In early summer, I received an e-mail from an editor asking if I wanted to go to North Hollywood to interview Tyga. Because I’m a sentient being with an appreciation for the finer things in life (hookah, jungle cats, coconuts and coconut-related ephemera), it was a no-brainer. Having come straight from another interview, I completely violated all rules of rap journalism by showing up on time. This meant that I was roughly an hour early and had to kill 60 minutes idling in my car on Lankershim Blvd., waiting for Travie’s cousin to materialize. It was a few weeks after his beef with Lil Durk, so security was extra-tight and they refused to let me enter the studio until the Gardena-raised rapper entered the building.
When I was finally summoned into the compound, Tyga’s personal studio was guarded by the biggest bodyguard I’ve ever seen, complete with a screwface mug and Hulk Hogan 24-inch say-your-prayers pythons. Inside, Tyga and his manager slurped udon doused with heavy Sriracha. The room was phosphorescently lit by a purple lava lamp, a glowing black pyramid, icicle lights, and a couple of Egyptian Death masks. There was also an Ikea lamp that I used to have in my dorm room. After the Udon, Tyga picked at a plate of mangoes and pineapple, while skateboarding inside the studio. He doesn’t really skateboard. Then he asked if I wanted to hear the album, The 24th Commandment: Tyga Parts the Red Sea (working title), that Kanye and Mike Dean executive-produced. Yes. Yes, I did.
When he pressed play on what can only be described as Tyga’s Yeezus, the beats swallowed the oxygen and all remaining citrus fruit. They were snarling Where the Wild Things Are screeches ostensibly made to induce nightmares of being chased by a fur-swaddled Pharaoh’s Army in chariots. Or maybe this description is the by-product of a History Channel documentary that Tyga had playing on the studio’s flat-screen TV; it depicted animated scenes of Baby Jesus in Bethlehem being visited by Magi and religious pilgrims crossing the Negev Desert, interspersed by talking head pundits.
One of the songs that Tyga played was “40 Mill,” which finally leaked last week following threats to leak the entire album due to Cash Money reticence to release it. You can understand why the label wouldn’t know what do with it. There’s nothing remotely radio ready. The closest analogy I can offer is when The Monkees took a whole lot of acid and made a psychedelic movie directed by Jack Nicholson that subverted everything you knew about the Monkees. I couldn’t help but be impressed by how serious Tyga was about creating sincere music “that people could just ride to.” Conversely, there was something endearingly absurd about Tyga shouting in his best evil pagan deity voice: “I will shit on you.”There’s another song that sounds like Eminem circa Relapse if he’d done angel dust, and mistook the Detroit Kroger’s for a strip club. At one point, he calls himself “Shaka Zulu with the noodle and the Tek.” Then he quotes Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s dead.
I don’t think the album can necessarily be evaluated on a normal rubric. It’s kind of great and kind of bombastic and preposterous, and far better than anything I ever expected from the guy whose last album finally proved to me that ‘Pac was dead because if he was, he would’ve gotten revenge for being used this incorrectly.
Of course, I’m something of a Tyga apologist. I’ve been saying for year’s that he’s the ratchet generation Mase, so it’s perfectly logical that Kanye would figure out what to do with him. After all, Yeezus stole his first flow from “M-A-Dolla Sign-E.” The original feature ran in last month’s Nylon Guys. This is the full transcript because #freeTyga’sYeezus.
First things first, where did you shoot the video for “Hookah?”
At a rented house in the Hills… a very ancient and dope place. It actually was owned by a costume designer who designed for Liz Taylor and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Marlon Brando used to stay there.
When did you get so into Egyptology?
About five years ago. One of my favorite movies was The Mummy. I was about 9 or 10 when that shit came out and when I saw it, I was like this shit is dope. I also saw Ben Hur when I was little. I saw Cleopatra. I was like man, there’s something about Egypt and I noticed it everywhere, and then I saw the “Remember the Time” video and I felt like it started following me.
You were originally in a crew with Schoolboy Q, right?
We had a squad called G.D. Getting every dollar. Q used to put in work and I used to just rap. He never used to tell me he rapped or anything. He’d take us to the studio and pick us up. He waited for a long time to tell me that he was a rapper. I guess he was just building his confidence. He always had a good voice.
Do you guys still keep in contact?
I’ve recorded at their studio a few times. I actually had Kendrick and Jay Rock on my first mixtape.
Nah, Young on Probation. Well Done was my first noticeable credible mixtape. That was right after I did the mixtape with Chris Brown. It was me rapping on beats, not trying to tell stories, just me rapping on beats and killing shit.
How did you first link up with DJ Mustard?
I knew Mustard from when he used to DJ parties with YG. He used to be the jerk party DJ and their movement was getting big at the high schools. It was him and the New Boyz and it got huge — almost like how clown dancing was in when I was in high school. When he first sent me the beat to “Rack City,” I thought he was just playing at first. I was like, ‘where’s the rest of the beat,’ I’d never heard a beat so empty. I was on sample shit at the time and then I started listening and I was like this shit bounces…might as well try something different.
I feel like he was the first to figure out how to give West Coast hip-hop a Southern sort of bounce.
Yeah. The South shit gets you hype. People say it’s like hyphy but I don’t see that. That got you super hyphy. “Rack City” got you hype, but it was so mellow — it captured a sound for LA. As far as what’s trendy and what the rest of the world is going to follow, the Mustard shit made for a good combination.
Who were your first favorite rappers?
When I first started understanding music, I was listening to Eminem. I’m so stuck on flows that I never paid attention to anything else. I only knew about flow and sitting in that pocket. Jay Z is good, but rapping as far as flows. Eminem has the best flow and then Wayne of course, in his prime. I was like damn, if I can combine both of their flows and do some shit, it would be crazy.
I didn’t even know what Eminem was talking about — with all that killing his mom stuff. Of course, I couldn’t relate to it, but I felt like I could relate to it because I was a kid in my own world, so isolated in his own world and he was so isolated, so you connect. I used to take my Walkman and write the lyrics down…listen to it over and over again. That’s when I was like damn, I was listening to what he was saying and reading it back and it was crazy. How does he think of some shit like this?
People like different shit. You have to have something fresh-sounding. Eminem was crazy fresh and so is Mustard. I’d love to see the two of them work together.
Do you feel restricted by having to make club songs to stay relevant?
In this day in time, we focus on those club hits and the #1’s — to this generation, if you don’t have that, you’re not relevant. Unless you’re trying to do that straight freestyle rap stuff where people wont even classify you as a big artist. To be relevant you have to have something for the club.
Do you get frustrated when people refer to you as a strip club rapper after “Rack City?
Actually “Lap Dance” was the first song that I did that was big, as far as the whole strip club music thing goes. That was a big song in the streets and the strip clubs — that was the warm up. Then “Rack City,” which was so fresh. It wasn’t trying to force it down your throat, we’re not like yelling, ‘we’re in the club’
How did you first get put up on Young Thug?
Me and Kanye was in the studio and Kanye played “Danny Glover,” and I was like what is this shit — then I started really listening to it, and realized it was dope and suddenly you’re addicted to something because it’s so different.
Even how my fans are, you either hate me or you love me so much. Someone just left a comment on my Instagram, this is dope, but too bad I’m programed to hate Tyga. I was like what the fuck does that mean, I don’t get it.
It’s a lot like Mase. People loathed Mase and now a decade later everyone loves him.
Same with Cam’ron. People hated on Cam and I always loved Cam. But in his moment people hated him, even though he was dope. I think that’s what Young Thug is gonna do right now. He’s so confident and the more confidence you get, the better you sound.
Do you feel like you’ve gotten more confident over the last few years?
Definitely. That’s why when I hear a beat, I think of things to make my voice sound weird and funny. If I keep doing that, my confidence goes through the roof. I think that’s what Eminem built up over the years.
Was there a specific moment when you felt like you really gained that confidence?
I had to find a rap voice. When I first came out, I didn’t have a rap voice. I’d just get on beats and flow any type of way. I wouldn’t hear the pocket or any melodies. I did like 10 mixtapes. Four or five a year from 2008-10. I was just trying to develop. That’s why I was getting on soulful samples because I wanted my voice to be like Nas or have a staple rap voice like him or Jadakiss. Now I have that, but I want to do the Eminem type stuff, mess with the flows and do weird shit. It’s addicting to listen to those sounds…like ear candy. Young Thug is like ear candy when you hear it. [Imitates Thug on “OMG”]
At Chris Brown’s party, I played “OMG,” and everyone was like “what the fuck?” But they was loving that shit like “Oh My God…” You just start to love it.
How long have you been working on your album?
All the songs here are no older than six or seven months old. I’ve been working with Kanye over the last four months. It’s just about switching it up and learning. I’m not trying to rush it. I’m trying to put together a dope 11 song album that you can just ride to and be fresh, but still mainstream. You gotta have that hit. What me and Chris Brown are doing will make sure that happens. But on my album, there’s no R&B songs.
What made you choose “Hookah” as a single?
I put “Hookah” out because it’s a trendy song.. It goes back to the relevance factor. But on the new record, I don’t have that trendy shit. I just made shit that I liked.
What did you learn from Kanye?
I learned a lot of stuff: his thought process, what he hears — he hears certain things that I wouldn’t hear or think about adding. A melody. Everything has to have a bed. The 808s, the bass, that’s not enough, you have to have that warmth and then you add the shit and then that’s what makes it crazy. Before that, I was like if the snares are good, the tempo’s fast, then I’ll rap on it like some “A Milli” shit.
Do you feel pressure to keep making hits?
When you’re known for hits, people look for hits. I feel like with my generation, you definitely always have to have something crazy or fresh about the music that people will talk about. Dance records will always be trendy. I learned so many songs by just going on Vine. They’re originally big in that world and then they get big later.
That’s what the people want and when you can tap into what they gravitate to — instead of worrying about the radio — you’ll be fine. Radio will play whatever, everyone else just follows.
But you gotta have a machine. You have to have that game plan. I never had the big push. I’m signed, but I move like I’m independent. I put stuff out when I want. I shoot the videos how I want. That’s why I have so many videos. That’s how I can sell my brand. It’s face value.
YouTube videos are obviously the most direct way to quickly convey an aesthetic to the audience.
And we was at the front of it. YouTube. World Star put my videos up everyday. I really just wanna put out my new album, get the visuals right and put out a single. You gota lead with buzz and then go with something. The last record was all hits. As far as like rap stuff, having a lot of features, from like having “Dope “on there, to the song with Ross, the song with Wayne, with Wiz, the song about molly. It was all commercial. It was more what people expected. This is more unexpected. This is the opposite.
What exactly is so different?
I’m trying to stick to more stories and content. It’s just stuff you can fall in love and ride to. Late night shit. I just want people to zone out to it.
What set you on this direction?
I just got so tired of hearing the same shit. I know what I wanted. There was nothing that I wanted to ride around and listen to. Not like I don’t party, but I can’t hear party music all the time. I might not want to be turnt up in the morning. I want to ride to shit, but not be bored. I want to hear some life shit, not depressing stuff necessarily, but with some rapper shit too. It sounds so fresh. We still got the Chris Brown record. The Mustard track. The Nic Nac joint.
What exactly is Kanye’s role?
He helped me on every song; he’s executive producing. I’ll get a beat and he’ll change something or Mike Dean will change things. He’ll have some comments about a lyric — you should do this here, put this there.
When did you meet Kanye?
I’ve known Kanye through my ex-girlfriend. I met him in like 2007.
Around when you met Wayne?
I met Wayne at the VMAs. I was performing with Fall Out Boy in Vegas and I told him that I’m a big fan of his raps. Then he just gave me his phone number. I was like this is crazy. So I’d send him emails and he wouldn’t say that much and then one day, he’s like, ‘can you fly to Atlanta tonight?’ I’m like, ‘what the fuck, hell yeah!’ And I went out there and stayed out there two to three weeks. I came back to LA and went back out to Atlanta again. That’s when he did “A Milli.” I originally rapped over “A Milli.” Lil Mama was there and she rapped over it. Cory Gunz rapped over it. All the young artists that night rapped over it. And that’s crazy that it went so big because I was there that night. I was kinda starstruck. I wasn’t even paying attention what was going on.
What was Wayne like around that time?
Wayne was just gaga. He was dying everyday in the news. There wasn’t no Twitter, so everything was special when you seen it and heard about it. Now you’re seen and heard all the time, so it’s not that unique.
There’s a line on your new single about how tired you are of the fame. Is that just some exaggeration or is that sincere?
You just get tired of shit. I just want the money. I don’t want to do the extra shit. You have to deal with public opinion all day. You got all the wanna-bes. People expect so much from you. If I had a 100 million, I wouldn’t tour, I wouldn’t go to no clubs, people wouldn’t see me. I’d never do shows unless I felt like performing. I wouldn’t move around how you do when you need to make money and stay relevant.
Does the celebrity gossip shit get to you?
You can do some crazy shit and it’ll be in the media tomorrow for a hot second. People are worried about all the wrong things. I see myself on TMZ. I see that shit on my twitter as though those are things that actually matter, You wake up and you’re like, ‘what the fuck is everyone so angry about? People don’t even care, they’re like, ‘he’s got money, fuck him.” What does that have to do with anything?
People don’t even care about album sales right now. I think they just care about who got slapped, who’s beefing with who, all they put in your face is fight compilations. When kids see that shit, they get negative. They want the artists to fight and talk shit. That shit’s overrated.
What made you decide to open up a clothing boutique?
We have a store called Last Kings on Fairfax. We opened it in March. We just sell our brand. Hats, shirts, everything. I got a boxer line called Crisp. I’m trying to get that in JC Penney and Macy’s. They sell boxers at 30 dollars or 25 dollars. We’re selling at 12. Clothing is always easy for me to do, once I realized I’m a marketable person who can sell stuff. I’m just a walking advertisement. People just buy stuff when I promote it.
How did the clothing line start?
It started with the snapbacks. Me and Chris was doing videos with snapback in 09 and I started going to shows and seeing kids dressing like that. No one was dressing like that before, not even in LA. And I’d go to Germany and see motherfuckers dressing like that. They watched the video and copied. So we started making Last Kings hats and shit and people started bootlegging it, and it turned into a real line.
What do you think about rap’s infatuation with high fashion?
I’ve always been interested in fashion – not really high fashion. I just like streetwear. I don’t understand high fashion as much. I know what looks good, but I understand streetwear. I’m coming out with a brand of t-shirts for everyday people. If you look at a lot of clothing brands, it’s just a weed plant or some novelty shit. There’s no real attachment to the person. Last Kings is a whole way of life. I’m a king; I’m fresh. When you wore Roc-A-Wear or Sean John, aside from seeing Diddy or Jay wear it, you felt like you were a part of something, a whole culture, a whole brand. It wasn’t just another shirt.
So when did you start skating? [I point to him on the skateboard]
I don’t skate. Someone made this for me. I just fuck around with it.
What’s up with the gold color schemes?
I was always into gold. Even from my first mixtape, I had gold rope chains. I was always into the Paid in Full look. I just felt like it was about to go that way. Gold and Kings are just equivalent. I wanted to do shit where we came from, but not some African shit where I was super pro black or into it. I just wanted to do something that everyone can fuck with.
Did having a son change you in any way?
Having a girl would’ve changed me more. A kid makes me appreciate the value of what life is about. It’s about working hard to pass something down and so on. It made me get my business mind right. I want to learn the business. In rap, there’s a new person every day. You can only be so good at it. There’s like 5 people who are considered the best out of millions of people who ever rapped. As long as I have a place and I’m comfortable, I’ll always be good. But I can overlap people if they’re arrogant and be smart in other ways where other people might not be.
Do you feel boxed in as a strip club rapper?
I never made records for the strip club. I just made that shit and put it out. I never expected “Rack City” to be such a hit. I was still doing my other shit. “Far Away” was the lead single because that was the whole Bruno Mars trend and everyone was like, ‘let’s get a good radio song.’
So what’s next?
Clothing, shoes. We’re about to bring back LA Gear. Bieber came by here yesterday. We were here till 7 in the morning, just talking about bitches all day. Can you imagine having 300 million dollars and being 19. He was just in Miami and discovered Dominican girls, so he up and took a plane to the Dominican Republic. He got records too. He played me some shit that was fire. I also got a song with Prodigy from Mobb Deep too.
I’m just trying to figure out the next thing for music. I’m just trying to figure out what people want to hear. I know what I want to hear. Me as an artist, I might not have the same ear that regular people want to hear. I know people are caught up in the Mustard sound, but I feel like people are tired of the same shit. It doesn’t have to be straight hip hop or straight depressive shit. Drake’s shit is fresh because you can play it in the club, for the hip-hop fans, for the girls. People always want fresh shit. People are too concerned with this is not hip-hop, this is twerk music. Back in the day, they only cared — is it fresh or is it not?