The man sitting across from me in a burgundy Def Jam letterman jacket and matching Jordan 12 Retro Bordeauxs has changed irrevocably since we met back in May. YK Osiris has shed much of the boyish charm he possessed back then; now, he’s full of the unique brand of self-confidence (with a tinge of supreme arrogance) that’s reserved for newly minted R&B stars. On the cover of YK’s debut album, The Golden Child, he’s Photoshopped in front of the Egyptian pyramids, reclining on a golden throne, crown in hand. Today, the self-proclaimed “King of R&B” lounges in much the same pose, but instead of a throne, he has to make do with a Def Jam office chair.
YK (real name: Osiris Williams) hails from Duval County, Florida. His voice has a slight Southern drawl mixed with a hyperactive joy, and his music harkens back to the days of a teenage Chris Brown and pre-Confessions Usher. Raspy and prone to soaring vocal acrobatics, his schtick was originally built on lovable camp. But on The Golden Child, he starts to present a softer, more mature side.
The album title makes sense: Osiris is the new golden child of Def Jam. Earlier this year, the legendary hip-hop label bet on the future of rap by signing two-dozen acts. “The cream rises to the top. The star players are gonna go out there and shine,” Alexander “A.E.” Edwards, Def Jam’s vice president of A&R, told Rolling Stone during Grammy Weekend. “The hungrier players. Eventually, the universe will gravitate to who strikes a chord.” Eight months later, the only one who managed to rise above the rest is Osiris. His breakout single, “Worth It,” has been certified platinum, and “Valentine” is gold. It wouldn’t be a surprise if “Ride,” an album standout featuring Kehlani, follows the same trajectory. In May, Osiris made a bold proclamation: “I’m taking Jacquees’ throne,” he told me. “I’m taking Chris Brown’s throne. Shout out to them boys, but I’m taking they thrones. I’m coming for them.”
Five months later, his resolve has only grown.
Talk me through the title, The Golden Child.
My daddy into Greek. We into Greek. My name is Osiris. My sister’s name, Isis. My little brother’s name, Ramsey. My daddy used to call me the “golden boy” when I was little. So he told me my name is “Golden Child,” because I’m the chosen one. So we named it Golden Child. There’s a lot of power behind that name.
What song off the project means the most to you?
“Sexual.” I love “Sexual.” It shows a lot of versatility. Me coming from “Worth It” to go “Sexual,” it just sound amazing. Vocally, the music sounds crazy.
On “Change,” you’re talking about surviving, being hungry, having to deal drugs. What was the thought process behind that song?
I went through a lot. I put it all in that song. Whatever I did, whatever I went through, I just put it in that song. I just felt so much pain. I was crying when I made that song.
What was your life like?
All type of junk when I was 14, 13 years old. . . . I was hardheaded, going to jail, back and forth, man, stealing, robbing. I was trying to be cool. I be trying to fit in. I was trying to survive at the same time. I was trying to get what I want to get in life. If I can’t get it that way, I’m gonna get it this way. That’s how I felt about it, and if you didn’t give it to me I’m going to get it.
When were you like “I can’t do this anymore”?
When the judge told me I’m going to get indicted if I come back. That last time, I remember that day. She said, “If you come back, I’m going to indict you.”
What were you arrested for?
Robbery. Armed robbery.
Do you think she knows —
She definitely know me right now. I saw her in Jacksonville [Florida]. She said, “You’re doing very good.” Her daughter knows my song.
Her daughter knows your song?
Yeah, everything. She know me now. She very proud of me. The judge had told me, “If you come back one more time, I’m going to give you 20 years, 15 years.” I said “Oh, no, I’m not coming back.”
What’s been the biggest change, personally or professionally?
I think I matured a lot. I’m starting to really see life, really understand that life is real. I can’t be playing with it. Instagram will never last. It’s more outside of that. Even Instagram, it’s deeper than you posting something. You have to take advantage of this right now, because it’s not going to last. It’s why I invest my money in real estate and cars. I really think deep about that. Instagram, all that, Facebook, social media, it’s short-term.
What motivates you to get up in the morning?
How old is he?
One year old. My baby boy, he really what motivates me to get up every morning. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be doing any of this. I would’ve been stopped. I would’ve been gave up.
How did having a son change you?
It changed me mentally, man. Physically, mentally, emotionally, it really changed me, because that’s me. If I go broke and I do this, he’s going broke too. He’s not going to have enough food in his mouth.
When I first heard you, you had a tendency — your voice would be going so strong.
Now, it’s so mellow.
Now you can go mellow. You can soar. There are dynamics now.
There are definitely a lot of dynamics in my album. That’s what I love about it. It shows my versatility in a lot of my songs. It’s not just Strong Voice Osiris. It’s Calm Osiris, Let Me Talk to You Osiris, Make Love to You Osiris.
Who helped you get there?
Troy Taylor, that’s the GOAT man. [Editor’s note: Troy Taylor’s producer tag is also “Troy Taylor you the GOAT.”]
What was he saying to you during the process?
Relax, chill, you ain’t gotta scream so much. Talk to ‘em. Just relax. Pretend you just trying to make love. You gotta go slow. You gotta go slow, ‘cause going fast you just going straight to the point. You gotta ease your way through it.
Q4, you got a lot of competition. Summer Walker just dropped. Jacquees is about to drop. Bieber potentially might drop.
Nah, I don’t think that drop now.
He said on IG Live.
A couple of days ago. He says a new single, a new album. We don’t know.
Yeah, if he drop an album, you know that’s Justin Bieber. He got his own.
But you told me the last time you’re the “King of R&B.” You’re very competitive. There’s a lot of competition.
But Justin Bieber, I don’t think he’s the king of R&B. He’s Justin Bieber. He’s pop.
I don’t know. If I ask him, he might say “I’m ‘the King of R&B’ and ‘the King of Pop.’ ”
Nah, nah, nah, not Justin. Justin’s a different level. Justin going to be Justin. Nah, you can’t put Justin in this generation right now. Nah.
But when you look at someone like Summer Walker or Jacquees, you’re all coming.
She’s an R&B girl. I’m talking about men. Right now, there’s not a lot of R&B singers right now. There’s not. Daniel —
Yeah, I mentioned Daniel.
We got Daniel. We got Jacquees, Bryson. Maybe, he’s a little older, in another generation.
Nah, not right now.
He’s in your generation, though.
Yeah, but not right now. Nobody listen to Bryson Tiller.
They listen to YK?
Yeah, YK, Jacquees — but Jacquees ain’t really on my level. I don’t feel like he’s on my level. Vocally, yes. But music-wise, nah.
Nah. Nah, man. For me to be young, to sing sexual . . . Nah, I don’t think he coming like that.
We will see in a couple weeks.
The gauntlet has been thrown.
Hey, man, numbers don’t lie. Men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t.