The Tao of Tyga
The rap superstar behind this summer’s viral hit ‘Bored In The House’, who rakes in more than 40 million monthly Spotify streams, reflects on building his empire around good times
By Ernest Wilkins Photography by Joshua Kissi DOP: Michael Fernandez Styling by Zoe Costello Tuesday 4 August, 2020 Long read
Since debuting in 2008, the Compton-born artist has sold 12 million singles, achieved two platinum albums, and carved out a reputation as a formidable go-to feature rapper, collaborating with all the major players of pop, rap, and R&B. Whether you know it or not, you’ve likely heard his music during some of the best nights of your life, such is his prevalence. His song 'Bored In The House', for example, was arguably the viral hit of lockdown. Tyga hides in plain sight.
There’s a reason it’s been said that nothing in this world is certain except for three things: death, taxes, and an infectious new Tyga song every summer.
For those yet to be indoctrinated – though with more than 20 million Instagram followers and seven million TikTok followers, you may be the minority – I recommend starting with the song ‘Taste’ – Tyga’s 2018, chart-topping, triple-platinum single. You quickly figure out the rapper’s formula to success within seconds: don’t overthink it. Producer D.A. Got That Dope sets up a beat that sounds simple: an earworm sample over a bassline made for car speakers and the club. His rap style is laid-back, but listen close – his witty puns will give you a sense of the themes that dominate his discography: having fun, wearing great clothes, partying, models, bottles, and a good life. Compared with the Instagram vs real-life balancing act that befalls many celebrities, Tyga’s lifestyle isn’t a gimmick, he sings what he knows.
Right now, music that focuses on having fun feels somewhat subversive. Try being sad when listening to Tyga’s 2011 club hit ‘Rack City’. Such is his genius: music made almost entirely with joy in mind. When we connect via Zoom, he’s sitting in the sunshine out in California with a vast lake behind him. As you’d expect, there was laughing, splashing, and playing going on in the background. Another day in the life of a rap superstar.
‘If I'm having a good time, if I commit to having a good time, then the people around me are going to have a good time, too’
Above: T-shirt, Noon Goons; trousers, Wooyoungmi; boots, Tyga’s own; laces, Ferragamo; sunglasses, Thierry Lasry; jewellery, Tyga’s own
How has the pandemic been going for you?‘The past six months have been the roughest for me, just like everybody else. I don’t think I’ve been in the house this long and not performed somewhere… probably ever? I haven’t gone anywhere, really. No performances anywhere. It’s a pace that I’m not used to, which is weird.’
Is it hard to make party music in a pandemic?‘The first couple of months I wasn’t recording at all. I was in the house. I was watching movies. I was like, “I got to do something. I’m going crazy. I can’t fly nowhere. I need to get to a creative space, you know?” Like right now, I’m living on a lake, getting my mind right. I got my studio set up right over there.’
What’s a Tyga party like?‘I throw the best house parties in LA. Obviously, there’s no king of LA, because there’s a lot going on there. But as far as, like, my circle, my crowd, you know, I’m that dude when it comes to the house party.’
What’s the key to being a good host?‘It’s like the music, if I’m having a good time, if I commit to having a good time, then the people around me are going to have a good time, too. I love to help relieve people’s stress.’
Do you feel like making party music has pigeonholed you at all, or made it so that people didn’t look at your work at a higher critical level?‘Yes and no. I think it may seem like it’s very easy to make party music, but it’s more strategic than that. I know what works for me.’
You seem to have figured out your lane, because I don’t think I can name a sad Tyga song off the top of my head.‘I’ve always felt comfortable making fun music. In life, I love to create that fun party vibe. People need to have joy. They need to feel good, even before all this craziness. Plus, party songs are good for short attention spans. People’s attention spans are, like, three to five seconds, you know? That’s why I like the beats I like. It’s gotta attract my attention in the first three to five seconds. The details are important.’
‘Hits are based on how the music makes you feel. If you don’t know how people are moving or what they’re about or going through, then your music won’t be a hit’
Above: shirt and trousers, both Blue Marble; sunglasses, Jacques Marie Mage; jewellery, Tyga’s own. Below: jacket, Namesake; trousers, Bonsai; trainers, Nike; sunglasses, Thierry Lasry
This feels like the first summer in a long time where I’m not hearing your music in a club. You know the joke about you, right?‘What joke?’
Out of nowhere, you show up, drop a hit, and then disappear until the next time. You’re like Santa Claus.‘That’s funny. We always ready [laughs].’
It seems like you favour singles over full albums – you dropped 10 last year…‘That’s from watching Lil Wayne in the studio knocking out four or five songs a night. That gave me the mentality. That’s the standard. I never really knew how to move any other way after that.’
You stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready.‘That’s the Lil Wayne effect. I got that from being around him when I first got signed.’
What was that like? When you signed with him, he was the hottest artist on Earth.‘Exactly. I saw that run up close. That run can’t ever be touched. Wayne was literally putting out mix tapes every two weeks.’
How do you keep your spirits up during a time like this?‘Family. Making music. I’ve been listening to a lot of music, too. Being at home, I’m discovering sh*t that came out years ago that I never got around to hearing. I love diving into something new; I like listening to an artist’s whole career. When I watch movies, I’m the same. If I’m watching, like, a Leo DiCaprio movie, I’ll go find all his films and get a sense of his process and how he moves. I pay attention, I am all about the details.’
Why are details so important to you?‘The money is the details. I have always been very particular about my creations. I love looking at the details of the creative process: my stage show, my video shoots. How is the video gonna look? When I’m making a song, what part of the song will I drop the music out so the crowd can sing it? I started winning when I paid attention to the details.’
What did you learn from such close attention?‘Hits are based on how the music makes you feel. If you don’t know how people are moving or what they’re about or going through, then your music won’t be a hit. Like, “BedRock” [the 2009 Young Money compilation hit] was the first big record that I was ever a part of, and look at the vibe of that – a little fun, a little sexy. The next big record I was on after “BedRock” was [the Chris Brown hit] “Deuces”, which was a whole different thing. Now I’m going on a tour with these songs and I’m seeing the different reactions from the crowd. That got me paying attention.
‘And with genres I didn’t know too much about, instead of assuming, I really started digging into it and listening to the artists in that space. Rap is my comfort zone. I know the vibe. I know the outcome. But I can’t get to a bigger level if I stay in that comfort zone. So, I started paying attention to that. Now, if I need an R&B vibe, I know the right artist to do a song with. If I’m on a Latin trap song doing a feature, I know I’m not a Latin trap rapper, but I know who is. That’s how I win.’
That sounds very evolved. Have you always been this hyper aware?‘No. I got really committed three years ago.’
What happened?‘Sh*t, man, I just went through a lot, a lot in life. And being in a dark space, coming out of that dark space, and just really being honest with myself. And not being afraid to be me. I’m not scared of anything when it comes to making new music or being creative. Now I do a video, and yeah, I’ll dress up as The Mask [in the video for Ayy Macarena].’
You committed to your career.‘That’s the decision I made. I woke up, and I was like, “You know what? I’m going to commit to this.” Before that, I wasn’t committed. I was making music, I landed some good hits, good features. I put myself in some good places that helped build my catalogue to where it is now. I wasn’t committed to the time, and now I’m locked in.’
So how do you maintain that motivation?‘Everybody in this situation over the last six months has to ask: what makes me happy? How do I feel? Paying attention and committing yourself to make a change, you see the world together in a way I’ve never seen before. I’ve never seen this much unity, ever. That’s the commitment I needed to have to get to the next level. Like music, if I’m having a good time, the people around me will have a good time. The intention to have a good time is why I succeed. The music, the live show, it’s all intentional. Three years ago, I didn’t have that intention. I wish I had it. If I had that vision and had been moving with it and committing since “Rack City”…’
...You’d have a bigger career than you do now?‘I would have been in a whole different space right now. A different element. But it’s the timing. And right now I feel free to do whatever. Right now, there’s no limits.’