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Stacy-Ann Ellis

Bryson Tiller: A Conversation In The Key Of 'T R A P S O U L'

Two years ago, Bryson Tiller was juggling two jobs, almost three, to make ends meet and provide for his then newborn daughter. As the universe would have it and his premature 2011 mixtape Killer Instincts cleverly predicted, Papa Johns and UPS weren't in the cards for the Louisville native.

On a gloomy Friday afternoon (Oct. 2), he's in New York celebrating the official release of his debut LP, T R A P S O U L, which Apple Music exclusively premiered a week early. Not to mention, Young Tiller is comfortably occupying the top of both iTunes and Billboard charts, a surprisingly low-key entrance into the big leagues by the 22-year-old who went from sleeping in a car to garnering over three million plays off of a single track he reluctantly uploaded to SoundCloud.

Both humble and wholesome, Bryson stopped by the VIBE HQ for a second time after giving us an early preview of his album. Even after listening to the LP in its entirety, there's still lots of things left unsaid from the the young man who willingly put his heart on wax. “I’m terrible at explaining my songs,” he admitted to VIBE. But still, a lot of questions remain unanswered like his thoughts on Drake comparisons and the relationship that fueled the album.

Here, the rising Louisville Rap&B hybrid gets real about the song that single-handedly catapulted his career and his journey. –Ashley Monaé

On “Let Em Know,” you say “nothing like those other n***as,” which some critics could say sounds familiar. How do you feel about the Drake and PARTYNEXTDOOR comparisons?
It’s a compliment, you know what I mean? People are always going to compare you to something they’re familiar with, especially when they first hear a new artist so it’s more of a lazy comparison. But I mean I do that sometimes, too, with artists that I love. I’ll be like, “Aww, this sounds like this,” and the more and more I listen to it, it doesn’t sound like anyone else. That person just sounds like himself or herself.

What do you think differentiates yourself from other artists?
My lyrics. I listen to a lot of songs and they aren’t talking about anything. I don’t connect with them. I’ll listen to something like Musiq Soulchild’s “Just Friends,” and I’m like, “Wow, I really feel what he’s talking about.” That’s how I want people to feel about my music.

 

The “Swing My Way” sample on “Exchange” is a definite standout on the project. Whose idea was it?
I got the beat in my email and made the song. I wasn’t hands-on in the production. I just got the beats.

What was the inspiration behind “For However Long?”
It’s about being in a relationship. You know, how a girl may think I’m out here wilding and messing with a whole bunch of girls because I’m getting popular or whatever, but it’s really not the case.

You seem to be the guy that loves to be in a relationship. What are your thoughts on monogamy?
I feel like every guy wants to be able to uphold that commitment to one woman but can’t [for some reason]. If there were a bone in my body that causes that, I would pay whatever amount of dollars to get that removed.

Last time you stopped by and played the album, you shared that “Don’t” is actually about you wanting to be a better man to your chick. What’s Bryson better at now, relationship-wise?
I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing in my relationship at that time. I was like, "What if someone was to try and step in the picture and sweet talk my girl?" I wanted to be that person I was singing about. Now, I’m a lot more expressive. I used to bottle up all of my emotions and never say anything. Even if something really made me mad, I’d be quiet.

“Don’t” has over three million plays on SoundCloud. Did you ever think that song would be so big? You kind of predicted it on Killer Instincts.
Naw, I didn’t. I actually uploaded it to SoundCloud twice. I deleted it and then a bunch of people were telling me I should put it back up. I uploaded it again on October 9, 2014. I mean, I feel like I could but I didn’t know exactly how it would happen and what I would have to go through to do it. It was easier than I expected. I mean, it was still hard but to get here, all I had to do was make music and give it my all. I was actually listening to it not too long ago and it was all just so surreal.

On “Ten Nine Fourteen,” you talk about your trials and tribulations along your journey to fame. What exactly happened with Timbaland?
It was bad timing. I remember being excited and thinking it was such an amazing time. I was hype to go down there and be Timbaland’s artist, but when I got there he had a bunch of artists. It was bad timing for both of us. His main focus was on Tink so it was like I have to go back home. Not to mention, it took me forever to get that job at Papa John’s and I think I even started smoking weed again so it was automatically like, I can’t go back because they’re going to piss test me again. I had to go hard and make a way for myself.

Last month, you opened up for Travi$ Scott at The Observatory in Santa Ana, Calif. It was your first-ever live performance. How was that?
It was crazy. I didn’t really expect to get the response that I did. It was just dope. He reached out to [my manager] Neil because they are good friends and they worked it out. He could have had anyone to open up, but he chose me. It was a blessing.

What would you credit your success to thus far?
Being humble. I think people would take cosigns to the head and be like, “I’m doing this, I’m doing that, you can’t tell me nothing,” especially coming from where I come from. A lot of people would think I would be out here on some super cocky s**t, but I’m not. I’m like [fellow Louisville native] Muhammad Ali in a sense where he was extremely cocky but it was cool because he was one of the best fighters ever. For me, I just take that energy and put it in the music but I’ll never be that way in person.

You say you’re the hottest thing since Muhammad Ali in “502 Come Up.” How are people back home taking your success?
Some people are really proud of me and some don’t like it. I don’t really know what to tell those people. It’s like people that don’t know me or people that aren’t even my friends saying I’ve changed. I have two friends–exactly two friends. It’s like how can someone that’s not even my friend say I’ve changed?

What’s the music scene like in Kentucky?
There are definitely artists out there. If you go to my SoundCloud, there’s two artists that I have featured on songs, and they are the only featured artists on any of my songs. They both are Louisville artists. King Vory is actually from Houston, but he lives in Louisville and Wuntayk Timmy is from Louisville. I just think it’s crazy when people say I don’t put the city on, like I didn’t just put my favorite artists from Louisville, Kentucky on my SoundCloud that gets a lot of traffic. How am I not? My idea of putting the city on is giving inspiration to others to want to put themselves on. You should never depend on someone else to put you on. I used to do that and it didn’t get me anywhere.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned on this new journey?
I’d say just to keep faith, for real. I always lose faith in things and second-guess myself and everything always ends up going above and beyond what I expect when it’s time to go through it. [Like] the Travis $cott show, this project, even a lot of the songs on the project, just a lot of things.

Who’s the chick on the phone in “Overtime?” I’m sure everyone is asking.
[Laughs] It’s a sample... from life.

Really?
Maybe.

Is there one particular song on the entire LP that you truly love and will always have a place in your heart?
Naw, none of these songs have a place in my heart anymore. What happened during that time is over with. I’m moving on to the next album.

So it’s safe to that most of these songs are about a particular relationship with a particular girl?
I’m going to say yeah since I’m not under oath. [Laughs.]

The last track on the album is called “Right My Wrongs.” What’s the musical equivalent of this track in regards to your life?
That’s one of the first beats my manager sent over to me. I listened to it and was like, “Aw man, I have to tuck this away and use it eventually.” I went through some things with somebody and it was deep. They sent me a long text message and I didn’t even respond. I just looked at it, read it and looked at my mic, and just responded on this song.

What do you hope first-time listeners and day one fans take away from this project?
I just want people to be inspired, especially to make music or just want to do something and make a life change. I changed my whole entire situation. I was sleeping in my car probably like on this day last year. Even if they don’t hear the project or get what happened from the album, knowing they’ll read this interview, I just want them to know that they can do whatever they want to do.

Your vulnerability throughout this whole album is admirable.
Thank you. It wasn’t always easy for me like back during Killer Instincts. Now, I’m like why not? Why not talk about how I feel because I know someone else out there is feeling the same way I feel? I’ve been getting that a lot, too. People are like, “Man, you just get me.”

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Uzo Aduba, Debra Lee And More Honor Nelson Mandela's Life And Legacy

I was 5-years-old when Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island. It would be another 20 years or so before I learned what got him there. Mandela was a distant figure throughout my youth, but I knew he was deserving of respect. His salt-and-pepper hair, his slow yet deliberate walk and his booming voice made sweet by his African lilt informed me, even as a child, he wasn't just some guy.

Growing up in Queens in the 90s, however, made South Africa seem about as distant as Saturn. All the country's woes and its wins wasn't a concern for a shy kid, turned boy-obsessed teenager. "Whatever's going on in South Africa is South Africa's business," I foolishly said to my teenage self.

But as I got older, and injustices became too blatant to ignore, pieces of Mandela's teaching orbited their way from my peripheral to my direct line of sight.

Then, in 2013, when news outlets reported on Mandela's touch-and-go health I learned of his lofty sacrifices, his world-changing accomplishments, and grace made more resolute with his warm smile. During his last year of life, I understood Mandela was actually more than any of us could imagine.

To honor the 25th anniversary of the first Democratic election in South Africa, Mandela's legacy organizations hosted a luncheon at Washington, D.C's Marriott International Hotel. The affair, which celebrated Mandela's becoming the first black president in South Africa, was attended by dignitaries, entertainers, guests and all those inspired by South Africa's resilient leader.

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“I lead the company’s committee to ensure excellence in diversity and inclusion Globally. #LoveTravels – the cornerstone of our purpose-driven marketing program – represents our celebration and support of inclusion, equality, peace and human rights and we cannot think of anyone who embodies these values more than Nelson Mandela.”

Orange Is The New Black's Uzo Aduba took to the stage following Lee's welcoming statements. The Emmy-award winning actress and gifted orator delivered a passionate rendition of Mandela's May 10, 1994 inauguration speech.

"Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity's belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all."

Aduba, 38, continued, "We, the people of South Africa, feel fulfilled that humanity has taken us back into its bosom, that we, who were outlaws not so long ago, have today been given the rare privilege to be host to the nations of the world on our own soil."

After guests dined, Graça Machel, stateswoman, activist and Mandela's widow spoke. Donning a small blonde Afro, a pink silk scarf and a navy blue knee-length dress, Machel expressed her appreciation to all those who continue to champion her late husband's work and even quipped about her love for leaders.

Aduba returned to the stage this time as a moderator leading an intimate conversation with representatives from the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Nelson Mandela's Children Fund, and the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital. Before the afternoon was over, guests were treated to live entertainment from Grammy-award nominated singer-songwriters, Chloe X Halle.

Two hours wasn't enough time to appreciate Mandela's legacy or even come to a full understanding of his life, but guests left thankful, full and gracious to have spent the afternoon honoring a man who showed the world, "It only seems impossible until it's done."

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Take Five: DJ Khaled Talks ‘Father of Asahd’ And #Summergram Partnership

DJ Khaled started the summer off right with the release of his 11th studio album, Father of Asahd. It’s the second consecutive album where his two-year-old son serves as executive producer after 2017’s Grateful. Although Khaled’s rollout remained quite a mystery, the mega-producer is now in the midst of a heavy promotional schedule, jam-packed with guest-heavy Saturday Night Live performances and summer collaborations with the likes of Lil Wayne, Meek Mill, SZA, and more. Possibly his most appropriate partnership is with Pepsi and Instagram’s #SummerGram.

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No one knows how to make a summer anthem or amass a faithful social media following quite like Khaled. DJ Khaled briefly spoke to VIBE about his latest partnership and walked us through his vision for Father of Asahd.

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VIBE: What are your thoughts about your new partnership with Pepsi's Summergram? DJ Khaled: This seems like the perfect fit. I am excited to work with Pepsi – they are always spreading positive vibes and the Pepsi #Summergram collection is a lot of fun to play around with. You know I’m always posting to Instagram and these new AR filters help bring my content to the next level. Look out for more Pepsi #Summergram filters from me all summer long.

It seems like you’ve been intentional with this album rollout even more so than your past projects. What can you tell me about your strategy for this rollout? I decided we can’t do anything dinosaur anymore. For this album, everything had to be big. From the music to the rollout, everything had to be big! And watching it all come together is just beautiful. And I love to see the excitement from my fans! At the end of the day, it’s all for my fans.

What was the toughest song to create? To work with so many different artists and so many moving parts, I imagine it can be challenging. Every challenge is a blessing. The toughest ones to make are usually the biggest ones. I’m blessed to work with great artists and be able to create beautiful music together.

Can you speak to your intentions on beginning the album with “Holy Mountain” and ending it with “Holy Ground”? Me and Buju have a special relationship and have been friends for years. The whole album is very spiritual so it seemed right to start and end the project with those records. The message of the album is to not only receive our blessings but to protect them, as well. Everything for my son, Mama Asahd (Nicole Tuck) and fan love.

How did you go about securing the ‪Buju Banton features? He’s been relatively absent for years, so what were those early conversations like to get him on the album? Buju is family to me - and when he came back, I went to Jamaica to welcome my brother back home. He met my son and we were just vibing. Then Buju asked me to “play a chune” and I played him the “Holy Mountain” beat and Buju finished it in one take. We caught that take on film which is now in the “Holy Mountain” video. Then Buju said play me another one. I had this idea for “Holy Ground”—I played it for him and he loved it. The rest is history.

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Courtesy of Think BIG

How CJ Wallace Turned His Connection To Notorious B.I.G. Into A Cannabis Brand

Christopher Jordan “CJ” Wallace was exposed to the music industry at an early age. As the son of Notorious B.I.G. and Faith Evans, the 22-year-old recalls growing up with countless musicians stopping by his family’s home studio. “We had a studio in our house when we lived in Atlanta. This is around the time [of] Bad Boy South,” he tells VIBE during a visit to our Times Square office. “Any given Tuesday, Usher might come over. It would be crazy.”

While his childhood home served as a revolving door to legends, his family members purposefully delivered a reality check in the form of life-altering questions about his future. CJ’s mom, stepfather, Todd Russaw, and paternal grandmother, Voletta Wallace, constantly reinforced this idea of purpose and responsibility. Though he was only five months old when his father was fatally shot in 1997 in Los Angeles, he was expected to uphold Big’s legacy.

“[They] would talk to me very truthfully, like, ‘hey, it’s not fair, but this is how it is,'” he explains. “'You have a responsibility that a lot of people don’t have and that a lot of kids your age don’t have. You could f**k it up, or you could do something right.’”

This jolt of truth unfolded into a mission to discover what he was meant to do. His options were relatively limitless. The obvious path would be to get into music or maybe fashion. While CJ still had many of his dad’s artifacts – including freestyle videos and at-home footage – he wanted to learn what connected him not only to Notorious B.I.G., the persona, but to also Christopher George Latore Wallace, the man. “For me, it was figuring out how I can develop a brand that can honor the legacy of my father, be something I’m proud of and can pass down to my kids and grandkids. And yeah, something my grandma will definitely support at the end of the day.”

And that’s when it hit him. CJ remembered the relaxed and joyful vibe that overcame his family’s old Atlanta studio. “It’s all about the energy and that’s kind of where for me – sitting next to the speaker, smelling the cannabis, smelling the incense – that was what started it for me,” he says.

Wallace went on to found Think BIG, alongside Willie Mack and Russaw. Think BIG, he explains, is a brand and social movement encouraging society to embrace the cannabis industry and realize its potential to heal and stimulate creativity. In its first plan of action, the brand launched its first product: The Frank White Blend, named after one of B.I.G’s many aliases.

Right now, there is a common focus on the recreational use of cannabis; consumers are flooded with images of kids, middle-aged adults, and celebrities sparking up to escape their realities or “have fun.” Prior to the arrival of Psalm West, Kim Kardashian threw a CBD and meditation-themed baby shower for her fourth child in April 2019. In addition to lifting you off the ground, however, Wallace, Mack and Think BIG want to introduce society to the healing and creative benefits of cannabis. Mack learned about cannabis’ healing powers in a major way during his youth.

“As a kid, watching [how] the AIDS crisis ravaged the world and seeing the LGBT community fighting for cannabis to help them with nausea during AZT [antiretroviral medication used to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS] was my first indication of [thinking] cannabis was a drug, but people are actually using it to try to stay alive,” Mack said, noting that he had several family members who were dealing with HIV/AIDS.

Similarly, Wallace uncovered the alternative nature of the plant when his family experimented with it as a form of medication for his younger brother, who was diagnosed with autism. After testing various strains, Wallace confirms they found the right balance, but since cannabis isn’t an approved medication, his brother is unable to use it publicly. “This is helping my youngest brother every day,” he insists. “It’s unfair because we can’t give it to him and let him take it to school and have the school nurse actually prescribe it to him so he’s constantly getting that regular medication. You can’t take it to school, but the kids in his school are being given opioids, which has crazy after effects.”

Creatively speaking, Wallace and Mack consider cannabis to be the “ultimate ghostwriter.” It’s no secret B.I.G. was an advocate. From numerous consultations with his family members, he learned his dad often smoked while recording. (Mack also notes famous smokers like Johnny Cash, Louis Armstrong, and Bob Marley.) Just about every corner of the music industry has dabbled in recreational smoking, but no genre has been hit as hard as hip-hop. While fans love to watch Snoop Dogg smoke on Instagram Live or share a spliff with Kid Cudi during a concert set, the hip-hop community as a whole is met with backlash and often times targeted by police due to cannabis.

“I feel like anything associated with black men is just immediately going to be deemed bad or evil,” Wallace says, referencing the negative connotation rappers receive. It’s Wallace’s mission, however, to adjust that perspective. “I feel like it’s really up to us to change that narrative. That’s why I try so hard to stop saying words like ‘weed.’ Cannabis, it’s actually a plant," he continues. Both Wallace and Mack noted the terms "weed" and "marijuana" hold negative connotations and are commonly used in connection with minorities. "We were lied to for so long. If we were given proper knowledge from the start, I feel like the entire hip-hop community and the entire way we talked about it would’ve changed.”

Beyond educating consumers with their message and products, Think BIG also seeks to improve the criminal justice system as well as launch charitable projects. According to “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” on average, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Such racial disparities reportedly exist in all regions, states, and counties around the United States and largely contribute to today's mass incarceration crisis.

In recent years, the U.S. government has made significant strides to correct this injustice. California, Nevada, and Maine are among the first states to legalize cannabis; states such as New York have already begun the process of exonerating offenders convicted of nonviolent charges and marijuana possession. Despite the steps forward, Wallace and Mack say there is a long road ahead.

Not only is it difficult to eradicate a vicious cycle that has left many black and brown people behind bars, but it is also hard to forge spaces for them to succeed in a rapidly changing industry. “Being able to understand how to navigate the industry that’s constantly changing and to do it without a bank account or full funnel of money, makes it that much harder,” Mack says. “Then on top of that, you got people sitting in jail who should be out of jail for nonviolent possession of cannabis. So, we’re faced with having to work four times as hard to make half as much because of the color of our skin. It’s a constant fight and we look at it as how can we set an example, share our knowledge, [and] show more information?”

It takes a group effort, Mac says. While Think BIG is setting a place at the table for black businesses in the cannabis industry as well as shifting the conversation around the plant, Mack suggests other ways to get involved that ultimately uplift the black community. “It’s much easier to enter into the market based on something you already know,” Mack insists, pointing out the opportunities for design firms, packaging, and communication firms to join the movement.

Wallace and Mack know the journey ahead is going to be a roller-coaster ride fit with many twists and turns, but they’re ready. “You got to dream big, as your dad said, and think big,” Mack says. “Everyone else in this industry is thinking about global billion-dollar companies, why shouldn’t we?” As for Wallace, he understands how difficult the process is and will be, “but, it wasn’t more emotional than the first 21 years of my life.”

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