food & conversation with Ty Dolla $ign

words and photos by Andres Tardio

Ty Dolla $ign knows how to make an entrance. On a rare overcast day at West Hollywood’s E.P. & L.P. eating house and rooftop bar, the Los Angeles crooner smoothly backs into a parking space, dipped inside of a classic 1964 Chevrolet Impala, black with chrome details. Almost as if he were in a slow motion movie scene, Dolla steps out of the sleek ride with Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui by his side. The night before, they attended a Halloween listening party in matching costumes. She dressed up as Alice, while he was the Mad Hatter.

Today, Tyrone William Griffin Jr. is dressed down in a green skull cap, white Liberaiders hoodie, jeans, and black Vans Old Skool sneakers. He saunters into the restaurant and meets Louis Tikaram, executive chef at the Asian fusion hot spot, for a tour through the kitchen. Listening attentively, Dolla gets wide-eyed when he sees the preparation behind the counter. “I thought my shrimp fried rice was fire,” he says. “But the way my buddy’s making it here takes it to whole different level.”

Upstairs, on the rooftop overlooking the Hollywood Hills and La Cienega’s free flowing traffic, Dolla lights up a blunt. Smoke escaping his mouth, he wonders what goes on up here, where seats are arranged neatly on a rooftop parking garage. Sitting down in one of the chairs, he learns that it’s set up for a Melrose Rooftop Cinema night, perfect for viewing classic films under the evening’s warm breeze.

“John Mayer is probably my favorite artist living. From the first album all the way until now, he’s one of the best to do it.”

Ty’s relaxed nature doesn’t give way to the fact that he recently released his sophomore album, Beach House 3, which includes a bevy of collaborations, including John Mayer, a bucket list artist he’s been striving to work with. “He’s probably my favorite artist living,” explains Ty. “Songwriting, vocals, guitar playing, production, just taste. From the first album all the way until now, the growth and the consistency, he’s one of the best to do it. Me and my girl went to his concert in L.A. and that shit was so fucking crazy. He’s the one, not the two. He speaks the guitar language.”

Mayer’s fingerprints are on “Famous,” the opening song off BH3, but his name isn’t listed as a featured artist. “We’re not doing this to try to sell Ty Dolla $ign featuring John Mayer,” he explains. “Plus, it’s not like he was doing a full verse. He played guitar and he did some vocals on there. We just collabbed. He’s a real musician. I respect anybody out here who’s doing this shit for the love of the music and not trying to be famous.”

When it comes to his relationship with Jauregui — who he collaborated with on BH3‘s infectious “In Your Phone” and on 5H’s “Work From Home” — he remains coy. “I like to keep my private life private,” he says, sitting beneath a neon sign that reads “Where Love Lives.” “I’d like to say shoutout to Lauren. You’re incredible. That’s it.” Later, he would confirm the romance rumors on “The Breakfast Club” and call her his “love” on Snapchat.

With a feast in front of him now, Ty can’t wait to try some bites. Chef Tikaram has presented him with Lou Dogg’s Crispy Skin Chicken, with its crunchy deliciousness, and Check Yo Neck, wood grilled lamb neck with lettuce herbs and chili jam. There is also the E.P. vegetable fried rice with rock shrimp, the same one Ty alluded to earlier, and the flavorful scallop and mussel curry.

Dolla is no stranger to cooking. “I can kind of throw down,” he says, proud of his salmon, but his skills pale in comparison to those of his late grandmother. “After she passed away — no disrespect to anybody else in the family — it was just never the same,” he says, remembering her beloved peach cobbler. “The whole dessert game fell off after my grandmother passed away.”

“I just grew up as a man, as an artist. I made it clear that Ty Dolla $ign is not a rapper. I’m a singer.”

Dolla spends most of his time cooking in the studio. In order to make Beach House 3, he worked with an array of creatives, including Mike WiLL Made-It, The-Dream, Skrillex, Mike Dean, and DJ Mustard, usually crafting a slew of bangers in one sitting, often leaving them on the cutting room floor. “I’m just going in different studios,” he explains of his process. “Getting different vibes, doing like 20 songs here, 30 songs there.” Thanks to his prolific output, he has enough to create multiple joint projects, including MihTy with Jeremih and 24 Dollars with 24hrs. He even has music ready for an anxiously-awaited effort with longtime friends YG and DJ Mustard, though there’s more work to be done.

“We get together at 1 a.m. and leave the studio at six and do a couple of joints,” he says of their usual work routine. “They’re all fire as fuck but then we just leave them in the computer and then ni**as get tired of them or some shit. We just need a solid week or three days, really. Three days back-to-back, I guarantee you we’ll have a fucking solid album. We just need that time.”

There’s another artist on Ty’s wish list. “I would love to work with Kid Cudi,” he reveals. “We share the same drummer. I’m sure it’s gonna happen soon. We met a couple of times. We talked on Twitter a couple of times. It’s coming. Dolla $ign and Cudi.”

But for now, he’s happy with the way 2017 has unfolded. Debuting at No. 11 on the Billboard 200, Beach House 3 is already his highest-charting offering yet. Plus, he’s proud of the way it showcased his skills. “I showed my ass,” he says. “I did a lot more singing. A lot more melodies. The lyrics got better. I just grew up as a man, as an artist. I made it clear that Ty Dolla $ign is not a rapper. I’m a singer.” ◽️