Bryson Tiller was one of 2015's biggest breakout stars. The Louisville singer-songwriter scored a viral hit with "Don't" and received a major boost from Apple Music when he became one of the artists flagged for heavy promo on the newly launched streaming site. He ended his year, however, with a milestone that surpassed even the big name co-signs he's earned and the success of his debut album, Trapsoul. "This was the best Christmas ever," Tiller told Rolling Stone not too long after the holiday season. "My daughter is two now. Last year she was a baby and didn't really know what was going on."
Tiller, 23, spoke with RS about the past year in his life and what he's looking forward to in 2016, including his ongoing first tour.
How did you first get into music?
Everybody's family plays them music, and my grandma used to play a lot of old-school stuff, like Ron Isley and Gladys Knight. Earth, Wind & Fire is the one I started paying attention to. My uncle introduced me to R&B, like Dru Hill, 112 and all those dudes. Eventually he put me on Omarion's first album, and that was the first album that made me want to start singing. I started listening to him daily and singing what I heard. I started writing when I heard The-Dream's first albums. Actually, after listening to [all his albums], I started writing more. Eventually I got into the studio and one guy let me record at his house for free, so I would record over there every day.
When did you decide to start pursuing music full-time and as a career?
It was right after I dropped the song "Don't" [in October 2014] and it started to go viral a little bit. That's when I was like, "Alright, I might have something here." Actually, I wasn't even going to quit my job, but Timbaland called me — we have a mutual friend — and he was like, "Yo man, you need to work in Miami." Next thing you know, he said, "You should quit your job," and I quit my job instantly. I flew down to Miami. That was the point when I knew it was going to be a career. That was November 2nd [of 2014], when I flew down to Miami.
Where were you working at the time?
I was working at Papa John's full-time. I had just quit my part-time job at UPS. I was there for two years.
Along with the more organic fan growth, you also had a lot of support from Apple Music. How has that affected you?
I remember someone told me that they wanted to work with four artists, or something like that, and I was one of them. That made me feel good.
What does the title Trapsoul mean to you?
I was in New York in 2014. It was still cold outside. I was sitting there working on "Exchange" and "Right My Wrongs" at the time, and a fan had commented on one of my songs called "Let Em' Know" that was already on my SoundCloud and said "trapsoul movement." I started looking up songs under that title and was like, "This is basically what my music is." That's when I decided to call my project that. It's not like I just created [the genre] or anything. It already existed.
What's been the most exciting co-sign you've gotten from another artist or anyone else you really respect?
I gotta say Drake every time. I just feel like he makes the best music, quality-wise and everything-wise, basically. For him to reach out early in my career and say that he likes my music was crazy for me. I was shocked. He gave me the nod, so I would say that was the most surprising. But actually Rambo [Sylvester Stallone], when he shouted out my song, that was the most shocking!
"For Drake to reach out early in my career and say that he likes my music was crazy for me."
Speaking of Drake, you were super close to signing with OVO in the beginning. What was it like to have OVO and RCA fighting over you so early on?
It was hard, for real. I signed to a label before, and it was just weird. I feel like I shouldn't have made that decision. I did it on my own [that time]; a person asked me if I wanted to sign with them, and I was like, "Yeah, sure." This time around, I had a team, a lawyer, my manager, a few close friends. It was a group decision.
What's coming up this year for you?
I'm doing my first tour this year and making new music. Those are the two things I'm focused on this year.
What can fans expect from the tour?
I don't even know. This is all new to me, so I don't even know what to expect. I'm just looking forward to growing. Hopefully I can get some of my friends to come out during the shows.