Bryson-Tiller-VIBE-1
Stacy-Ann Ellis

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

Bryson Tiller gets real with VIBE about his journey to fame and T R A P S O U L debut.

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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Katie Spoleti

How Dinah Jane Shed Her Pop Coating And Bloomed Into An R&B Butterfly

With just 21 years around the sun, Dinah Jane has accomplished more than most. Her star initially rose alongside her pop sisters Fifth Harmony in her teens but in between chart-topping hits like "Work From Home" or "Worth It" was a longing for something more.

The "more" arrived this spring in the form of her debut collection, Dinah Jane 1, three tracks that play to her power vocals and confident nature. Leading single "Heard It Before" gives listeners the feels of the aughts with the help of producer extraordinaire, J. R. Rotem. Jane's accompanying tracks like "Pass Me By" and "Fix it" are just as alluring given her honey coated vocals. Instead of jumping from genre to genre, the songs are in the vein of Jane's R&B language, a move that transpired after a reflection into her musical identity.

The journey included experimentation with her first solo effort, "Bottled Up" with Ty Dolla $ign and Marc E. Bassey. The song was a bop by nature due to its similarity to her work in Fifth Harmony, which left Jane determined to find her sound.

"Being a solo artist now made it hard to define who I was because I was singing so many different styles before," Jane tells VIBE. "I had to take time for me to really cope and understand what it is that I really want to come out as my true identity. When I dropped my first record "Bottled Up" it was more me transitioning from Fifth Harmony to myself, I really love that I took some down time to understand who I was and who I want to be."

After a session with a producer in Atlanta, Jane arrived at the realization that the artists in her phone (Monica, Mariah Carey), was a sign for her to dig up her soulful roots. It's hard to deny Jane's vocals helped to build her former group and now, her own career.

"The most challenging part about making music has been me being honest," Jane said. "I have a tendency of holding back but keeping people's image safe. I was always afraid to portray them as something that people didn't know about and so my thing is like, 'Oh, I don't want them to think of my family like this or my friend who's not my friend right now.' I felt like if I wanted to create something authentic, real and raw I have to be honest not only to myself but to the public and stop putting a front that everything's good."

With a new attitude and direction, Jane is ready to fly above her worries. Check out our chat with the singer-songwriter below.

***

VIBE: When you were putting your three-pack together, what was going through your head? Was there a particular sound or moment you wanted to catch?

Dinah Jane: It was more like a certain direction. I felt like there was a part of me that had not been exposed yet as far as style. I really love that I took some down time to understand who I was and who I want to be. I started listening back to records where I was like, 'Wow, this is something that I wish was mine.' Some of Monica's records, Faith Evans or Mariah Carey, by the way, she followed me on Instagram [Laughs].

Congratulations!

She followed me on Instagram so I kind of got that verification that I should definitely do R&B. Those are artists that I've always been inspired by. I remember I went back to when I did my first audition on X Factor, and I said, "Who is that I want to sing and showcase my talent?" It was Beyoncé's "If I Were A Boy."

I felt like if this is a perfect time for me to throw in a bowl of my favorite artists that I've always looked up to and mesh it into who I am now. When I did "Fix It," I felt like it was so organic for me to go that direction and lean towards, so, when that happened the song became what it is now. I love the message behind it, I didn't realize it would empower so many people.

"Fix It" is actually my favorite out of the three. You just referenced your identity. Do you know what that is now? Or is that sonically or personally?

I think more so sonically, that's where I was lost the most because I had to put myself in a drawer for seven years. Now that I'm here, being a solo artist like I said, I was lost. Sonically I had to redefine who Dinah Jane was this whole time. I remember being in a session in Atlanta and this guy at the time asked me, "Who do you have on your phone? Let's look through it."

He's going through my phone and it's all R&B, not even that much pop, just singers from back then. And he's just like, "I was not expecting this, I thought you'd be the hype girl listening to all trap music." I have that personality trust me, but musically this is me. That clicked in my head that I was heading somewhere else and I needed to jump back to my old ways.

I love that. "Heard It All Before" has gotten so much love from your fans. I know you're not supposed to look at the comments but one that stood out was "I love this sound, leave pop alone." Do you ever feel trapped in one genre since you started within the pop bubble? 

It's funny that you say that. I feel like people or fans they kind of want to box you into who they think you are. I was telling someone, my fans they sometimes think they know me better than I know myself and it's kind of scary. There are times where I'm like, "No I don't have to be one way." It's crazy cause when I go to the studio I feel like I can be so versatile. I can do R&B easy but there are sometimes where I want to do those pop records, "Always Be My Baby" is that pop record to me and some people are good with it, some aren't but I think it just comes with your fanbase.

For me, they know my potential, honestly, they saw me on X Factor or even my YouTube days when I was 11 or 12 years old. They're like, "No Dinah, this is you, this is you, I want you to keep doing more of these." Eventually, I'll want to do some other things as well. But as of right now, it's truly R&B.

When it comes to creating you're always challenging yourself. What were some of the challenges that you've been facing this year while making music?

The most challenging part about making music has been me being honest. I have a tendency of holding back but keeping people's image safe. It's always been my challenge and I felt like if I wanted to create something authentic and real and raw I have to be honest to myself as well, not only to myself but to the public and stop putting a front that everything's good. My Mom always told me, "You've got to be real with yourself."

For sure. All three of these songs are super straightforward. What was it about keeping that energy while you were making these songs?

I was just trying to balance it. Like I said it was the most challenging part balancing that and I feel like with "Heard It All Before," it was the most fun, relatable song to write because my best friend was going through something. I was like "What?! He said what?!" We were literally having a full on group chat about it. When I did the music video, I wanted it to be about the situation that I was in with my girl. We were like, "You know what we've heard that all before." I just want to make this bundle relatable, sexy but then also swaggy and just not try so hard. So, when we put these three songs together, it felt so organic and true to who I was.

Even in the video, you exude so much confidence. What does confidence mean to you?

I think it's self-love. When you truly love yourself, you can see it in your face. You can see it in the glow and the energy you're giving to people. I wasn't always this confident, I would definitely say I was never this confident but, thanks to my mom, she always expressed that to me.

She said, "Dinah, I know you don't feel that beautiful today but you need to pick on the little things that matter. What's your favorite feature? Your lips. What's your favorite outfit you got going on? Pay attention to your best qualities other than that one negative thing you're picking on."

The confidence was never there but when you have people that are around you always encouraging you to love yourself and realizing your truth and worth, that's when the confidence kicks in. It's not something that's overnight, it takes time. It took years for me to realize that. Like I said, you have to surround yourself by honest, real people who can definitely make you see what you're not seeing.

Facts. Have you become that vessel for your friends as well? Like passing all of that on. Your mom passed it to you, you pass it to your friends, are you that person?

Yeah, it's like a telephone game. I have a younger sister who's 17 and she's always been insecure about her weight or her breakouts and I'm like, "You're a teenager, you're supposed to go through that phase. If I went through that you've got to go through it too."

In a way, I have to guide her through the stages. I was just talking to her last night and she's telling me about her friends and how she feels like she doesn't fit in, or certain cousins where she feels like she has to be a certain way. I was like, "Don't be a certain way, the way you carry yourself will vibrate and you will be so much more vibrant, it'll grasp more onto you. Just be your true self, you don't have to be anything else. I know who you are and you know who you are."

I feel like kind of being that older sister I feel like her mom sometimes. So I always feel this responsibility that she always feels 100.

What are some other plans you have for yourself, with your music for the year?

This is the first bundle. People wanted it to be named an EP but I was like, "Nah. It cannot be an EP because an EP is at least five to seven songs top."

This bundle is like a mini-project, it's the anticipation for the actual album. So, I want you to keep getting the feel of who I am, keep giving you these sneak peeks and then boom, hit you with the album. That's in the works, we'll see what happens. That's what we say now but sometimes things change, so don't get too excited.

Have you've been working with anybody? Any featured artists or any producers who are really understanding of who you are as an artist?

As far as features, I have one and then I'm working on another one.

So you can't say who they are?

I can't say. As far as producers and writers, J.R. Rotem is literally my dog. We walked into the studio and all of his plaques are all over the wall, plastered everywhere and we were like, "We get it, you're a legend. You're going to make me a legend," is what I felt in that room. I feel this great connection with him where we can be friends but also have that chemistry musically where he can connect with me instantly.

I love how we did  "Fix It," he brought out all of the live instruments and he made it feel like you were actually on stage, he made it feel bigger than what it was. So, I give him so many props for that because I've never felt that way in a session where I felt like I was onstage and it was just me by myself, no one else, well of course with a whole a** band, but I just felt the topic and the song, the musicality behind it is what meshed so well because of him. He is my dog for sure and my therapist because if it weren't for him this song would have not been made.

Stream Dinah Jane 1 below.

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Beyonce, Jay-Z and Blue Ivy Carter attends the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City.
Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

An Ode To Jay-Z, The Ultimate Rap Dad

Rap, throughout its history, has always referenced parenthood in some form. Most often, it was to extol single mothers for their goodness while deadbeat fathers were berated and called out for going ghost. In recent years, as the social media landscape has blown open the avenues of communication, famous rap dads, in particular, have become increasingly transparent about their lives as family men. Where years ago there seemed to be endless bars mourning the demise of the father, artists are now using their platform to balance the scales. They’re showing themselves to be present and intentional.

Few albums make me think more about the concept of parenthood, and legacy, than Jay-Z’s 13th studio album, 4:44. It’s a stark and blistering work of memoir, heavy on confession and self-examination. When 4:44 finally dropped, I, like many others, was filled with wonder. How was it that Jay had managed to so fluidly deconstruct everything I’d been wrestling with for the last few years? Though the specifics of our experiences differed greatly, the central ideas dissected on 4:44, especially those concerning fatherhood and family life, had been swimming around my brain for some time.

***

Hip-hop saved my life. And it was fatherhood that set it on fire. This bears explaining.

What hip-hop has done for me, is what it has done for millions of fatherless and heart-wounded kids—it provided, at the very least, the shading of a better life. If it wasn’t for hip-hop, and the value I ascribed to it, it would be impossible to know just how far I’d have settled into the more lamentable aspects of my environment. Forasmuch of a goon as I was growing up, something always kept me from becoming too emotionally invested in harsh crime. I dabbled in mischief like an amateur chef knowing he would only go so far. I saw in hip-hop, in the art of it, something worth pursuing with tenacity; something like a healthy distraction. So I committed to finding my lane.

Though there were brief stints dedicated to developing my modest graffiti skills and footwork, it was the words that flowed and came without struggle. The school cyphers sharpened my wits and compelled me to feed my vocabulary daily. Only my wordplay could save me from getting ripped to shreds in a lunchroom battle. I read books and scoured the dictionary for ammunition, I listened to stand-up comics who fearlessly engaged the crowd and proved quick on the draw. It seemed fruitless to know a billion words if I couldn’t convert them into brutal attacks. I had to break the competition down and render them defenseless, stammering for a rebuttal. There could be no confusion as to my superiority. So instead of joining the stickup kids or depositing all of my energy into intramural sports, I put my soul and mind into the task of taking down all manner of wack MCs. That’s why I say that hip-hop saved me.

But fatherhood was its own saving grace. It showed me that the world did not revolve, nor would it ever revolve, around my passions. Fatherhood put an extra battery behind my back as a creative, sure. But it’s more about being a consistent presence at home than chasing any dream.

***

As an artist and writer, I cannot so much as think about fatherhood without considering some of the material that deals with feelings comparable to those I felt after I became a father. Songs that contextualize very specific emotions over the drums.

In his 2012 track “Glory,” Jay-Z, someone who had long been vocal about his strained relationship with his father, reflects on the birth of his daughter Blue Ivy, his first child with wife Beyoncé. Produced by the Neptunes, “Glory” was released on January 9, just two days after Blue was born. From start to finish, it carries a sort of gleeful melancholy that resonates on multiple levels. While it is, in essence, a comment on the exuberant joy attached with welcoming a child, “Glory” is also a note on death and mourning.

Before Blue came along and flipped the script, Beyoncé had suffered a miscarriage. The pain the couple experienced left them fearful of not being able to conceive. The dual purpose of “Glory” is made clear from the outset, and with blazing transparency. “False alarms and false starts,” offers Jay, laying the groundwork for what immediately follows: “All made better by the sound of your heart.” The second half of the couplet establishes what was, as we come to learn, the most pivotal moment in the rap mogul’s life up until then. The moment where all is made right, where the sting of loss is eclipsed by the possibility of new birth. Jay continues in this mode, shining light on the redeeming gift that is Blue and, also, how the child is a composite of her mother and father, yet more still.

The opening bars of the following verse are equally striking as Jay, addressing Blue, touches on the death of his father from liver failure. Jay is signaling here, leading us somewhere but with the intent to shift gears. Instead of dwelling on his father’s shortcomings like one might expect him to, Jay breaks left, resolving that deep down his father was a good man. What begins as an indictment of a cheat who walked out on his obligations, ends with a declaration of forgiveness and generosity. But Jay soon directs the focus back to his blessing and how hard it is not to spoil her rotten as she is the child of his destiny. It becomes apparent that this is a man at his most self-actualized. A few more welcome digressions and “Glory” closes the same way that it begins, with the final line of the hook: “My greatest creation was you.” This points to something that I, too, came to know as fact. That no matter what I do, and regardless of what I might attain—power, wealth, the esteem of my peers—nothing is quite comparable to the happiness and the terror that comes with siring a child. “Glory” succeeds as it casts aside any traces of bluster and bravado, making room for Jay to unearth lessons that were hard-won yet central to his maturation. And what is the purpose of making art if not to bust open your soul and watch it spill over? Shout out to the rap dads raising babies and doing the work to shift the narrative.

Juan Vidal is a writer, critic, and author of Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture That Shaped a Generation.

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Mike Coppola

The Cast Of 'SHAFT' Talk Family Traditions, Power And The Film's Legacy

Back in 1971, Richard Roundtree became the face of the legendary crime/blaxploitation film SHAFT. His influence in the role paved the way for a new generation of black detectives filled with a gluttonous amount of swag, clever one-liners, and action-packed scenes. Samuel L. Jackson followed suit in the franchise’s 2000 installment as he took over the streets of Uptown Manhattan and Harlem filling in for Roundtree’s original character.

Fast forward to 2019, and SHAFT’s legacy has risen to higher heights, incorporating Roundtree and Jackson together with an extension of their detective prowess. Director Tim Story created a familial driven movie centered around three different generations of SHAFT men. Roundtree plays the grandfather; Jackson plays the dad—and Jessie T. Usher plays the son. All three embark on a mission that’s laced with dirty politics, Islamophobia, and highflying action in efforts to solve a seemingly homicidal death.

The dynamics between all three are hilarious and dotted with lessons learned from past paternal influences. On a recent sunny Friday afternoon at Harlem's Red Rooster, the trio shared some of the traditions and virtues the paternal figures in real life have taught them. Most of the influence passed down to them was centered on working hard.

“People say to me, ‘Why do you work so much?’” Jackson said. “Well, all the grown people went to work every day when I got up. I figured that’s what we’re supposed to be doing—get up, pay a bill, and take care of everything that’s supposed to be taken care of.”

“For my family, it was cleanliness and masculinity,” Usher added. “The guys in my family were always well put together, very responsible especially my dad.”

In spite of the SHAFT men's power, the film's story wouldn’t be what it is without Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp’s characters. They both play strong women caught in the middle of the mayhem created by the men they care about. Both are conscious of the power they exhibit as black women off and on screen, yet are aware of the dichotomy of how that strength is perceived in the world.

“It’s very interesting because I think a lot of times as powerful black women we are seen as angry black women,” Shipp says. “So it’s hard to have that voice and that opinion because a lot of times when we voice it; it becomes a negative rather than a positive. In order to hold that power, it has to be poised. It has to be with grace, I think there is strength in a strong but graceful black woman.”

“People have an idea of what strength is and how you do it and sometimes it’s the subtleties,” Regina adds. “Sometimes our influence is so powerful and it doesn’t always have to be loud I think a lot of times how we navigate is with conviction and patience.”

VIBE chatted with the cast of SHAFT about holding power, their red flags when it comes to dating, and why the SHAFT legacy continues to live on. Watch the interviews below.

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