“Who is he? Motherf*cker, I’m him.”
By now, you’ve probably heard murmurs and mentions about some new kid named Bryson Tiller and his acclaimed project T R A P S O U L, and while you may not be completely familiar with his music, the Louisville SoundCloud star is on the path to becoming a household name.
It seems like he’s blown up overnight, but the 22-year-old singer/rapper’s bubbling music career has been a long time coming. Ever since the days of serenading young women in the hallways of his Louisville high school, Bryson knew he wanted to be somebody.
How was he planning on achieving such notoriety? Well, that’s another question, but his decision to post his breakout song “Don’t” on SoundCloud last October seems to be the definitive answer.
With over 28 million streams on SoundCloud, “Don’t” was the answer to all of Bryson’s growing problems. At the time, Bryson found himself in between homes, juggling multiple jobs, and chasing the insurmountable dream of becoming an international artist. And to make matters more complicated, Bryson was adjusting to life as a new father.
As life was coming at the “Sorry Not Sorry” crooner fast, Bryson focused all of his energy into recording music, and thankfully, it paid off – big time. After catching the attention of legendary super producer Timbaland and receiving an actual phone call from hip-hop mega star Drake, Bryson’s life hasn’t been the same.
Actually, nothing was the same.
Earlier this year, Bryson received the opportunity to sign with Drake’s OVO Sound label, but subsequently turned down the once in a lifetime offer to embark on his own unique soulful journey.
“Since I signed to RCA, great things are happening. It’s cool. I feel like I made the right decision,” he says. “I’m happy with the way things are going.”
The morning after performing two sold-out shows at New York City’s famed Sounds Of Brazil venue, I sat down with Bryson to discover how a relatively unknown internet star won over the hearts of millions, earned the respect of two hip-hop veterans, and leveraged backing from tech giant Apple Music.
Read about the life and times of Bryson Tiller below.
GlobalGrind: How does it feel for your dreams to finally come to fruition?
Bryson Tiller: Seeing everyone from last night [his New York Show] was crazy. My boy was there and we were talking about the last time I performed. The last time I performed I was at this club in Louisville and nobody showed me love at all. I mean it was a club, and they just wanted to turn up and every time someone wanted to perform they were like “ah, we gotta look at the stage now.” Everybody thought I was lip-syncing because my songs were so different from anything they’ve ever heard. They cut the music off on me and I had to sing a cappella. Only like three people screamed. It was crazy. So last night, we were just comparing and contrasting. Last night, he was like ‘Wow, bro. You really accomplished this.’ It’s amazing.
Take me back to Louisville. How did you grow up?
I grew up with my little brother and we were raised by my grandmother. I was an insider for real. I stayed in the house a lot, writing songs or playing video games, watching TV, or chilling with my girlfriend. It wasn’t until 9th grade that I got into music. This guy in school heard me singing around the hallway to girls and stuff. The girls liked it. One day he was like ‘Come to my crib. I got a studio. Come and record a hook for me.’ I recorded the hook on the “Lovers & Friends” beat – Usher. It got some mixed reviews, but I was just trying to get better and better.
So wait, you were in high school singing to groups of girls?
I was, which is kind of weird because I’m really shy. But somehow I did it.
How did you get over that shyness?
Man, I don’t even know.
If singing is something you like to do in private or something you covet, when did you feel secure enough to share that with other people?
When my little brother and grandma told me I could sing. I used to sing in church, too. Not like in the choir or anything, but for people around the church…on the church bus going home and Christmas plays.
What’s it like growing up in Louisville? No disrespect, but it’s kind of a random city. It’s sort of Midwest, but has a huge southern influence. What’s the culture of Kentucky?
There’s a lot of different vibes in Kentucky. A lot of people complain about Louisville and how they have to leave the city to have fun, but I guess most people’s idea of having fun is hitting the club or going to the beach, but me and him [points to best friend] we go snowboarding in the winter. Just a lot of fun stuff.
What kind of student were you?
You would think because I stayed to myself and I was shy that I’d be a good student, but actually I was a bad student. I was in detention a lot, mainly for cutting, being late to class. I was in tardy hall a lot. I hate the idea of homework. I don’t get it. When I get home from school, I just want to play video games. My grandma was so old-fashioned. She thought we were supposed to have homework every night. I would come home and she would be like ‘Where’s your homework?’ and I’d be like ‘I don’t have none.’ She’d be like ‘I’ma call your teacher.’
Why were you living with your grandmother?
My mom passed when I was four years old.
Sorry to hear that.
No, it’s OK. She had four kids and we all got split up, except my little brother and me.
Just amongst everyone in the family?
How have you dealt with her not being here when you’re experiencing all this success?
I have very little memories of my mom. But I wish she were here to live under chandeliers with us. I mention that on the project. She’s watching me from heaven, so it’s all good. I feel her presence sometimes…a lot of times actually.
On “Ten Nine Fourteen,” you mentioned the cosigns you’ve gotten from Drake and Timbaland, and the cool kids in high school who are trying to be your friend now that you’re hot. Take me back to the day when you wrote that song.
The day I wrote that song…I had a few bars here and there, but I got the beat from Sixth Sense. Originally I thought it was going to be an R&B song because I loved the sample so much. I was trying to sing on it, about love and stuff, but the song wasn’t working. Then I realized I didn’t have a song on my project talking about things I’ve been through. I felt like it was only right for the people who’ve been watching me through my journey to actually make a song about my journey. It just came together after that. I made that song right after “Overtime.”
Obviously, everyone’s been talking about you turning down Drake’s offer to join the OVO family.
What’s done is done and everyone kind of knows that backstory. I want to know what your conversation was like with Noah “40” Shebib. I heard he left it up to you to make a decision.
That’s why I f*ck with them so much, because they left it up to me. He was like ‘Whatever you want to do go ahead and do it.’ He wasn’t bashing the label or anything. He was just like, ‘Yo, we rarely do this. We rarely sign anybody.’ I was super grateful. We had a long talk. I wish that I was there by myself even though in the business you can’t technically be there by yourself, because then he would’ve really persuaded me to join the team.
Oh, and then Drake showed up. It was around the Coachella time and I thought he’d be busy and stuff. I was like ‘Wow, that’s Drake.’ He took me out back and showed me his pool. My managers kept telling me not to be alone with him, and I was like, ‘Why not, bro? I just want us to bond for a second.’
Have you kept in contact with Drake and the OVO crew since?
Yeah, Drake invited me to the club. I sent him my project and he hit me back and said he f*cked with it tough. We just talk here and there, every now and then.
How crazy is that though? Do you feel like you’re living in a dream?
Yeah, man. It really does. I always tell people I feel like I’m going to wake up and have to go clock in. It’s almost like a nightmare in that sense.
You mentioned that you’re a little naïve when it comes to the music business. Do you trust the people you have around you?
I’m happy with the way things are going. Since I signed to RCA, great things are happening. It’s cool. I feel like I made the right decision. I talk to God about it all the time. Drake wasn’t salty. Nobody was tripping because I didn’t sign to OVO. I know a lot of fans wanted me to sign to OVO, but nobody’s mad. We’re still going to make music. Drake and I will probably make music in the future.
Besides Drake, who are some artists that you want to work with?
I just got word that Jazmine Sullivan loves my project. I love Jazmine Sullivan. Me and him [points to best friend] I feel like we’re the only males that bump Jazmine. I want to meet her one day. I want her on my album. Kehlani’s dope. I love The-Dream, Kanye…when the time is right. It’s all about the timing.
When did you discover that you were good at rapping?
When I started doing music again. Right before “Don’t.” I put out “Don’t” one time. Actually, let me take it back to when I made the song. I played it for some people and some people loved it and others were like ‘Oh, ok.’ I was like forget this R&B stuff. I used to be terrible. When I started rapping and putting my emotions into it…I don’t know man. I just studied rappers and how they tell stories. I started listening to Jay Z. I got to experience some of his music off Magna Carta Holy Grail before anybody, because I met Timbaland during my first time in New York a few years back. He played me some music from that and off Beyonce’s surprise album. I’ve just gotten better at rapping.
Random: do you believe in aliens?
Yeah, I do. I believe in aliens. I actually saw an alien. I swear to God
Yeah. There are so many other galaxies out there. Do you watch Star Wars?
Yeah, I‘ve never seen a Star Wars movie in my life.
I can’t wait for the movie to come out.
Do you believe in love at first sight?
Have you fallen in love with a girl at first sight?
[Long pause] Ummm…nah. But I do believe it’s possible.
Do you believe in second chances?
Of course, second chances I do believe in.
Bryson’s best friend, who’s been relatively quiet during the entire interview, chimes in and says, ‘He’s petty though. Just on his part, not on her part.’
You have your petty turned up?
I do. I’m Petty Wap [laughs].
Give me an example of when you’ve been super petty.
If I go out here and talk to a girl and be friends with her behind my girl’s back and she forgave me for it…if she did the same thing, I wouldn’t forgive her for it.
You just told me you believe in second chances.
Yeah, but only on my part [laughs].
Sounds like you can be a little selfish sometimes.
I am sometimes, but I’m also very giving. I have my moments.
What are your fears associated with fame?
It’s crazy. I’m not used to people coming to see me. When we were downstairs in the green room I see all of these important people there to see me. I’m not used to that at all. If I were to throw a party two years ago, nobody would’ve shown up.
Does the attention make you nervous?
Are you happy?
I’m on a natural high right now. I’m really on a high. My homeboy came up to me like, ‘Yo, are you high right now?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, on life.’ [laughs] It’s amazing. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life.
Have you been back to Louisville recently?
How is that considering people wouldn’t even come to your shows there?
It was cool. I’m a forgiving person. I hold grudges, I’m not going to lie, but I hold grudges long enough to make somebody realize that they’re wrong. For instance, my baby mama’s momma. She was giving me a real hard time. Saying I was a bad father and all this crazy stuff. We were just really on bad terms…
How is your relationship today?
I realized I have to be a man. At the end of the day, she’s the only person I trust to watch my daughter. There’s nobody else on this earth that I trust to watch my daughter but her. So at my daughter’s second birthday I told her, ‘I love you. No hard feelings.’
She’s really happy for you now though, right?
Yeah. She gave me a place to stay when nobody else gave me a place to stay. It’s all good.
What do you want everyone to know about Bryson Tiller?
I truly believe that anybody can do what I’m doing. I don’t say it as a cliché. I really believe it
PHOTO CREDIT: RCA Records