How K-Ci, Prince, and Skrillex influenced Ty Dolla $ign's new album

Stephanie Smith-Strickland
·5 min read

Illustration by Anne Latini for EW

The Musical Moodboard is a recurring EW feature where musicians run down the inspirations behind a new album.

Long before Ty Dolla $ign’s melodic vocals and signature harmonies were de facto feature material for those looking for a guaranteed banger, the Los Angeles-bred multi-hyphenate was already an obsessive student of the game. Hailing from a musical family (his dad was a member of the funk band Lakeside), it was only natural for young Ty to pick up an instrument, or, in his case, several including the bass guitar, drums, and keyboards. Since then, he’s gone on to collaborate with the likes of YG and DJ Mustard, developing a hybridized sound that sits at the intersection of contemporary R&B, hip-hop, soul, and alternative music. In fact, it was his just left-of saccharine vocals and pristine production on YG’s 2010 breakout hit “Toot It & Boot It” that helped catapult both artists to more mainstream success.

Following the positive reception of his Beach House mixtapes, and the release of his Billboard-charting album Beach House — which he followed up with MihTy, a sultry, tongue-in-cheek collaboration with R&B singer Jeremih — Ty spent time locked in the studio fine tuning his just-released third project, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign. He dropped the album’s lead single “Ego Death,” which includes Skrillex, Kanye West, and FKA Twigs, on July 1, and followed it up with the Nicki Minaj-featuring “Expensive” in August. But the singles are only a fraction its starry features: Kid Cudi, Post Malone, and Big Sean all make appearances. Through it all, the consummate music lover is wading into new and exciting waters while still leaning into enduring lifelong influences. He spoke with EW about the artists who figured into the making of the new record.

1. The-Dream and Tricky Stewart

One of Ty’s most enduring influences is also indicative of a very specific era in contemporary R&B. When asked, he unreservedly credits The-Dream and his longtime production partner, Tricky Stewart, for his current production style, which is heavily inspired by melodic transitions rather than taking full pauses between songs. “The-Dream’s first album Love vs Money was the first time I personally heard someone produce the first song to go into the next song, and then the next song, and then the next, all the way to the end with no skip," says Ty. "Ever since my first album I feel like I’ve modeled it off of that s--t.”

And while Featuring certainly bounces between moods and tempos, Ty feels that thoughtful transitions also add a sense of cohesion that can loop everything together, even if it appears to be sonically disparate on first listen. “I’ve been having a lot of people come to the studio and I’ve been noticing they’re doing the same things on their albums. I think that’s a really good thing.”

2. K-Ci

If you’ve ever heard Ty Dolla $ign’s mellifluous “ooh yeah,” then you’ll immediately recognize that it channels every smooth-talking, heartache anthem of 90s’ R&B. More than that, it is an homage to his admiration of K-Ci & Jojo, who as a duo, gave us classics like “All My Life” and “Crazy," and as Jodeci, gave us countless more. “K-Ci is one of my favorite singers of all time. That ‘ooh yeah’, that comes from K-Ci, you know what I’m saying?"

3. Prince

Few musical icons have left as indelible a mark on the course of musical history as the late Prince. As a multi-instrumentalist himself, Ty was inspired by the late singer from an early age. “Prince is one of my favorite artists of all time just as far as range and being able to do more than one kind of song,” he shares. His own career has followed much of the same path, seeing him collaborating with artists across a range of genres and spectrums. “The album has all of these different songs and features, it just shows all of the different vibes we can do and that’s definitely inspired by Prince. I also play guitar and I played a lot of it on this album like him.”

4. Skrillex

Enlisting Skrillex felt like a natural move to Ty as the duo collaborated before on the oddly festive break up ditty “Midnight Hour." Beyond that, the pair are just fans of each other as musicians. “Skrillex was there with us on the album,” explained Ty. “He’s one of my inspirations because I feel like he’s one of the greatest out there. As high as I put Dr. Dre and Kanye, I put Skrillex right there next to them when it comes to making beats and just being one of the best producers ever. He’s like Quincy Jones level, no cap."

5. Damn James!

Damn James! started as DJ Mustard’s engineer. Even then, he was an inspiration to Ty, whose songs he often worked on. The pair soon started making music together, finding their groove despite personal disagreements (of which there were quite a few), including a fallout with Ty and Mustard. “We had some differences and s---, but he did me a solid and hooked me up with DJ Fai, who is my new engineer. The whole reason [we] fell out is because he wanted to be a producer the whole time. He didn’t want to be an engineer; it was a waste of his time. He’s so talented.” For the new record, Ty recruited James as a producer “We killed the whole album together. I see superf---ing high levels coming for that guy."

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