Listening to Ty Dolla $ign’s vulgar, erotic music, he can come off as a shallow-minded individual. The 30-year-old MC waxes poetically about one-night stands, cuffing the next man’s chick and pulling on blunts of Mary Jane. Despite his seeming enjoyment of drug abuse and sexual trysts, there’s much more to Ty Dolla $ign than what’s presented on the surface.

For one, he’s a dedicated hustler. Back in 2010, the Taylor Gang signee garnered national attention alongside YG on the latter’s “Toot It and Boot It.” Then, the Rolling 20s Blood-turned-singer kept his momentum going by penning tracks for artists like Trey Songz (“Fumble’), YG (“Really Be Smoking and Drinking”) and Chris Brown (“Loyal”), among others.

Now, Ty Dolla is on the heels of his debut album, Free TC—dedicated to his brother Big TC, who’s serving a life sentence for murder. The L.A. native took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with about his brother’s case, the problem he sees with young Black men, President Obama and more.

EBONY: That “L.A.” track got you looking good out here. 

Ty Dolla $ign: It was the hook that got me. You know, sometimes you hear a song you and you be like, “Damn, I wish I wrote that sh*t.” It was one of those moments.

EBONY: Oh, so someone else wrote the hook?

TD$: Yeah, I’m not afraid to say somebody else wrote them sh*ts. I write other people songs. Recirculate it. It’s the music business. You can’t compromise that. If something’s dope, you got to go with it. When Kendrick heard it he was like, “Bro, I see it. I know exactly what I’m going to do.” And he hit me with the verse in the next 24 hours.

EBONY: This might take off better than “Blasé.”

TD$: That song has been playing on the radio in L.A. like every 45 minutes. That’s the first time that has ever happened with any of my records, even “Blasé.” So that sh*t is unexplainable. We finally got one. I’m praying that they love it all over the world.

EBONY: You’ve written songs for other artists. But what’s your take on rappers using ghostwriters?

TD$: It’s certain rappers that can really rap, that really spit all bars, so I understand why someone would say, “You not a real rapper.” But the main thing is, if you can make good songs, who cares? So I don’t know why guys be tripping on Drake. He makes great music. He’s dope. But Meek is hard, too. I hate that sh*t had to happen like that though. I like both of them.

EBONY: So how are things moving with your brother’s case?

TD$: Everything is happening exactly how God wants things to happen. Everything happens for a reason. Although things are happening, some things are still not right when you look at it. My brother did not murder that man. And a lot of people know it. You know, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, hanging out with the wrong crowd, everything that mom used to warn us about back in the day happened to my brother. God blessed us with all this money, so why not take the money and put it into my brother’s case? Talk about social and racial injustice in our country, and mass incarceration in our country? I’m not a preacher or Al Sharpton or none of that. But this kind of sh*t needs to be talked about.

EBONY: With your brother’s current situation, and you making it out of the hood, what do you see as the problem with many young Black males?

TD$: The one thing I notice with the young Black males in America is that they are misguided and worried about the wrong thing. Everybody wants to look like the rapper with the Gucci, the whole D-Boy swag. Everybody is just on the wrong sh*t. We just got to show leadership. It’s so much that you can be and it doesn’t have to be that, you know? We need a new leader. There hasn’t been any Kings or Malcolm Xs in a long time. That’s why I’m happy for rappers like Raury.

EBONY: Oh yeah, Raury touches on some important topics on his new album.

TD$: That’s all I’ve been on. I hit him the other day like, “Yo, that’s what we need, right there.”

EBONY: Was Big TC able to make the album?

TD$: Ye, he did. It’s a song called “Miracles,” and it’s featuring my little brother and his cellmate, D-Low. D-Low is beating on the bed for the drums, and my brother is singing. It’s amazing, bruh.

EBONY: What’s the song about?

TD$: It’s about all this sh*t that we’ve been through and we still right here making music together. Through whatever journey God take us through, we gon’ stay strong. We here, all 10 toes down, and that’s what we about.

EBONY: Did you do anything different on his album that hasn’t been done on your previous projects?

TD$: I got background singing on this album. People say background is played out. I’m like, “f*ck you, I’m doing what the f*ck I want to do.” I’m definitely on my wave right now. It’s just going far away from what everybody else is doing. Back in the day, you had the Isley Brothers, Earth, Wind and Fire, but all these guys had their own sound, they had their own band. It wasn’t like everybody going, “Yo Metro, give that same sh*t you did for Future, give me another ‘Paranoid.’ ”

EBONY: Have you learned anything new about yourself while recording this project?

TD$: I learned that I can just do what I want. I got my own sound. I’ve never conformed to the structure, and I advise everybody out there to do their own thing. That’s what music is about. That’s what I’m doing on my album.

Darryl Robertson is a senior at St. John’s University. He’s passionate about hip-hop and Black history, and he’s a voracious reader. After getting his Ph.D. in African-American History, Robertson plans to become one of the leading voices on issues concerning our community.