Lil Tjay is the true definition of a survivor, and now he’s here to tell his story the best way he knows how: through his music. On June 22nd, 2022 the “Calling My Phone” recording artist was shot seven times as the result of an attempted robbery in Edgewater, New Jersey.
Right as Lil Tjay was being flown by helicopter to Hackensack University Medical Center, where he underwent emergency surgery, the numbers on the clock read 2:22—which he now considers his angel numbers. Consequently, 222 would be the title of his newest project, his first full body of work since the shooting. The number ‘2’ is seen in his previous two projects: True 2 Myself and Destined 2 Win, but 222 unveils his most vulnerable side his fans have seen thus far.
222 isn’t just Tjay addressing the shooting, although the project’s lead single “June 22nd” sees him reliving that day in detail. The 15-track album boasts the song “Foster Baby,” as Tjay opens up about being adopted and the trials and tribulations that come with overcoming the streets. The album hails standout features from Summer Walker, Polo G, NBA Youngboy, The Kid LAROI, and Jadakiss.
With over 9.3 billion global streams to his name, Lil Tjay has cemented himself as a mainstay in the rap game, arriving with his own unique sound, swag, and testimony of triumph that shines through with each release. Fan favorites include “F.N,” “Calling My Phone” featuring 6LACK, “Brothers,” and many many more.
And if there’s one thing about Lil Tjay, it’s the fact that he’s always going to put on a show for his fans. The Bronx, New York native shuts down stages all over the world, and now he’s excited as ever to embark on his forthcoming Beat The Odds Tour—kicking off September 21st in Pittsburgh and wrapping December 15th in San Francisco.
Some of those dates include Europe, a place that gives him “peace of mind.” His first time in Paris was to attend Fashion Week, igniting his newfound love for fashion as he expands his reach in creative pursuits beyond music.
A spark is lit, but we are most certainly not blowing smoke here. FLAUNT spoke with Lil Tjay to discuss his new album, life on the road, fashion week, family, and processing trauma.
You’re embarking on the Beat the Odds Tour—what’re you most excited about? I know performing is one of your favorite things.
For this tour, I’m more excited to build up my set. Add more to my show than me performing in front of the mic. It’s a little overdue right now, but this time I’m excited to perform new songs. I haven’t really had a lot of new music catalogs to switch up my set in a while, so I’m looking forward to that.
You’ve said that festivals and sold-out crowds are normal to you now. Do you still get nervous at all when you perform?
Sometimes I get a little nervous, but not too much. Not like that—it’s normal to me now. I get excited, that’s what it is.
You’re going to Europe on this tour, how does being there give you peace of mind?
I love being in Europe. It’s a good space for me to be in because it’s nothing too personal. I don’t really know too many people, it’s like a fresh start. It gives me a little bit of peace of mind. I have less things to distract me. I could spend more time on myself, and focus on what I need to worry about.
How was your first fashion week experience in Paris?
My first fashion week this year was lit. I don’t normally be interested in going out there and watching the shows. This was my first time going and expanding to that market, just checking it out, and I definitely had fun. It was lit. I was putting on a whole bunch of outfits every day.
Talk about your love for fashion. What were you wearing before you got money?
Before I had money, I was wearing the same clothes. I’d wear five or six outfits for the whole year to rotate, so fashion wasn’t really a thing. I tried to get creative and put some bleach on the clothes for the little polka dots to give the clothes a different look.
What other brands do you like?
I like Rick Owens right now. I like KidSuper. I love Louis Vuitton. Prada. Amiri.
Any fashion icons?
I didn’t study it as far when I was coming up. But current day, definitely Pharrell. To even be in business in any way, shape, or form with Louis Vuitton is amazing. But to be creative director, that’s super amazing to come from rap and make it there. Definitely, he’s a real model of fashion to me for that.
What advice did Pharrell give you, and how was it meeting him?
When I met Pharrell, he gave me advice to stay positive, work extra hard. We also went over different beats and he told me to make the music reflective of me. We also talked about musical candies, things that do well. What we do on a song as artists, we had conversations about that.
Do y’all have a record together?
Not with him singing on it, he produced it. But yes, for sure. It’s a banger. It’s not out yet. We actually recorded it at one of the spots.
Did you learn anything from working with him?
Facts. I feel like when the song comes out, I’ll be able to explain a little more.
Congratulations on the release of 222. What does this project mean to you? Because you are being so vulnerable, your fans really appreciate that.
I took my time and put it together. This to me was a project where I didn’t really have to question myself: is it good like that? I was over-passionate about it. I love the response it got. To me, this project was me getting back on track, you feel me? The final step of my comeback, me getting back on track to making music and doing what I do.
I was listening to “Foster Baby,” and you opened up about being adopted. Was it challenging to put that into your music?
Definitely. When I was young, I don’t think none of my friends knew I was adopted, for real. But I never told them. I felt it was a little bit embarrassing and unnecessary to speak about. Most people had their regular parents at home, so it made them feel like they’re better than you. Especially in the neighborhoods I’m from. You don’t want to tell nobody your flaws.
Was music always your escape? Not even creating it, but listening as well?
I think so. I always loved music, extra hard. Facts, it definitely is now.
You’re from the Bronx, where hip-hop was birthed. We’re going on 50 years in August. Do you remember the moment you fell in love with hip-hop?
When I was born, I was hearing hip-hop from the belly, ain’t gonna lie. I don’t think I have a moment when I fell in love with it because I remember hip-hop all my life. Forreal forreal. My mom’s a big fan of hip-hop. Actually, my mom’s favorite artist is Jadakiss.
How excited was she that you collaborated with him?
Yeah, nah, she said that’s one of the best songs. I had just DM’ed him like, ‘Yo, I want to put you on my album. Let’s do a song.’ He just came through for me. It was kind of simple. It came through, and it was like, thanks.
Did you make that song with him in mind?
Nah. I already had the song for a little while. The hook and verse. I’m like, ‘Dang, who else could I put on this?’ I wanted to put on somebody that older people would say, ‘Ooh, he looked out for us.’ So I was thinking Jadakiss.
Have you ever DM’ed someone you really wanted to collab with, and they didn’t respond or see it?
Yeah. My song “Someone Who Cares” on my album, I was trying to get Future on it, but it didn’t come through like that. I didn’t think I had enough time.
That definitely needs to happen. That’s going to be a toxic record.
Everyone’s favorite is “Stressed” with Summer Walker. Did you bump Summer before that?
Yeah, facts. I don’t be listening to OD girl music because it’s not something I can relate to. Her music really suits the perspective of a girl, but I definitely came across it a million times, and I respect it. Respect the craft.
How was it shooting the video in Atlanta?
It was cool, doing a little video shoot. It was a long shoot.
Do you like music video shoots? Some artists don’t enjoy that part.
I like doing music videos, but I don’t really like the music videos that get set up by the label. That be all day or two days. You gotta change a hundred times, you’re ready to pass out on the set. I like the videos where you grab the money, grab the car. Grab some girls, out in a couple of hours.
Do you have a favorite video you’ve ever done?
My favorite video I’ve ever done was “F.N”
You close your shows with that song, right?
Yeah, be closing the shows with that still. Facts.
Do you have a new favorite song to perform, now that the project is out?
I gotta let the project sit a little bit longer for the fans to learn the words, so I see what brings them up the most. Right now, it’s still so early that it has to sit a little bit. But I could see “Project Walls” being a good performance song for sure.
What did it mean to do “Project Walls” with NBA Youngboy?
It was lit. A lot of people didn’t expect us to collab, and that was one of the best things about it. Just because, we never even took a picture. Being seen together, none of that stuff. I don’t feel he does a lot of songs with people like that, so it slapped people randomly. It’s a good song, he came through and showed love.
How did that come together?
My management reached out to his management. At the same time, I’ve known him for a good amount of time. We never really spoke about me and YB ever doing a song. But once the album was coming out, I hit him like, “I got this idea, this and this. Let’s get this in motion.” It worked it out.
“Nobody” is one of your favorite songs. Do you have a current favorite from the project?
My favorite song always changes, but it might be “Nobody” again. I was just looking at the video, we’re about to drop the video soon so it got me back in that mood. “Nobody” is my favorite again right now, because it’s so deep. It gives me goosebumps when I hear it.
Is “Someone Who Cares” dedicated to a certain female?
Not dedicated...It’s kind of dedicated to me. When I’m speaking, I’m speaking in general to girls. They be saying they want love, but they don’t be ready to hold it down sometimes.
Are you ready to hold it down?
I’m ready to hold it down. [laughs] I’m ready to hold it down for the right person for sure.
What’s your ideal date night?
I like a dinner. A good dinner, then the crib.
I love the song with The Kid LAROI, he bodied “2 Grown.” How was it working with him?
Yeah nah, that song was official. It was the same as “Hole In My Heart.” I had the hook done, verse done. It was almost time to turn in the project, it was either do a second verse or send it to somebody. The whole time, we were thinking about getting a country or pop star singer. Somebody all the way in the lane.
LAROI is in that lane, but a hip-hop bridge. I don’t even think we were thinking about him at first. We were talking about all these names, I’m like, ‘LAROI, LAROI! ASAP.’ They’re like, ‘Send it to LAROI, send it to LAROI!’ I’m like, ‘Alright, bet.’ They’re like, ‘Yo, LAROI busy. He’s working on his project. He’s doing this, this, and this. He’s not going to be able to cut it.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ LAROI will cut it for me right now. I ain’t even have no time forreal. I called him like, ‘Yo, LAROI, I got two days.’ I might’ve had three, and I told him two. I said, ‘Could you turn it in for me?’ He’s like, ‘I got you!’ I sent it to him. Kept on trying to get up with bro, ‘What’s up? When you getting in it?’ He came through with a bang.
Are you excited when you hear these verses back?
Of course. When they come through to my phone, I just see the name x my name, I’m like, ‘Yo.’ [laughs]
Was it difficult recording “June 22nd” because you had to relive that trauma?
Yeah. I had made that song, while I was in Puerto Rico, I remember. I wanted to switch it up a little bit. I was thinking about how to bridge together the album, make it cohesive and one aesthetic. I felt like a storytelling song would fit it. I remember being in Puerto Rico, recording it in my hotel room.
Fans responded super positive too.
Yes, they did. Facts.
How do you move differently after that date?
I got a lot of security always around. Always, always around. I don’t do anything; I really don’t have to anymore.
What held you over or kept you pushing during the healing process?
I’m a man, so to me, it’s beneath me to whine about something that I can’t control. That situation happened, and I gotta deal with it. That’s how I always thought: it could’ve been worse. You’re not going to get nothing whining about it, so you gotta get back to moving. You’ll be wasting your own time if you’re not moving.
In the Tupac docuseries, Dear Mama, after being shot in the New York studio, it showed Pac in the hospital super depressed. Did you have moments of lost hope?
Yeah, definitely had moments like that. But it wasn’t even over the situation. I was more so mad at myself because I let that situation knock me off my pivot. I wanted to get back on track so bad. I felt like I owed it to myself that I had to take a break, so I was disappointed in myself.
That was not on you though.
Yeah, but I like to blame myself for everything that happens with me. Because I could blame, ‘Oh, it wasn’t on me. It happened.’ But at the same time, I could’ve had more security. I could’ve had a bulletproof car. I could’ve done a lot of things. Even though something happened, I think about it as I should’ve never let it happen. So this time, I’m making sure everything is up to par all the way, to the best of my ability.
I saw you say when people put their hands in their pockets, you get worried. How are you dealing with the trauma?
I stay away from people. I try to be myself, stay away from places where I get that type of anxiety.
It’s crazy to think 50 Cent was shot nine times and survived. What did that mean to have his support?
It was a good conversation to have. Now, I don’t feel like he passed off the key to life. I spoke to 50 and know everything...because everybody’s life is unique to them. It wasn’t nobody that could all the way tell me what I should do. It was up to me. People could give me thoughts, just around music and how music works. It was probably the only productive opinion I could really take.
I love “Beat The Odds Pt 2”—you wrote half the verse before you got shot. Talk about your friendship with “Polo G” and how he was there for you as well.
When I got shot, I was trying to come out of the hospital and drop the song with Polo. I didn’t even have a moment to myself. It really wound up being a situation where the original song was the song I had wanted to come out with, and people that I be doing business with, they had alters and things that had to change about the storm. So Polo ended up having to tap out, and wound up being able to be on this album. Because we weren’t set on that last one.
So what was it about “Beat The Odds Pt 2”?
One is this thing called demo-itis. For people who don’t know, it’s when you hear a song one way for the first time, it’s harder for you to like a second way better. Almost impossible for me. If I record a song and somebody changes it, it’s almost impossible for me to like the second way better. “Beat The Odds Pt 2,” the beat was a little bit more painful. Especially for the moment, the tempo didn’t have to be as happy and jolly, and come in as quick as it did. The verses didn’t have to be as short.
How’d it feel to collaborate with Ice Spice at the peak of her career? “Gangsta Boo” was one of her biggest streaming songs on the EP.
It was lit. I’ve been on Ice Spice for a little while now, since before this really all the way got started. So it’s good to see her shining.
I love that you want to put on for an artist and pay it forward. What’s the best advice you’d give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
I’d tell somebody that was rapping, if I was to give them advice: to make something that’s relatable to the most people that you could. Deeper than what you relate to and your demographic, and what you personally want to hear. It works a little better that way.
“20/20” is one of my favorite songs of yours. What does the greatest look like to you now?
Being a survivor. Not even my situation, just being able to survive life and make it through 22 years. Being me and coming through adversity, it’s GOATed. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, and I’ve accomplished that. That’s one of the greatest things you can do, especially coming from where I come from.
Anything else you want to let the people know?
222 out now. If you ain’t listening all the way through, make sure you go do.
Styled by Taisha Suero
Written by Shirley Ju
Flaunt Film: Isaac Dektor
Production Coordinator: Chloe Cussen
Market Editor: Marvin Daniel
Photo Assistant: Sela Shiloni
Styling Assistants: Manny Candelario and Jamal East
Location: RoseWolff Studio