Originally published August 28, 2017
If Bryson Tiller is being candid, he can easily draw a list of comparisons between his years spent in the music industry to the plot of the 2011 animated film Rio.
Blu, the film’s protagonist, is reluctantly removed from his comfortable, calm and controlled environment in Minnesota and thrust into the unfamiliar territories of Rio de Janeiro. Unable to fly, Blu is often a step behind his counterparts and is ill-equipped to navigate a myriad of haphazard scenarios.
Though the cartoon’s thematic elements may only be sheer entertainment for Tiller’s kindergarten-aged daughter, he admits that his own experiences as a fledgling R&B superstar in the music industry were comically similar to those of the animated film’s star.
On October 9, 2014, the then-21-year-old nonchalantly released his single “Don’t” on SoundCloud. The song catapulted him from a humble life in Louisville, KY, to the precipice of R&B superstardom, seemingly overnight. His product was quickly in-demand, requiring him to contend with artists with more stamina and finesse, and obligating him to perform on stage for the first time, producing moments that he now admits were ridden with timidity and little polish.
Just a few years ago, while holding down jobs at UPS, Papa John’s and a moving company, Tiller, now 24, fantasized about what is his current reality: tour buses, sold-out shows, awards, and the list of accouterments that come with a platinum single and album. On one hand, he’s grateful for his increasingly plush lifestyle; on the other, he contemplates the idea of disappearing completely from the limelight.
“I’m barely famous and I hate it,” he melodically raps on “Nevermind This Interlude,” a cut off of his sophomore album, True to Self. In person, he reaffirms his sentiments: “I would love to just be a songwriter,” he revealed.
But to shy away from the spotlight would result in destitution for his combined seven million fans and followers, the main proponents of his platinum debut, T R A P S O U L.
Removing himself from R&B prominence would also take away from lucrative income streams. “[In] 2015, made two mill[ion dollars] for my daughter,” he raps alongside Young Thug. It’s a number he reluctantly confirms in person but clarifies that it didn’t include the investment from his record deal and publishing royalties.“I regret that line,” he admitted. “My business manager always tells me I should want people to think I’m broke because then less people ask for things.”
But it will be harder for him to conceal his financial well-being moving forward. He landed on the Forbes Cash Princes list in 2017, grossing an estimated $100,000 per show. The North American leg of his Set It Off tour touches 26 cities, while his participation on DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts” has presented him with another platinum plaque; its accompanying video has surpassed 320 million views on YouTube.
From an outsider’s perspective, Tiller should be content. Still, the singer covets one thing: a mentor. He looks forward to the day a patriarchal figure will bestow unbiased advice and wisdom on how to tread the waters of the fast-paced music industry. It doesn’t necessarily need to be Jay Z, though Tiller would likely embrace the 4:44 rapper showing him how to move in a room full of selfish music executives.
For now, he’s forced to rely on the same instincts that encouraged him to forgo the record deal Drake offered him years ago. But music isn’t the only industry Tiller needs guidance on pioneering. He has his eyes set on creating video games, dabbling into comedy television, and often ping pongs around the idea of owning a Jet Ski company.
In an industry that he compares to the culture of a high school because of its hollow relationships and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately facade, it’s unknown how long Tiller will continue down the road of an artist. Whatever the future venture, he’ll likely employ the same quiet confidence that began when he released “Don’t,” a song that changed the trajectory of his life when he needed it most.
“Right before I dropped [True to Self] I said my life is either going to change for the worse or the better. But even if it did change for the worse, I’m always going to try to figure it out.”