While the average guy might crave a cozy back room for a man cave, the entire backyard of Tyrese Gibson’s Woodland Hills home has all the makings of a dude’s dream haven. Way in the back, past the Hibachi restaurant, half-court basketball, pool and bar stocked with rare rums, there’s a giant projection screen, facing rows of cushy cream seats. To the right of the outdoor theater is his home office and recording space, which features a sundeck with an outdoor canopy bed and pizza oven. The logo of his label imprint, Voltron Recordz, illuminates on the front outside wall.
The circular firepit is the preferred hangout area on this brisk February night, as the actor/singer gives a tour of his continuously evolving household passion project. But he skips over one highlight: A mural of himself with late friend and fellow actor Paul Walker. The adjacent wall depicts Transformers Autobot Bumblebee and a speech bubble with an esoteric quote: “Roman! That was funny as hell, what you did to Brian and Dom in Fast 7! You guys are badass!!!”
At times, it’s still difficult for Tyrese to speak about the tragic death of his Fast & Furious franchise co-star, who was killed in a car accident on November 30, 2013, just before completing filming of Furious 7. He compares the sting of Walker’s passing to that of divine R&B darling Aaliyah. Fights back tears earlier today when he recalls finishing the movie (out April 3) without his brother from another.
“Imagine getting your last hug, having your last moment in the same location and then we start filming again in the same place,” the 36-year-old says, getting choked up. “Of all the people that ended up transition, it hurt to see him transition the most.”
Despite his grieving, Tyrese has been keeping busy, now that Furious 7, his fourth starring role in the franchise as Roman Pearce, has wrapped. The man who first captured hearts more than 20 years ago by singing about soda in an iconic Coca-Cola commercial is onto his long-gestating Black Rose double album, featuring one disc of singing and another under his rapping alter ego, Black Ty. The LP, which Tyrese says will be his final as a solo artist, will share its title with an accompanying documentary about the making of the project, as well as a book on relationships. In addition, he’s dropping a 23-minute short film called Shame, starring himself and Jennifer Hudson. All are slated for a July 7 mega release date.
As for the big screen, Ty is delivering both on- and off-camera. He will appear in the sequel to Kevin Hart and Ice Cube’s cop comedy Ride Along. Plus, he co-wrote and sold the script to an action flick called Desert Eagle to Universal Pictures.
“I got these visions; they are all God-sent,” he says from his home, three weeks from the debut of Furious 7. “They’re very aggressive and very specific and detailed… I’m addicted to creativity.” —John Kennedy
VIBE: The Fast and The Furious script was inspired by an article on street racing that was first published in VIBE Magazine. Did you ever think it’d blow up into a billion-dollar franchise?
Tyrese: Clearly the story was an influential one, because a lot of people have showed up to support and experience this franchise domestically and internationally. I didn’t know what I was signing up for. I thought I was going to be in [2 Fast 2 Furious] and it would be over after that. But the fans around the world continue to show up. I was in Germany and [people] walked up and didn’t know a lick of English, but knew Roman Pierce and my name because of this franchise. That’s a big deal. The one and only franchise that’s this successful that’s not a comic book or a TV show. For us to be at Furious 7, it’s a real blessing.
Furious 7 is the most ambitious of the series. Is there pressure to top the previous film?
With the success comes a lot of pressure. How will we make it bigger, better [and] more interesting? How do we have a moment where you’re crying, emotional, [and] on the edge of your seat? How do we take it up a notch? We just hope that we never let the fans down. The overall magnitude of [Furious 7] is bigger. And very emotional for all the obvious reasons—our brother Paul Walker. So we’re trying to find a happy medium. You don’t want to come off too happy, too excited because we know what happened to our brother. But at the same time you are excited because the overall movie in itself—including Paul—is the best one of the series. We had to rise the occasion, become each other’s positive reinforcement and help us to get through making this movie, and we did. And we brought our brother with us. We’re excited. We believe that this is going to be the most successful one of all of them.
It has to be an extremely bittersweet project for you.
Way more bitter than sweet, trust me. This was supposed to be a worldwide press event, hit seven or eight countries. We narrowed it down to just L.A. It’s just too much emotionally. [Paul] was literally an angel. A good person, always smiling, always happy—just a great soul. We had a lot of opinions and ideas flying around. We made sure that everything about his moves and the moves that were going to be made were protected.
“Imagine getting your last hug, having your last moment in the same location, and then we start filming again in the same place… where I had last seen Paul. It was a lot.”
Production was halted for four months after Paul Walker’s death. What was it like on that first day back of filming?
The first day was very challenging because we started back in Atlanta, and that’s where I had last seen Paul. And the base camp where all the trailers were set up at was the same base camp. Imagine working on a movie on behalf of someone that was there, who is no longer there but they’re there in spirit. Imagine the first day of filming coming back to the set and experiencing that. Imagine putting that level of professional hat on. It was a lot. We had to pick up the pieces and recover, get closure, compartmentalize our emotions and move forward.
Ludacris has said he’d like to see Tom Cruise join the franchise, and Michelle Rodriguez is campaigning for Rihanna. If you could draft anyone onto the Furious cast, who would it be?
Matt Damon. That’s what I want. That’s my invite. Matt Damon, join us.
Let’s talk about your upcoming album, Black Rose.
My first single is called “Dumb Shit,” featuring Snoop. The second single is called “Shame.” I be doing dumb shit, so I’m ashamed of it. Everyone of my singles are intertwined. It’s going to tell a story. When has anyone ever released a double album, one hip-hop [disc], one R&B [disc]? [There’s also] a documentary, book, and a movie.
What’s Shame about?
It’s a musical short film, starring me and Jennifer Hudson. Twenty-three minutes in running time. It’s controversial as hell. I shot the whole thing on my own with Paul Hunter. Bobby Reid did the casting. It’s a game changer.
How many singles are you releasing?
Five singles. I’m going to keep rocking. This “Shame” song is going to change all of our lives forever.
“I don’t write books; I write life. I don’t sing songs; I sing life. If it’s not coming from a real place I just don’t do it.”
Tell me a little bit about the documentary. Is it about you?
It’s about the making of the album. I rented a house. It was a luxury rental about 14,000 sq. ft. in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Nineteen of us sleeping in one house for 32 days. Basically the making of this double album went down in this house. That happened about two years ago. It was another vision I had. I was like, “Arizona? Why Arizona, God?” “Just go to Arizona.” Alright.
What’s the premise of the Black Rose book?
The Black Rose book it’s going to be just like my first two books, about life, love, spirituality relationships and the challenges of it. This is how uncomfortable this book is going to get it: The first chapter is called “How responsible are you for the father your kids don’t know.” That’s chapter 1. We always call them motherfuckers deadbeat dads, but we’re not talking about the alienation that goes down. We’re not talking about the women that are so angry and bitter they stop those fathers from having access to the kids. We all complain about it, but no one has ever wrote about it. This book is a very uncomfortable book.
Did you work with Rev. Run on this book again, too?
No, this is my book.
Where did you find inspiration as far as content for Black Rose, the album?
I don’t write books, bro; I write life. I don’t sing songs; I sing life. If it’s not coming from a real place I just don’t do it.
And these come from your life?
You’re in the sequel to Ride Along with Kevin Hart, a.k.a. Chocolate Droppa. Who do you think would win in a battle between him and your rap alter ego, Black Ty?
Kevin won’t be ready for Black Ty. I don’t think he would do that to himself.
You co-wrote a script for a film called Desert Eagle, that was picked up by Universal Pictures. From where did the idea for that movie originate?
I was on the freeway looking at these beautiful billboards of Native American Casinos promoting artists that are performing at their casino. And then I started doing research about the sovereignty of Native Americans. They basically have their own world within our world, because they basically have their own government. They do whatever they want on their land. And then I just said to myself: ‘What if the mafia and the drug lords decided to take advantage of that fact that the Native Americans are allowed to do whatever they want?” If somebody get shot and killed or a fight breaks out in a casino they don’t report that on the local news. It’s like Bad Boys, Fast And The Furious and Lethal Weapon; it’s on that level.
That can open another door for you, take you to another level.
I’m excited and very grateful because it sends the right message that Universal Pictures sees the value in Tyrese beyond Fast and The Furious.
You seem to be on a creative streak right now.
I’m going to say this with all levels of aggression and humility: I can’t afford all of my thoughts. I can’t afford [to do] everything that I think of. But that’s all going to change soon because money for me means nothing other than being able to finally move on the creativity. I’ve been making money for 20 years. We all have our highs and lows when it comes to money. The value in money at this point is being able to move on your creative ideas.
Any last words on Furious 7?
We will make the world proud. It’s going to be beautiful.
Photo Credit: Erik Ian for VIBE Magazine