Rapper Ty Dolla $ignis having a great time.
The 30-year-old rapper (born Tyrone Griffin, Jr.) is currently on tour with Future, following the November release of his album “Free TC” from Atlantic Records. Both the L.A.-based artist and his tour mate have worked with the likes of Chris Brown, Curren$y and Jeremih and consider each other old friends. “He’s a super cool, super talented dude,” Ty tells us before taking stage at Reading's Santander Arena. “I’m glad we’re doing this together. Every night's been a party so far."
On a personal level, his life is more complicated. The new album’s title is in reference to Ty’s brother, vocalist Big TC, who is currently imprisoned for a murder he claims he did not commit. Tracks like "LA” featuring Grammy winner Kendrick Lamar speak to the subject of the levels of mass incarceration amongst African-American males.
"Haven't seen my brother in a minute; what else can I do, but comment on it," says the rapper. "Not everybody has that opportunity."
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Ty has also taken his brother's story and his family's struggle beyond “Free TC” and into the community, where he hosts speaking engagements about wrongful incarceration. "I've gone into schools, juvenile halls and boys-and-girls clubs to try and give them hope, some alternatives. There's nothing else to do in our communities than to get up to dumb s—t. I come from that same place, man. There are possibilities."
Being a role model and a community leader was not something that he imagined for himself, but he says decidedly, “Sometimes whether you imagine that gig or not, you have it. So why not do some real good?"
Lest anyone think “Free TC” is purely gloomily politicized, there's more than a little romantic soul – 90s style – as Ty enlists the help of R&B crooners Babyface, Jagged Edge and R. Kelly on several cuts.
"I didn't want this album to be all preachy and sad," he explains. "I didn't want to bore people or look for sympathy. The soul stuff? I grew up listening to R. Kelly and these guys. My pops always played me Babyface records. Besides, before this record, people knew me for club music."
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Ty wanted to show off his versatility on his debut album, that he could play bass and guitar as well as arrange the record's strings sounds. "Everybody does the laptop thing. I wanted something different, timeless, something that would last years from now — like putting on the Isley Brothers or Earth, Wind & Fire."
Kanye West also appears on “Free TC” on the track "Guard Down" which also features Diddy. In return, Ty appears on West's controversial “Life of Pablo” on the song, “Real Friends.”
Rather than seeing West as difficult, Ty has nothing but love for his fellow artist. "That new album of his sounds as dope as s—t to me. I've always been a fan of his back to the beginning. And he was totally cool with me as well — going back-and-forth on each other's tracks. I'm sure we're going to do more songs together in the future."
If you go:
Saturday, Feb. 27 at 8 P.M.
311 W. 34th Street, New York, NY
Sunday, Feb. 28 at 8 P.M.
The Fillmore Philadelphia
29 E Allen Street, Philadelphia, PA
Sold Out, 215-309-0150