by flaunt

“You don’t have to like my music, you don’t have to like me as a person, but you can’t look at what happened to me and not be inspired by it.”

Yup, I know the people they diggin’ me now

From a small seed, a mighty tree can grow. This is the quintessential idea that germinates in the American Dream. Consider this formidable sapling: from a SoundCloud release of his first single “Don’t” reaching over sixty million plays, to recognition from Drake, one of his greatest influences, to attention from Timbaland, arguably one of the best producers in the industry, to signing with RCA and releasing his highly anticipated first studio album T R A P S O U L, then touring the world and selling out shows, and, oh yeah, getting a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Song for his track “Exchange,” Bryson Tiller, AKA Pen Griffey, has grown mightily before turning 24.

The cool kids from my school can’t sit with me now

At the Grammys he was up against legends in the R&B category: Rihanna and Maxwell, as well as young contemporaries Tory Lanez and PartyNextDoor. The artist handles the great honor with class. “I’m just looking forward to the show.” Tiller tells us, “When I went to the VMAs and the BET Awards it was a dope show. Just a cool experience. I’d never even been to a concert before [where] all of that stuff started happening, and so, to be at the VMAs, or the BET Awards, or the Grammy Awards it’s crazy to see. I get to witness this type of stuff. It’s crazy.”

It’s about time I do it

It’s about time I say this shit

Spent a lot of time on the waiting list

The things we do to get a girlfriend. 15 years old in his grandma’s house, Tiller started putting pen to paper. Pulled beats off of SoundClick and started writing. “I just found a new hobby. Playing video games used to be what we did 24/7, and then, you know, I realized I wanted to do something different.” He wrote about what most 15-year-old boys are thinking about. “I wrote this song a while ago, it was called ‘Make My Move.’ It was basically about making a move on a girl that I really had a crush on. I was writing about corny stuff like that.” His songs aren’t “corny” anymore though. He writes about the struggles of relationships, about turning into the better man that can make a situation work. “I think I saw an article once about me making ‘baby come back’ type songs, I mean I hope that I’m not making those types of songs forever.”

Right now

As he works on songs for his new album, True To Self, Tiller shows even more maturity with relationships and the strains his new success may bring. “You might meet a girl who’s okay with this lifestyle, and then sometimes there are the girls who are not okay with it. You know what I’m saying? I won’t say which one my girl is. I don’t know. There are a lot of obstacles that have been thrown my way, but you know, I think this album is about overcoming those obstacles and staying true to myself.”

You are now tuned in

Pen Griffey

I’m still going in

“Who is he?”

Motherfucker I’m him

Pen Griffey was born while working on the songs for T R A P S O U L, a lot of which were written while he worked at a Papa John’s back in Louisville, Kentucky. “I was writing my rap while I was working, because… I don’t know if anybody else does this, but whenever I’m at work and I’m just trying to make the time go by, I just sing a thousand songs until it’s over. In my head or out loud. One day I just started making my own and I just came up with that line, and I was like ‘oh man, I’m going to use that as an alias.’ I’m trying to get as many hits as Ken Griffey had, I’m trying to write that many hits, that might be impossible but I’m trying to get close.”

The hits are coming. His song “Don’t” peaked at 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Exchange” peaked at 26 and earned a Grammy nomination, and his SoundCloud page boasts songs with tens of millions of plays. The anticipation builds for his upcoming album, True to Self. “I wanted to be very personal with this album and just, you know, honest, and just be transparent with my lyrics. Hopefully every song you can at least understand the story.”

So, ever since October

Living out my dreams, they got a lot closer

Had to do it for my daughter before she got older

Tiller built his career while working at Papa John’s. His hard work is not just for himself – he is a family man. “I think about this all the time: this could all be taken, this could all be gone if I don’t make music. So that scares me. Actually, my job at Papa John’s was a little more stable, because I knew I was going to be able to clock-in the next day. I wasn’t going to get fired. But with [music], it’s not like it’s a sure thing, even though people around me tell me it is. That makes me work harder and harder.”

It’s like looking for them hitters on SoundClick

Hoping someone else ain’t already killed it

Wait up, for real, you exclusive? I found it

The digital/social age has opened huge doors for new artists on the scene. Both SoundClick and SoundCloud allow artists to share their music and even sample other songs or beats. “The beat is the main thing. I hear the beat that moves me the most – the one that provokes emotion. I always write one liners in my notes in my iPhone.”

And some say there’s levels to this shit

Damn look at all the levels that I skipped

Bryson Tiller’s fans have followed him from his SoundCloud page to sold-out shows around the world including Radio City Music Hall. “I think that’s the biggest show I’ve ever sold out, I think like 6,000, and then I did it two nights in a row. It’s just crazy, man, to just see all those lights in the crowd and to hear people singing my songs.” There is a pressure that comes with that success and that sort of following, especially in these times of global unease – a pressure to have something to say. “I feel like there are different artists for that. I don’t think people want to hear me talk about that type of stuff. For example, Sade is the artist I go to when I feel free and I want to feel the vibes. You play it through your house and you just feel good, you know? Future is the artist I play whenever I want to get hyped, I want to get ready, you know what I’m saying? And I think I might be the artist you play when you want to reflect on your relationship or figure out how to talk to your girl.”

Feeling like there’s a medal I should get

What Tiller hopes to give to his fans, in addition to the music, is inspiration. “You don’t have to like my music, you don’t have to like me as a person, but you can’t look at what happened to me and not be inspired by it. As somebody here in Louisville that works at Papa John’s or as somebody here in Louisville that works anywhere – that works a regular job, just, you know, gets to see how fast your life can change. It wasn’t a gimmick, it wasn’t like a fake story, this really happened to me. That’s what I want in the end: I just want to inspire people, that’s my end goal, always.”

Written by Jon-Barrett Ingels
Photographer: Gilad Sasporta
Art Director: Adrienne Cheney
Stylist: Zoe Costello for Atelier Management
Hair: Rich
Groomer: Lucia


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