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.
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.”