Since Ty Dolla $ign first broke out in 2010, as the hook singer on fellow Cali artist YG‘s “Toot It and Boot It,” he’s been a near-constant presence in pop, rap, and R&B, whether on his own records or behind the scenes for others. The 34-year-old singer-songwriter-producer-multi-instrumentalist has established himself in a much more comprehensive way than his early rap-singing lothario persona let on, as a figure who has helped to define some of the era’s best popular music, even when he’s not on the mic.
Ty is known as an in-demand guest vocalist, having appeared as a featured collaborator on noteworthy tracks from Khalid, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Drake, and Post Malone last year alone. But he’s also worked on songs that, for whatever reason, don’t give him feature billing: maybe he’s credited as a producer, or a writer, or a backup vocalist, or all three, but his distinctively smoky voice isn’t taking the spotlight. Once you’re familiar with his signature sound—smooth, sleazy, and a little dangerous, blending old-school funk and R&B musicianship with slick contemporary sonics—it’s not hard to hear it in the songs he’s worked on.
Below, to complement our August cover story on Ty (and accompanying video) we’ve compiled 10 of our favorite songs that Ty was involved in writing, focusing on material in which he isn’t also a featured guest performer. (There’s more than enough in that category for a whole other list.) Ty has cited Prince as key influence: an artist who, in addition to playing several instruments and making his own records, also helped craft hits for Madonna, the Bangles, and Steve Nicks. Listening to the songs below, Ty’s claims to kinship with the Purple One don’t seem farfetched.—ISRAEL DARAMOLA
YG – “Really Be” (Smokin N Drinkin) ft. Kendrick Lamar / “Still Brazy”
YG is Ty Dolla $ign’s original muse. They charted for the first time together with 2010’s one-night-stand anthem “Toot It and Boot It”—one of ratchet R&B’s founding documents, which Ty co-wrote, produced, and recorded—and the partnership has continued on each of the rapper’s major label releases, and not just with billed features. That’s Ty behind “Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin),” the Kendrick Lamar collab on My Krazy Life, with its bass-and-breath beat and haunted one-line chorus; and Still Brazy’s title track, where bass, claps, Moog, and the three-word hook, “That shit brazy,” anchor the rapper’s statement album. YG’s music is where Ty reminds us of his fluency in the minimal Mustard Sound he helped birth, and expands its possibilities. —TOSTEN BURKS
Chris Brown – “Loyal”
In 2014, DJ Mustard was the most important producer in hip-hop, and threatening to overtake pop as well. That year, the Los Angeles wunderkind oversaw one of the best rap studio full-lengths of the decade—YG’s My Krazy Life—and enough crossover hit singles to be counted on two hands: Jeremih and YG’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em,” Tinashe’s “2 On,” Big Sean and E-40’s “I Don’t Fuck With You,” Trey Songz’ “Na Na,” Ty’s own “Paranoid,” and more. There were also a few Mustard-wave hits, monopolizing Clear Channel playlists at that time, for which the man himself was not actually responsible. Other than Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” the most notable forgery of the year was Chris Brown’s Top 40 juggernaut “Loyal,” produced by the then-rising L.A. producer Nic Nac.
If Brown’s tribute to stealing the girlfriends of less affluent guys didn’t have Mustard manning the controls, it did have something perhaps even more crucial to pop success: the hook-writing chops of Ty Dolla $ign. You don’t need to squint and pore over the absurdly long list of songwriting credits to know whose fingerprints are all over this hook: its conversational phrasing and careful melodic contouring could be no one’s but Ty’s. What started as a home-recorded sketch found new life when he brought it into a studio session with Nic Nac and B.o.B. “I recorded this shit in my living room,” Ty told FACT in 2014. “So I didn’t know it was gonna get played like crazy everywhere. But I guess now, shit, all the songs we’re doing are pretty great, so, God is good.” —WINSTON COOK-WILSON
Rihanna, Kanye West, & Paul McCartney – “FourFiveSeconds”
The names at the front of “FourFiveSeconds” present quite a draw on their own, before you know anything else about the song itself. Glancing through the credits reveals a little more: the presence of Ty Dolla $ign as a songwriting contributor. As a low-key acoustic ballad with a straightforwardly charming hook, it’s not the sort of thing you’d expect Ty to be involved in making (or Ye and Rih for that matter), but its sense of craft and concision betray his involvement. “FourFiveSeconds,” is an outlier here, providing a glimpse at the breadth of Ty’s dexterity as a musician. —I.D.
Kanye West – “Real Friends” and “Fade”
In recent years, as Kanye West has embraced a sort of auteurism-by-committee approach to making albums, Ty Dolla $ign’s soulful vocals and sophisticated musicianship have been central to his music. Their collaboration, which touched nearly half the songs on ye and will seemingly extend to Kanye’s as-yet-unreleased next album, began in earnest on The Life of Pablo‘s “Real Friends” and “Fade,” both of which Ty sang on and cowrote. On the former, he’s limited to interjecting and harmonizing, adding pathos to Kanye’s tale of alienation from his pre-fame friends and family, like a desolate contemporary update on the role a chipper soul sample might play on an earlier Kanye record. On the latter, he’s even more present as a vocalist than Kanye is, offsetting the rigid staccato rhythms of the house-indebted production with his fluid melodicism. Both songs provide a preview of a dynamic that would be further developed across the Wyoming albums. Kanye’s late music often has the compositional sensibility of an unfinished sketch and the emotional affect of a glacier on the horizon; Ty is a craftsman of easy elegance and luxuriant texture, whose voice reliably finds the pained human center of even the most debauched or nihilistic premise. In a period marked by inconsistency for Kanye, the tensions between these poles—rough and smooth, distant and present—have made for some of the most resonant moments. —ANDY CUSH
Drake – Jaded
It’s easy to scoff at many of the tracks on Drake’s bloated 2018 album Scorpion, “Jaded” included, full of it is of Drake’s trademark vacillations from needy to bratty and back. However, perhaps because of Ty Dolla Sign’s contributions, it has a passion and musicality and that are often missing from Drake records. When the Toronto-bred superstar tries his hand at more melodic tracks, he often attempts to make up for his unremarkable singing by upping the diaristic vulnerability to an uncomfortable degree. But here he’s a little cooler, settling into the crevasses of the sinister, drawn-out production. He’s basically doing a Ty Dolla impression, and works. Even B-grade Ty makes for a pretty good song. —I.D.
Teyana Taylor – “3Way”
The many hours Ty logged for Kanye West in Wyoming in 2018 produced one stop-everything moment: a crescendoing, percussion-less (unbilled) duet with Teyana Taylor that details threesome instructions with the pace, harmonies, and quivering flourishes of a post-sermon church ballad. It takes a sense of drama to sell lyrics like, ”I’ma take off my skirt / Then she gon’ touch me right there / Then it’s gon’ be your turn,” and Ty finds a perfect foil in Teyana, for whom he’s content to play backup. The spare arrangement lays the foreplay bare, while the direct lyrics feel like they were improvised bedside, where it’s easy to imagine Ty concocting his best ideas. His gospel raunch so often plays at club tempos, but here we get to see it sprawl. —T.B.
Beyonce & Jay-Z – “Boss”
On the whole, Everything Is Love, the collaborative album from Beyoncé and Jay-Z, doesn’t really live up to the hype that awaited its arrival, offering a few therapy sessions and some image rehabilitation for America’s royal couple in place of actual musical interest. But there are a few songs that shine bright, most notably “Boss,” which comes with a songwriting assist from Ty Dolla $ign. “Boss” has real funk, and a pleasing sense of the theatrical, as Jay and Bey swagger through the track with convincing vigor. In addition to his chords and melodies, Ty is generally able to impart some of his own cool easy confidence to the musicians who perform his material. That impressive ability is very much in play here, making “Boss” one of the few moments from Everything Is Love that doesn’t feel a little hollow and performative.—I.D.
6lack – “Switch”
6lack has a knack for polishing the melodic rap balladry and tortured romance of his stranger Atlanta colleagues into sleek R&B that can fit on the same playlists. One might say his thin voice lends his music an everyman quality; it also makes Ty’s presence on 6lack’s single “Switch” quite welcome. Ty co-wrote the song and contributes husky harmonies and call-and-response embellishments that don’t divert attention from the ostensible star. An unseasoned ear might miss Ty’s presence, but “Switch” would feel hollow without him. Whether or not he penned 6lack’s dense phrasing, this rap&b style is his baby. –T.B.