back a verse for that, but instead, Weeknd sent back a verse. That was dope – shout out to Abel. He’s one of the best in the game as well. I’m proud to see his growth. But it was great to finally get in with Drake.”
Kanye’s Ye and Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E.
Frantically creative recording sessions preceded the release of Kanye West’s Ye, Kid Cudi’s Kids See Ghosts and Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E., all of which featured vocals from Ty. “The stuff with ‘Ye, I’m going off on the backgrounds, no Auto-Tune,” Ty says. “With me and Teyana Taylor, I’m singing in a way that lets you know for sure there’s no rapper involved.” The intense pace of these recording sessions meant Ty had to keep inventing new melodies without repeating himself, which would trip up many singers with more limited gifts. “Does it look like it was challenging?” Ty jokes. “Hell motherfucking no.”
Beyonce and Jay-Z, “Boss”
The Carters’ Everything Is Love included a song originally co-written by Ty several years ago. The album release caught him by surprise, just like everybody else. “I didn’t know it was coming,” he says. “I thought [‘Boss’] was gonna be on Lemonade. Bey and Jay are both geniuses – they know what they’re doing, they know what time to drop whatever. Bey sounds amazing, and of course Jay is still one of the best ever.”
Christina Aguilera, “Accelerate”
Ty teamed up with Aguilera to make “Accelerate,” a crafty, buzzing single aimed at the dancefloor. Credit Kanye, who produced the song, for making it happen. “He asked me to come through and hop on a joint; next thing you know, the address they sent me to was her house,” Ty says. “She’s a legend. From that scene when she came out, she’s always been the best from that time. And she still smokes motherfuckers — people can’t step on stage with Christina Aguilera.”
Post Malone, “Pyscho”
Ty Dolla $ign reins in some of his trademark vocal flair on “Pyscho,” a tidy, eminently hummable pop hit. Why did it top the charts? “Because me and Post are good-looking,” Ty jokes. “You put a good-looking white boy and black dude together, you already know: Number One, let’s go.” And get ready: “There will be more where that came from,” he promises.
MihTy with Jeremih
Solo stars dominate headlines, but Ty is a master of collaboration. “A lot of people come out with songs that are solo, but you don’t know that behind the scenes there was eight niggas in the studio to make that song,” he says. “Fuck that – everybody can know… Me and Jeremih happened to be making a lot of songs, whether it was writing for other people or I’d use a feature from him and he’d use a feature from me. It ended up being 40 songs, so we’re like, fuck it, let’s put out a project.”