“It’s Like Hell”: Ty Dolla $ign Discusses His Brother’s Incarceration and Its Role on His Album ‘Free TC’
By Eric Sundermann and Kyle Kramer | vice.com
September 24, 2015
VICE is exploring America’s prison system in the week leading up to our special report with President Obama for HBO. Tune in Sunday, September 27, at 9 PM EST, to see his historic first-ever presidential visit to a federal prison.
Some of hip-hop’s biggest stars—Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Jeezy—appeared on Los Angeles rapper YG’s breakout 2014 album My Krazy Life, but the album’s most arresting feature was tucked away, quietly, on an interlude called “Thank God” that didn’t even feature YG himself. “And I thank God for never leaving me alone even when I’m on my own,” a smooth, plaintive tenor croons, a cappella. It’s an incredibly powerful moment, made even more powerful by the story: The vocalist is named Big TC, and he recorded his vocals from prison.
TC is Los Angeles singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist/all-around musical genius Ty Dolla $ign’s younger brother, and he’s currently incarcerated on a life sentence for murder—wrongfully so, according to Ty. The YG album is perhaps TC’s most high-profile appearance, but he’s been working with a number of artists, according to Ty, who has the phrase “Free TC” tattooed across his knuckles. TC’s vocals can be heard on several of Ty’s songs, too. “In Too Deep,” from last year’s Sign Language mixtape, pulls TC’s flawless voice from another prison recording and layers it over lush, pretty piano instrumentation to create one of the most powerful songs on any Ty Dolla $ign release: “I said I’m leaving these streets / I’m in too deep,” he sings, chillingly, closing out the tape.