Tickets for Bryson Tiller’s first headline show in London sold out in five minutes, if that. Hours later, his somewhat obscure name was still trending on UK Twitter and an unfaltering outrage from fans flooded the timeline, prompting Tiller to add another two London dates to his European tour – both of which sold out just as quickly as the first. That’s a pretty impressive feat for someone who was still sleeping in his car trying to make ends meet just over a year ago.
In 2015, TRAPSOUL skyrocketed Tiller from a young Louisville native looking for a much-needed break, to a rising star known not only in wider America, but now overseas. The project was Tiller’s official debut and introduced him as an artist who is already comfortable blurring boundaries and experimenting with his sound.
“I’m an artist because I just do whatever,” Tiller explains. “I saw someone tweet sometime, ‘I don’t get Bryson Tiller, is he a rap artist or is he a singer?’ and I’m like ‘I’m just an artist.’ [I don’t have to define what music I make], which is why I like TRAPSOUL because it’s not even a real genre. It’s just genre-less.” TRAPSOUL also has a notable lack of features, making it a true introduction to Tiller and his unique artistry. “My team said it would be better if I just stand alone and make a name for myself,” he says. “I thought it worked great.”
Then again, if Tiller had wanted to include someone else on the TRAPSOUL tracklist, he admits that asking his peers for their input makes him a little nervous: “I’m kind of weird about asking for features because I feel like they might tell me ‘No’. So I just don’t ask. I keep doing what I do.” Unsurprisingly though, an abundance of artists have already been lining up to work with the 23-year-old star, eager to bring Tiller into their fold.
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One such artist who seized the opportunity to reach out to Tiller at the beginning was Drake, who reportedly made a bid to sign Tiller to his OVO Sound record label last year. However, after a lot of careful consideration Tiller turned the offer down in favour of a deal with RCA Records instead, which felt like a more stable business decision and gave him a “whole team” to work with. Even Drake’s producer, Noah “40” Shebib couldn’t argue with the deal RCA proposed and gave Tiller his blessing before the young star put ink to paper. There were certainly no hard feelings from the OVO camp. “[Drake] actually hit me a month after I didn’t sign to OVO and he invited me to the club so it was all love,” Tiller recalls. “We were sitting there listening to Future, standing on couches. We were actually talking about working together on some songs for TRAPSOUL, but it just didn’t happen… I know one day we’ll probably work. That would be a dream come true.”
Although a Drake collaboration didn’t come into fruition in time for TRAPSOUL, one massive name in music did manage to score a mention on the production credits: Timbaland. In fact, without the Virginia Beach super-producer the entire project, and Tiller’s foray back into music after a brief hiatus, may not have even happened. “If it wasn’t for Timbaland I probably would have never quit my job,” Tiller admits. “I couldn’t put my bills on anybody else who was telling me to quit my job. But when Timbaland called me, it was a whole different story. I was like ‘Alright, right away’.”
Rewind to 2011, Tiller was skipping school to record his first mixtape, Killer Instinct and struggling to find his way, not only in music but also in life. “I actually stopped going to school just to make [Killer Instinct],” he says. “It was a weird time in my life.” A couple of years later, Tiller turned 20 and found himself in New York with a friend, listening in on an exclusive studio session with Timbaland, who was busy at work on Jay Z’s chart-topping album, ‘Magna Carta… Holy Grail’.
“I told him I was from Louisville and Timbaland used to work with a group [from the same area] called Playa [that Static Major was in], so he was asking me some questions about that,” Tiller recalls of the twosome’s first conversation. “The next thing… he played us ‘Rocket’ by Beyoncé, right before her surprise album dropped. And then he played ‘FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt’ from ‘Magna Carta…’ and some stuff that nobody had ever heard. I’d never met a famous person at that time, so me being in a room with Timbaland was crazy.”
Tiller went back to his hometown and one year later, while working various jobs to provide for his new daughter Harley, including stints at UPS and Papa Johns, he dropped his breakout single: ‘Don’t’. Soon after uploading, Tiller removed the track from Soundcloud out of uncertainty. However, demand from friends and fans who’d already heard it persuaded Tiller to re-upload it in October 2014 and the streams very quickly stacked up. Not long after that, Timbaland caught wind of the song, and made a phonecall to Tiller that would change his life.
Recognition from his idols is something that is growing commonplace in Tiller’s career having received recognition from a number of his favourites now, including Omarion, Chris Brown and Fabolous. “Fabolous came to my first show in LA and then he remixed one of my songs,” says Tiller. “It’s crazy but it makes me happy when I hear [that other artists like my music.]” No doubt having Omarion as a fan of his music is pretty surreal too, considering the former B2K singer had such an influence on him growing up. “I would listen to [Omarion and Chris Brown] when I was like 14 coming up to 17. I still listen to them now. Omarion just played me some songs that were crazy… We’re definitely going to do something together. He’s been showing a lot of love.”
Being completely self-taught, listening to these idols was vital in Tiller’s development as an artist. “Listening to Omarion, he’ll do a crazy run and I’ll just be trying to mimic it,” explains Tiller humbly. “Or Tank, he’ll do a crazy run and I’ll just practise it all day, over and over until I get it right. And then I’ll go sing it for my little brother and he’ll tell me if I got it right or not. I’ve been doing that since I was 13.”
Hard work and practise are pillars of Tiller’s success this far, as well as support from his siblings, his friends and his church. Tiller’s mother passed away when he was 4 and his father was absent from his life until a few years ago, but the artist found a sense of belonging singing at his local church when he was younger and still holds it close to his heart. “I always wanted to go back to my church [when I made it],” he recalls, when asked how he spent his first pay cheque after getting signed. “They’re building this barn and they’re trying to make it like a youth centre with a stage for all the kids to go, so I donated like $16,000. I did that as soon as I signed my deal, it was something I always wanted to do.”
Tiller later mentions that he also bought a brand new car once he got signed, but any artist could give that answer, right? And Bryson Tiller is determined to not be put in the same category as just ‘any artist’.
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Words: Natasha Nanner (@natashananner)
Catch Bryson Tiller at this year's Wireless festival, or at the following UK shows:
28 London KOKO
29 London KOKO
30 London KOKO