Say what you will about the effect that the internet (more specifically, social media) has had on our everyday lives, but as a tool of discovery, it's changing lives every day. Especially for musicians who don't hail from hub cities with built-in networks of industry personnel, a simple Soundcloud account can end up being a golden ticket. Bryson Tiller grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, which is by no means a small town, but also not one that's lauded for its music scene. All ten of the tracks on his Soundcloud account currently have more than a million plays each, and on Friday he'll (officially) release his debut album, T R A P S O U L. All of this from clicking "upload," attracting attention from a few important names, and of course, possessing quite a bit of talent and finesse.
We sat down with the singer/rapper to talk about coming up in a "dead" music scene, getting noticed by his idols and making the album. Read on to hear him tell his story in his own words.
HNHH: I’m interested in what it was like coming up in Louisville. You’ve got that lyric “Hottest thing from it since Muhammad Ali,” and I can’t think of too many rappers from there.
Tiller: Exactly. It’s dead, it’s really dead. The music scene is dead, nobody’s making too much noise— I don’t want to offend nobody, but there’s nobody in the music industry that’s from Louisville, Kentucky that’s really making any noise, or just came out and inspires people. I can’t even imagine what people were feeling when Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer in the world. I feel like I’m inspiring a lot of people in Louisville right now.
HNHH: Does it feel kind of like a small town in that sense?
Tiller: It doesn’t feel like a small town, but it’s just everybody’s familiar with everything. Everybody just wants to get out. Like, “Man, I want to go to Miami, I want to go to New York or L.A.” But I love my city.
HNHH: What about some of the guys you’ve featured on your tracks, like WunTayk Timmy and King Vory, are they from Louisville?
Tiller: Yeah they are, actually. I was gonna do this thing where I only did songs with people from my city, but, I don’t know…
HNHH: It’s probably hard once you start getting attention elsewhere.
Tiller: Yeah, yeah. There’s a lot of dope artists from different cities, like Kehlani, Sy Ari Da Kid…
HNHH: Do you think it would’ve been harder to break out from Kentucky before this whole internet/social media era?
Tiller: I think so, yeah. Soundcloud definitely is key to my success, for real. I always knew that Soundcloud would be… I don’t know. I saw that you could like retweet music, follow certain people, get notifications whenever someone you follow posts a new song… I think that’s so dope. Like wow, if I’m following my favorite artist and he uploads a new song, I get the notification, I’m going to listen to it right away.
HNHH: And then you can put on for music you like too. I saw you share that abhi//dijon track on Twitter a while back, and they’re relatively unknown.
Tiller: Yeah, that shit’s crazy.
HNHH: Changing the subject a bit, I was wondering if you’ve ever gotten mistaken for a Canadian, what with the sound of your music and all?
Tiller: Yeah, I do. All the time. Canada, Houston… those are the two main places. I said a lot about on my mixtape, actually, like “I’m not from Houston, I’m not from the 6.”
HNHH: Word. So on your Soundcloud right now, you’ve only got ten songs up, and all of them have over a million plays.
Tiller: Yeah, it’s crazy.
HNHH: Was “Don’t” the first one to blow up?
Tiller: Yeah, “Don’t” was definitely the first one that picked up. Actually, all my OG fans will know this, but I had a lot of other songs on my Soundcloud as well, back from like 2011, 2012, and slowly I started to delete them because I wanted people to hear what I’m doing now and not what I used to do. If you want to find them, those songs are still somewhere on the internet. All the songs on my Soundcloud now are the ones I want people to hear.
HNHH: Was the success of “Don’t” due to any promotion of it on your part, or was it just word of mouth, organic?
Tiller: Nah, it was word of mouth for sure. I think Vine helped out a lot.
Tiller: Yeah, Omarion is the reason I started singing. I heard his project, and I was like “Man, I want to do what he’s doing. I want to sing.” And Drake, yeah, I’ve always looked up to him like a big brother, just because my big brother was never really in my life. I’ve just always looked up to Drake as far as the way he carries himself and the way he stays out of stuff that an artist shouldn’t be involved in… You know, he stays out of the headlines.
HNHH: Who else is there left to impress, if those are two of your main heroes?
Tiller: You know, it’s funny that you say that, because right when Drake reached out to me, I was like, “Alright, can’t nobody tell me shit now.” You know what I mean? That’s my favorite rapper— the only person I care whether they like my music. That’s awesome to me, I don’t care if anyone else likes my music. I don’t need anybody else’s approval. Well, Chris Brown, he’s one of my favorites. If he ever liked my music, that’d be amazing too, because I can’t wait to work with him.
HNHH: Yeah, and then right around “Don’t” (maybe even before), Syk Sense, one of Drake’s collaborators, gave you a beat. How did that come about?
Tiller: Me and Syk Sense have been friends for a while. He gave me a beat a long time ago. Actually, I bought the beat from SoundClick a long time ago… Man, SoundClick has created a lot of relationships for me now that I think about it… But I got that beat from him in like 2011 when I did my first mixtape, Killer Instinct, when I was 17 years old. Yeah, but he had seen that my songs were making a lot of noise, so I reached out to him, like “Yo, congrats on everything— ‘6 God,’ ‘Draft Day,’ I love those songs— Let’s work.” He said “Of course,” and sent me “Let ‘Em Know” while I was in Miami and I loved it, so I had to record ASAP. And he has a couple more songs on my upcoming project.
HNHH: I was reading a bunch of other articles about you today, and I found it funny because basically every one of them mentions either PARTYNEXTDOOR or Drake... If not them, then The Weeknd or Tory Lanez, in relation to your sound. Does that bother you?
Tiller: Nah man. All those dudes are dope. It’s dope to be compared to dope people. You know, when people hear something they like, they’re gonna compare it to something they’re familiar with.
HNHH: Word. So T R A P S O U L, coming out October 2nd. Do you feel like it’s much of a departure from the stuff currently on your Soundcloud?
Tiller: Ok so “Don’t” is the first song I did in a couple of years, literally the first song I wrote and recorded myself, so yeah I think [the album will be a change]. That was just a song I like, released after all those years. All the stuff now is different. I feel like I’m getting better lyrically.
HNHH: Have you ever heard of Tree, a rapper from Chicago?
Tiller: Hmm, no, I haven’t.
HNHH: He calls his music “soul trap”—
Tiller: Oh nah yeah, my boy was explaining that to me.
HNHH: Very different sound, but interesting.
Tiller: Yeah, I want to listen to that, I’mma check it out.
HNHH: He does like, soul samples with trap drums.
Tiller: Originally, that was going to be my take on T R A P S O U L, but I was trying to be too literal, like “It’s trap, but it’s also soulful music.” But no, really what it is is trap-influenced R&B. I just approach the R&B beats with the heavy 808s and the snares.
HNHH: So Syk Sense is on there, and then I saw you were recently in the studio with Eric Bellinger. Is he going to be on there?
Tiller: No, there’s no features.
HNHH: Any other producers we’d know?
Tiller: Yeah, Mekanics… Then I’m working with a bunch of people who have place cents on big albums but aren’t extremely popular themselves… J. Louis with Soulection, Syk and Ayo did most of the production.
HNHH: Dope. Well I’m excited to hear it. Anything else you’d like to add?
Tiller: Thank you. I wish I had more to say, but I feel like they already know.