Ty Dolla Sign is a complicated man, but long ago realized the importance of portraying a simple one. If you look at the above still from the “Blase” video, you probably understand everything Ty wants you to know. He’s shirtless, rocking the Piru ‘Pac bandanna, surrounded by a cabana of groupies to satisfy our most pluralist aspirations. A picture is worth a thousand ratchets.
If that isn’t self-evident enough, there’s the line where Ty croons, “I got ho’s, I got ho’s….in different area codes. I think I’m Nate Dogg.” This is pretty much the entire Dolla Sign aesthetic at its most THC-crystallized form. Since “My Cabana,” he’s had ho’s. Since “Toot It and Boot It,” he’s had hooks. Since his first musical forays as one-half of Ty and Kory, he has carefully cultivated his image as the most soulful man at the strip club. With Nate Dogg posted up as the new St. Peter and T-Pain on ayahuasca, that leaves the lane to Tyrone Griffin.
Beyond these easy binaries, there is a much more nuanced version of Ty Dolla Sign. He’s the son of the keyboardist from Lakeside, a McGyver musician who could make a song out of a coffee cup, three quarters, an empty bucket, an empty bucket hat, and a blunt. When I interviewed him, he begged me to put him in touch with Madlib — arguably his favorite musician of the last decade. There is more than meets the studded leather Clash jacket. In fact, he could probably wax eloquently on wax about the subtle political differences between the Joe Strummer and Mick Jones songs.
So it’s possible that you might have been expecting more from the first semi-hit single from Free TC. We’ve been waiting for the first official major label record from Ty since “My Cabana,” which came out so long ago that Skrillex has gone through being cool to uncool, before learning how to properly utilize Justin Bieber (no Lil Za). It’s a strange world with a byzantine major label system that could drive almost anyone insane, especially a virtuoso who perplexingly had to dumb it down to get people to take him seriously.
Ty needed to release a clutch of mixtapes, briefly join Taylor Gang and distance himself from that wave, survive the ratchet era, and create daylight between him and Mustard and Y.G. (without splitting up) — all in the last four years. He’s had to land multiple singles on radio and attempt to sustain a buzz that probably hit its zenith around “Paranoid” — his lone single to crack the Top 40. And while it’s cool that Kanye anointed him the Billy Preston of the McCartney sessions, it doesn’t appear like Swish is going to come out anytime remotely soon and help the cause.
So for Ty to deliver, he needs a radio hit to help sell albums, lest he wind up as a one-and-done major label artist or merely the best left-coast hook sanger since Nathaniel Hale. These are perilous times for album sales unless you have a #Hive willing to spend $10 on your record as a token of gratitude, or you are a mono-eyed amateur chemist from New Jersey who has won over America’s stoves. And it’s clear that there is something factory-assembled in a song that brings together Nayvadius Christ, Rae Sremmurd, and DJ Spinz on production. Same goes for the other singles, including the West Coast Gangsta play (with YG and Mustard), the pop play (with Charli XCX), the Let Me Grab the Hottest Artist Out Play (Fetty), and the EDM play (“Stand For” w/ Diplo, which actually should’ve been a Top 10 hit but nothing ever makes sense).
If Ty made a million by bridging the gap between Hard Festival and the hood, this basically plays like it was created after reading GQ’s Magic City story. But it’s been out since June and only now getting the single push and video in the run up to Free TC. I admittedly mostly ignored it when it first dropped, but it’s been steadily growing on me to where it’s probably my favorite radio single. It’s still in the outer rungs of the Hot 100, but climbing and when I heard it in LA out the last two weekends, it got a bigger reaction than almost any song.
The video helps. The grainy VHS quality might come off like a sub-Raider Klan, but it gives it the sleazy 90s porn vibe needed. Future’s voice sounds like it’s been rinsed with razor blades, offering the requisite blase blase. We’ll never understand why anyone would want 100 bottles of Rose, but you’re not supposed to think too hard about this. It’s a nonchalant party song to inspire behavior that you’ll regret the next day. Therefore, it might be timeless. It also has Sway Lee calmly rapping while eating Chinese food in Chinatown, making it easily the greatest Chinatown moment since the Migos’ “Chinatown.” Then he hits a falsetto that sounds like he’s about to pass out.
The moral of the story is that sonic trends are forever in flux, but being black out drunk will never go out of season. This song works because Ty and Future seem aloof and uncaring to the point where you wonder if they’re actually exerting any effort. But that’s part of their charm. They don’t go to the bar to fight the mob, they have their drinks brought to them. And when you are going to get a song about being so liquored up and blunted that the room starts spinning, it’s wise to get a beat from a man whose name implies just that. Somewhere, Nate Dogg is smoking to this.