With Silk Sonic, Giveon, and Jazmine Sullivan on top of their game right now, it’s fair to say that R&B is still having a big moment. One particular artist who was part of the movement of bringing rhythm and blues back to the forefront was 29-year-old Bryson Tiller. Taking notes from his contemporaries that came before him (Drake, Kanye “Ye” West, and T-Pain), his ability to blend trap, rap, and hip-hop into the mix of his own sound has not only refreshed the genre but opened the doors for more talent to shine. It all began when his debut single “Don’t” did the rounds in the year 2014 after being uploaded to Soundcloud. Receiving immediate co-signs from music heavyweights Timbaland and Drake, the Kentucky-born star became a name on everyone’s lips. Still, nearly a decade after achieving virality, Tiller is reaching new heights and has listeners anticipating what’s next.
It would be an understatement to say that Tiller had one of the fastest come-ups in the modern-day era. One minute he was just a regular guy making music in his living room while working at fast food chain Papa John’s and the next he was riding the wave of having one of the biggest breakthroughs smashes from the past decade. Not even 12 months after “Don’t” made a splash, Tiller released his debut album, T R A P S O U L, which has not only been certified triple-platinum in the US for hitting the 3 million sales mark but it is listed as one of the best-selling albums of the decade. Following the global success of “Don’t,” the LP racked up two more hit singles: “Sorry Not Sorry” and “Exchange,” the latter earning him his first Grammy Award nomination for Best R&B Song. His overnight claim to fame gained Tiller a legion of admirers and allowed him to embark on his first nationwide North American tour.
Outside of the music, what seemed to be a part of Tiller’s initial appeal was his low-key demeanor. On his artworks, he would either face away from the camera, be captured in dark lighting, or hide away underneath a cap. Despite an obvious demand, interviews from the star were pretty much non-existent and magazine shoots and red carpet appearances didn’t seem to be of interest. Now nearly a decade in the game, Tiller reflects on his 22-year-old self and admits he was cautious of his image and how he might have been portrayed.
“I already get nervous about things that I posted on the internet and you know, once it’s on the internet, it’s there forever,” he tells EUPHORIA. At one point, Tiller boldly stated he would never consider doing video interviews and felt comfortable with only his voice being heard. However, in more recent years, it appears he has become more at ease with the idea as many interviews of him being captured on camera have since taken place and can be found online. “Whenever people were reaching out to do interviews and stuff, I was just really nervous that I might say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. I just wasn’t as confident back then, I would say,” he continues.
Don’t get it twisted, though. Tiller is still very much a private guy. While he is now more willing to agree to sit down for an interview or show up to an award show, there is still a sense of enigma surrounding him. “That whole mysterious thing kind of helped me out a little bit ‘cuz I can kind of just go places and people will never even realize it’s me or even believe that I’m in that location,” he says. “I’m fortunate enough not to have to deal with things like paparazzi and stuff, so it’s pretty easy to maintain my privacy and I try not to share too much on social media. I used to share a lot and then I was like, ah, you know, things got weird with people and the way they were acting. I decided to dial it back a bit when it comes to sharing my personal life.”
Tiller humbly insists he is not “super famous” and states he only gets recognized on the streets by a certain demographic. “If I go out for a day, I’ll definitely get recognized by one or two people,” he shares. “I know in Florida, a lot of black people know who I am. If I’m on the beach and it’s mostly like Spanish people, they won’t recognize me. I just kind of blend right in with the crowd.” That said, the prospect of fans approaching Tiller isn’t something he shies away from, explaining, “Surprisingly I was in Italy recently and I had a couple of fans come up to me and that was really exciting. It was really dope to see that from somewhere that’s so far away.”
Professionally, Tiller has been actively keeping listeners fed with a hefty amount of new material. Since 2020, three years after his sophomore LP True To Self, he has released a new studio album, A N N I V E R S A R Y, a deluxe version of T R A P S O U L, a follow-up to his debut mixtape, Killer Instinct 2: The Nightmare Before, and even provided fans with a Christmas EP, A Different Christmas, last festive season. At the beginning of our Zoom call, Tiller reveals he will be on his way to the studio where he will be cooking up even more new music after our chat. For a person who has evidently spent a lot of time being creative recently, Tiller confesses there was a period when he had no interest in pursuing music in between putting out albums.
“In 2017 after my tour, I took a bit of a hiatus just cause I just wasn’t feeling music. I wasn’t happy with music, I wasn’t happy with myself. I really just needed to take some time to reflect,” he says. “I actually didn’t even really get back into music all the way from 2018 to the pandemic. When my grandma passed, that was what motivated me to get up off my ass and get in the studio. Ever since then, I’ve just had this confidence that’s been brewing. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been making music, so I try to stay in the studio as much as I possibly can.”
“I kind of looked at the pandemic as a blessing and a curse for me because normally whenever I release an album, I have to go tour it right away or plan for the it and do all these different things. But since there was a pandemic, nobody could tour. I was able to just stay in the studio and if anything, do a virtual concert. But I was able to stay in the studio during that time,” he continues. “I made the A N N I V E R S A R Y album, it was kind of like getting outta the hospital bed for the first time. You know, I just had to learn how to walk again. All of those projects really helped me get to where I’m at now very like, which is comfortable.”
It’s not even been a whole year since Tiller’s last body of work and he still has a lot in the works right now. He recently dropped his most recent single, “Outside,” as the lead single for his forthcoming fourth studio album. Sonically, the track certainly differs from his signature slow jams and samples from The Ying Yang Twins “The Whisper Song” from 2005. “I didn’t choose the sample at all, actually,” Tiller says. “I gotta give the credit to Vinylz, a producer friend of mine who’s really really dope. He put together the song and sent it to us. I was excited when I first heard it and I was like, yeah, I wanna do this. This has a shock factor to it.”
He openly declares “Outside” as the type of song that is the complete opposite of what his listeners are used to hearing from him. Even though the idea of taking risks for artists can be deemed as a nerve-wracking thing to do, Tiller felt nothing but enthusiastic about releasing the song. “It’s actually really exciting. This is the most exciting I’ve ever been releasing a single. People are used to a specific thing from me, I think the feels and the feelings. I’ve been doing that for a long time so when I heard this song got me excited. It’s like an anti-feels, you know? So I cut the song immediately,” he shares.
In a day and age where you can’t escape people’s opinions, Tiller usually attempts to try not to pay too much attention to what’s being said. However, this time around, he hasn’t been able to escape the warm reaction to the new song. “I’ve seen the outpour of love from fans on TikTok dancing to it and that makes me really happy,” Tiller says. “I’m pleased with the reception. And also, for me, my biggest thing is to stand out from everything else and I think the song does that for sure.”
Fans of Tiller might be expecting “Outside” to be the first little teaser for what his Serenity album has to offer. It isn’t. As spoken about in previous interviews, Serenity is an album Tiller had plans of releasing before creating A N N I V E R S A R Y in 2020. Nevertheless, he chose to put the record on hold as it didn’t feel right for the time. In 2022, Tiller seemingly still feels that same way. Once again, a completely different project will come out before fans can get their hands on the long-awaited release. “This upcoming album is a much needed, super necessary album for me to make,” he says.
“I have elements of everything in this album, which is what I’m really excited about. There’s R&B, there’s pop, there’s, shit, I even have spoken word on here at one point. I’m just trying a bunch of new, different sounds and just experimenting and seeing where I go,” Tiller continues.
One thing about the upcoming, untitled album that will differ from all his work thus far will be Tiller’s new-found self-assurance. Taking chances is something he takes pride in more than ever. “I’m very confident and comfortable on these different tracks that might be uncomfortable to most, R&B or artists in general,” he says. “I feel like back in the past when I tried new stuff, like ‘Run Me Dry’ for example, it was fun to do, but I would say that I wasn’t comfortable and confident and I was kind of like second guessing myself while I was making it because nobody had ever heard me on this type of beat. On this album, I’m very comfortable in those spaces.”
When Tiller does feel ready for Serenity to be heard by the masses, he still plans on releasing it in three volumes based on genre: R&B, rap, and pop. As a musician who is known for their blend of R&B and rap, neither of those come as a total surprise. Although, the thought of him putting out a full-length body of work filled with pop music is definitely intriguing. Previously, Tiller achieved a global crossover hit with DJ Khaled and Rihanna on “Wild Thoughts.” More recently, he teamed up with producers Joel Corry and David Guetta to release the dance anthem “What Would You Do?” Therefore, Tiller dipping his toes into more radio-friendly, commercial-driven pop isn’t exactly foreign to him. But, as just the featured artist on those songs, he admits those aren’t his personal takes on pop music. “I’m excited to show the world what I think my version of that is,” he says. As a lover of all kinds of music, Tiller name drops Taylor Swift and Lizzy McAlpine as pop artists he’s been listening to recently.
Now that live shows are up and running, going on the road again is next on Tiller’s list thing to do in the near future, especially since it’s been over four years since his last tour. “That’s the thing that I’m looking forward to most, just getting back out there, seeing my fans. There’s so much music that we haven’t gotten a chance to listen to together or sing together and I just can’t wait,” he says. “My show is a lot more dynamic than it was before. I remember the days when we didn’t much music to perform and now we have so much, so it’s gonna be dope. I just can’t imagine a feeling that I’m gonna get whenever I first walk out on that stage.”