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An Interview with Tyga: Icon in the Making

An Interview with Tyga: Icon in the Making

This interview first appeared in the print edition of RAIN magazine in the spring of 2019.

Interview by Sean Weiland and Mary Jo Bruno. Photography by Renata Raksha
Styling by Derek Beckman.

Everyone wants to do whatever they want. Write what they want, say what they want, wear what they want, drive what they want, create what they want, perform what they want, direct what they want. Everyone wants to have fun, fun, fun. Unfortunately, most of us are not afforded the luxury of true personal and artistic freedom… Eventually, Daddy comes and takes the T-Bird away.

We all know Tyga, or know of him, and it is nearly impossible to avoid the media spectacle that surrounds him. He is all about fun in a world that is increasingly more divisive, angry, and ultimately confused. Facts have become alternative and news has become fake. Tyga is not so easily affected by the outside world or current trends, he does not create music or images based on what society claims to want or what the media says is working today. He creates a world all his own and it clearly resonates with millions of listeners and viewers. Millions is an understatement, actually, it is hundreds of millions of listeners and viewers. His single “Taste”, featuring Offset, has now had almost 680 million views on YouTube alone—add up a few other platforms and we are well over the billion mark.

Tyga continues to surprise and create music on his own terms, as well as explore other artistic mediums, something that should be highly valued, considering the ephemeral world of popular music in the internet age. He has collaborated with the who’s who of music today, from Nicki Minaj to Post Malone. He is not afraid to take risks, try new things. He treats all aspects of his life this way, including his approach to fashion. Tyga’s personal style is unique; it’s all about bold choices and personal comfort.

Fun is something that never goes out of fashion. Tyga has fun qualities in abundance. His magnetism keeps drawing you back in, whether it’s for his music videos, singles, or albums. After his knockout singles of 2018, we’re all just as ready for his new album as he is.

All by Gucci.

Sean Weiland: Thank you for doing the interview, Tyga, really appreciate it. You were the It musician of 2018, and you had a ton of hits. I know you have a new album coming out. Are you keeping the same momentum going that you gained with “Taste” and “Girls Have Fun”?

Tyga: Tempo-wise, yeah, definitely, but a bit of the subject matter is a little different. Probably, if it was all the way up to me, I wouldn’t [get round to putting] out an album, I’d just keep putting out songs. But I think there’s a lot of songs that need to be heard in a body of work, and I think I’ve dragged my fans out long enough. It’s definitely time for an album. Some records just aren’t singles, but they’re good songs. Some records are just vibe songs, you know? There are a lot of records like that on the album, with some good features, so I think it’s time to put out the whole body of work.

SW: Perfect. How did you get your name?

T: When I was younger, my aunties, they used to say I looked like Tiger Woods.

Mary Jo Bruno: You still do.

T: My mom is Vietnamese and Jamaican. That’s probably where the mix comes from. Then, when you’re thinking of rap names… I was 12 when I decided I wanted to be a rapper. I was like, “What about Money Mike?” You know what I’m saying? It was just so many different names that I wanted to choose. I was like, “Well, I’ll just stick with this ’cause it’s kind of familiar already.” I just switched up the spelling to T-Y-G-A, which stands for “Thank You God Always.”

MJB: Would you say 12 years old was about the time you realized that you had style?

T: Yeah, that’s when I wrote my first rap. That’s when it was just a hobby, it was just something fun to do. I would come home from school and record myself, make my own beats.

MJB: Who do you listen to?

T: Music-wise? Everybody. I listen to everything. I’m just a fan of the culture.

“I think there’s a lot of songs that need to be heard in a body of work, and I think I’ve dragged my fans out long enough. It’s definitely time for an album. Some records just aren’t singles, but they’re good vibe songs, you know? There are a lot of records like that on the album, with some good features”

SW: Was there a point when things became very real and you knew that this was happening? That this was your destiny? When did you first feel like you got traction?

T: I think when I met Lil Wayne when I was 17. I was a Wayne superfan, still am. I did one mixtape, packaged it all up myself, then I would hand it out. I would go to the different malls in LA and pass my mixtapes out, like at barbershops—wherever I could, I would just pass my CDs out. I was on Melrose and then I passed it to a close friend of mine, Travis McCoy, who was in a band called Gym Class Heroes. He was on Melrose and I passed him my CD, and I had AIM instant messenger at the time.

SW: What was your screen name?

T: TYFlyGuy—I was young. We exchanged instant messages, ’cause I had just seen [Lil Wayne] on something, like on TV. I didn’t know too much about him. I’m like, “Nah, I just seen this dude on TV. I like him swag.” He’s got like a rap swag. Then, from there, through [Travis], that’s when I met Lil Wayne, in Vegas at the MTV VMAs, for the first time. Then once I met him, it was just super-surreal. I was just like, “Man, I’m a huge fan of yours. Man, can I have your number?” I just straight up asked him for his number, like, “Yo, I’m a fan. Can I have your number? I’ll send you some music.” And he gave me his number.

MJB: Wow, that’s great.

T: I don’t know what it was, but he gave me his number.

SW: He must have seen something in you.

T: Something. He gave me his number, and then I would go back and forth with him on text. This is around the time he had started working on Tha Carter III, one of the biggest albums of his career.

He called me one day and was like, “Yo, man. Can you fly to Atlanta tonight?” I was just like, “Yeah.” So I flew to Atlanta. He was recording “A Milli”. That was his break-out, kind of crazy hit that took him to the next level. It was just surreal being in the studio with him around that time. This is before Instagram. This is before things were going viral. You know what I’m saying? You have to be there to know it. That was when I realized, like, “Wow, this is something I could really, really do, and this is really happening.” That was a moment. Somebody who you just listening to their mixtapes every day and you just listening to his albums, having all that, putting the posters on your wall. Then, next thing you know, you in the studio with him.

SW: That’s when you were 17?

T: Yeah, I was 17.

SW: Because of AOL instant messenger?

T: Instant messenger.

SW: [LAUGHS.]

T: Damn. Crazy.

MJB: We noticed you have a lot of style. Who do you follow in fashion?

T: I think it’s more about comfortability for me. I think fashion goes with the weather. When I get dressed, I just feel like, “This is wha it feels like today is.” I think fashion is very like a feeling. That’s why some people’s fashion is more outspoken than others. Some people’s fashion is simple—you know what I’m saying? Some people wear all black, goth style. Some people like wearing crazy colors, neons. I think it has a lot to do with your expression and how you feel.

MJB: Do you plan on doing anything in fashion? With your own brand?

T: I’ve done a collab. I’ve done a clothing line. I definitely wanna do something, but I’m not in a rush ’cause it’s a lot to do retail and have a clothing line. The main focus right now is my music, but I’m always open to doing certain collabs and things like that.

MJB: Sean told us that you’re very interested in cars.

T: Yeah, I like cars.

SW: Are they an inspiration for you in terms of music?

T: Yeah. I think it’s just personal style. I mean, I just love cars, man.

SW: Can we get a rundown of some of the cars you’ve owned?
Because I tried to get a list, and they are some of the best cars of the past few years.

T: I’ve got a lot of cars, man. There’s something about cars—it’s just like, you know, you work so hard. They are one of those things… When I get a car, I get so excited. It’s like being a kid again.

SW: Do you have a favorite?

T: My favorite car I’ve ever had… I like Lambos, I like exotic cars. I had a 488 Ferrari, a yellow one. That’s probably my favorite car. It just drives really good.

SW: V8 twin turbo?

T: Yeah. Being in LA, it’s just like, sports cars…

MJB: If you were going to pick a girl up for a date, which car would you take?

T: The Ferrari! Always the two-seater. Girls like fast cars.

MJB: What about sports? Do you like one in particular?

T: Sports? When I was younger, I played football and stuff like that, but some things just aren’t meant for you. Sports just wasn’t in my calling.

MJB: Do you have a team you follow?

T: I like players more. Football, I used to be a big Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan because of the players, like Warren Sapp, Keyshawn Johnson, all those guys. Right now, of course, anything home base, like the Rams.

SW: You were also in a couple of movies. Is that something you want to continue?

MJB: I know you did a movie with Bruce Willis and Jason Momoa [Once Upon a Time in Venice, 2017]. How was that?

T: That was cool. It was actually just a

few scenes. It was cool, though, ’cause I’d never met Bruce Willis before, and he was exactly like he is on film. His personality is exactly the same.

MJB: Do you want to do more movies?

T: Yeah, for sure. I’m actually talking about doing something now. Hopefully my own movie, though, because I just want it to be the right one. ’Cause I think it has to bridge the gap between the music and the brand that I’m pushing musically. I still want to challenge myself. It just has to be something that I’m interested in, because I feel like acting’s not my first calling. If I do it, I gotta really wanna do it.

I like horror movies. Recently, I did [season three of the TV series] Scream. They did a remake of Scream, and they based it in Atlanta. It’s coming out on MTV, I think, and Netflix pretty soon. That was, like, six one-hour episodes and I’m a main character in that. That was something that was really challenging, but I liked it. It was good. I wanted to do it. My heart was in it, you know?

MJB: Well, I hope to see you in more movies.

T: Yeah, for sure.

SW: Your video for “Taste” from last year, I checked the other day—it had 644 million views.

T: Yeah. That’s my most-viewed video, out of all my music.

SW: That’s more than the population of the United States.

T: For real.

Sweater by Gucci. Pants by Moncler. Sunglasses by Louis Vuitton.

SW: It’s almost double the population of the United States. It’s almost like every American watched it twice.

T: That’s crazy.

SW: It’s such a visually striking video. Are you involved in the production of your videos?

T: Yeah, I come up with all the concepts. Me and my director, Arrad. Literally every time I have a new song, I’m like, “I wanna shoot a video,” and he’ll come to my house and we’ll sit down and brainstorm all day— go through ideas, references, what parts
of the video we want on the lyrics. We put together a whole storyboard of how we want it, you know?

SW: So you’re really involved in the filming production of the music videos?

T: Everything from location to concept, to picking the girls’ outfits, the angles of the camera. I think it’s important.

MJB: Their outfits go along with what you’re wearing, right?

T: Right, exactly. I always try to keep a theme in every video. If it’s a party, I’m gonna make it a party. If it’s girls, it’s gonna be 100 girls. It just depends. I did a video with Nicki Minaj, “Dip,” and it was inspired heavily by Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” video. That was the whole mood for it. I was like, “It would be cool if me and Nicki did something like that.” So you see me flying around in the video, she’s playing with the doll. You got floating violins, and it’s like an all-white space, a spaceship kind of video— these different, cool rooms.

MJB: You put that all together in your head? You were able to visualize it?

T: Yeah, exactly.

SW: I know you’ve also worked with many different artists. Is there one in particular you like collaborating with?

T: I think my favorite is probably Chris Brown. I like working with him a lot. I like working with Wayne. I like working with Pharrell. Some people you just gel real good with. Sometimes when you get with an artist, you kind of overthink things, but I think I’m really good at picking features and seeing who would be right. It’s about bringing out the best of each other when you feature or do a real collab.

SW: I’m sure you’re aware of the passing of Nipsey Hussle—a tragic event. Have you collaborated with him in the past?

T: Yeah, we did one song and I wish we’d done more. I just seen him recently. You know, it’s just a very, very sore thing, man. Especially for LA, ’cause he meant so much, not just to the rap game, but as a pioneer on the West Coast. When you think about West Coast and new-generation rap, Nipsey is top of the list.

SW: Totally.

T: Yeah, it’s crazy. It definitely took a lot of soul out of music—just LA, period. I think a lot of people don’t know how to feel. I’m still, kinda… I really don’t know how to feel. It’s just a sore subject, man.

MJB: He did a lot of things for children, for charity.

T: He did a lot of stuff, you know. It’s like he knew his calling. From day one, he’s always been that guy. You listen to his first project it was always like, “I’m good in the community. I’m doing this.” He was always pushing agenda. It’s not like he decided to build this community after he got fame or success, or got money. He was like this from day one. And like Tupac, some people are just natural born leaders and vocal about their leadership, and others aren’t. I think I’m vocal but I don’t like to be so political, so I choose not to speak about certain things. I think everybody has a different calling and a different place to use their voice of influence, and I think he used his the best he could.

“I just feel like this double album is me really putting my foot down and me really locked in, saying, ‘I’m all the way back, focused.’ Not all the way back, like as far as on the charts, or being successful again, but really just back focused on what my mission was and feeling free, making the music, you know?”

SW: Awesome. I know you have a huge presence on social media, and with that comes the ability to reach many people, but it also heightens scrutiny of you. Is that something you’re more cognizant of?

T: Nah, ’cause I didn’t really grow up on social media or off social media. It’s just kind of a moodboard. Somewhere to express what you’re doing, share what you want here and there. I don’t really get caught up in it too much—it doesn’t have a soul, so it’s just there. You can turn it off, you could delete it, or you could be on it all day and it can consume you. It just depends how you use it. At the end of the day, it’s people’s opinions—it’s millions and millions of opinions. Can’t get too caught up in it. It can be a good thing and a bad thing, it just depends on how you look at it.

SW: You’ve got a new album coming out on…?

T: That comes out May 31st, as of now.

MJB: Yeah, unless we change it again.

T: No, no, no. I’m not gonna change it. It’s called Legendary. It’s a double album. I feel like I wanted to do a double album ’cause I have so many songs.

SW: That’s a good problem to have.

T: Yeah, I got a lot of songs, and as you see, over the past year, I’ve dropped maybe, like, five songs. Couple of features. I’ve got a lot of features coming out, but I just feel like this double album is me really putting my foot down and me really locked in, saying, “I’m all the way back, focused.” Not all the way back, like as far as on the charts, or being successful again, but really just back focused on what my mission was and feeling free, making the music, you know?

SW: Do you have any songs you’re most excited about?

T: Definitely. I got a record on there called “Made Me,” featuring Bazzi. It’s just a really good song, like the meaning behind it and everything. I think people are gonna like that. I got a record with Chris Brown and J Balvin, and it’s gonna be a smash.

SW: For sure.

T: Yeah, I’m definitely excited about those two, but the whole project, too, ’cause every song has a different vibe. It’s something you could turn on at a barbecue, or at a party, or just listen to late at night. Or play when it’s super-sunny around a lot of people in a party setting, a pool party. You could play it in the car, at nighttime, by yourself when you driving. I like that type of music, you know.

Legendary is out now on Empire / Last Kings Records

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