An Interview with TYGA
Words By Kimberly Haddad
Photographer Ian Morrison
Producer Jackson Chong
Creative Director Viktorija Pashuta
Contributing Fashion Editor & Stylist Dave Thomas
Stylist Jesse J. Guillen
Video Cameron Dunbar
Grooming Tré Major
Female Models Laura Dennis, Oksana
Male Model Rhett W.
Special Thank You to Location POPPY
MICHAEL RAY STEVENSON, otherwise known as Tyga, is one of the music industry’s younger talents and an award–winning hip–hop recording artist known for his high–energy and charismatic demeanor. His gratitude is sincere and humbling, and his passion for sound is evident when he speaks. His roots are firmly planted in the city of Compton, California, home to a passel of childhood memories and a breeding ground for the musical icons and kindreds who’ve served as inspiration to his prolific career.
After releasing his first–ever mixtape Young on Probation in 2007, the project garnered enough attention from Lil Wayne who signed Tyga to Young Money Entertainment at just 18 years old. His wildly popular song “Rack City” eventually hit the mainstream in 2011, gaining much prominence by media outlets and being listed as the “best song on radio” by Spin Magazine for its nostalgic sounds and producer DJ Mustard’s captivating production.
At just 28 years old, Tyga has built a flourishing career—and this year has been quite impressive. In February, he released studio album Kyoto, and in May, summer anthem song “Taste,” a trap-influenced track featuring Offset from Migos, reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This past September, the hip-hop heavyweight released two highly-anticipated songs “Dip” and “Swap Meet”—both which have been hailed as club bangers and radio favorites. Tyga has gained considerable momentum and doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.
You are half Vietnamese, half Jamaican, and grew up in Compton, CA. Can you share a bit of insight into your upbringing and your influences of becoming a rapper?
I grew up back and forth between Compton and Gardena, small cities next to each other with my godparents and my mom, and you know, my grandparents used to play like real old-school music in the morning when I was going to school. I grew up listening to a lot of music, a lot of Tupac. I like things with soul and I am super inspired by the Bay Area, which is kind of where I started my career and recording. My sound especially, is heavily influenced by the Bay Area.
You released the album Kyoto back in February, an album very different from your previous releases in terms of musical style and creative direction. What inspired you to step out of your comfort zone and create a more sensual, melody-based vibe?
It’s just what I wanted to do. I kind of wanted to share with the world, kind of where I was at in my life and the things I wanted to talk about. I just had to get it out to be able to move to the next phase in my career in regard to my sound. Once I released it, I was able to move forward with my new sound and release tracks like “Taste”.
“Once you’re happy, there’s no limit to your creativity or your success because everything you’re doing is coming from a good place.”
The cover art for the project features a provocative woman–tiger hybrid with her pants down, which received quite a bit of backlash. At BASIC, we really appreciate good art, and more–so when it’s erotic. Tell us about the illustration and the vision behind it.
I had spent a lot of time in Japan and Asia all last summer, I was out there a lot and one of my boys is a friend of the artist [Hajime Sorayama]. I’m a big fan of his work, his futuristic robots and a lot of the futuristic robot women that he does. I went to his studio and was like, “Man, it would be crazy if you designed my cover.” I didn’t really have an idea, but I knew I wanted to do a Japanese design because of the influence behind it. He showed me the images and when I saw the tiger robot bent over and naked, I just thought it was so crazy and explanatory. It was really powerful, you know what I’m saying? The Japanese style behind it, the rising sun. This woman who is almost like half–animal, half-robot. She is by herself. I just really liked the art and the image.
I really resonate with the lyrics of “Leather in the Rain”. You sing, She can wear leather in the rain, she can find pleasure in pain. Tell us about your creative process when developing your lyrics and music. What do they mean to you?
Those lyrics are poetic. It’s about emotions and finding meaning behind them. When I say, She can wear leather in the rain, she can find pleasure in pain, she’s a very strong person and she doesn’t let anything break her, you know? And I admire that about her. I just picture a woman like that, somebody like my mom or somebody that’s real strong, a woman who is independent. That’s something I admire. That’s what “Leather in the Rain” is about.
Your new tracks “Dip” and “Swap Meet” released in September, are getting a ton of traction and you are now in the process of working on a music video with the incredible Nicki Minaj. Can you share anything about this?
It’s really a secret, but the video is definitely going to be good. Like, I know people drop videos with the song, but this one is going to be real special. I didn’t want to hold the song back, so I put the song out so people can get familiar with it. The video is going to be crazy though and nobody is going to expect it, for sure. It’s different from the past three videos I dropped.
Talk to us more about finding your sound and carving a new space for yourself in such a saturated industry.
I don’t really talk about it much, but I feel like I’ve always been an innovative artist. I’ve been in the game for 10 years now and have worked with a lot of people, but I am always evolving my sound and finding new sounds and producers, like DJ Mustard and D.A. [Doman] who is doing my new records now. That’s really the one thing that keeps me excited, that keeps me motivated to rap. It’s about trying to find new sounds and trying to be different.
“You can’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing. Most of this stuff is perception. A lot of it isn’t real. Get caught up in yourself and that’s how you become successful in anything. Be obsessed with what you’re doing,and other people will too.”
What things in the world do you rely on to find inspiration for new sound when you have creative block?
Girls, (laughs) and being happy you know? Once you’re happy, there’s no limit to your creativity or your success because everything you’re doing is coming from a good place. Then it’s more about putting your best into it.
In 2016, you launched your own clothing line, Last Kings, collaborated with designer Marcelo Burlon to create an Asian–inspired streetwear collection and starred in a major fashion campaign for Alexander Wang. What made you want to dive into the world of fashion?
I mean, fashion is something that’s always been in me, you know? Since being in middle school and high school, I’ve always been into the latest trends. It’s just something I’ve always been inspired by, especially when it comes to hip–hop. I was always inspired by F.A.B., 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, everybody that was doing things in fashion, Jay–Z. It’s like a movement. You couldn’t be inspired by rap and hip–hop if you weren’t inspired by fashion because there was almost like a dress code. It’s kind of like a way of life—how you dress, how you talk. Like, if you’re from LA, you talk a certain way, if you’re from NY, you talk a certain way. There’s just different codes and everything, but fashion always brings it all together.
As a man of taste, tell us about your personal style and how it has evolved over the years. Who are some of your favorite designers?
Right now, I really like what Alyx and A–Cold–Wall is doing. There’s a lot of people doing crazy stuff. Even H. Lorenzo. There are just so many designers and people from places like Germany and London who are really throwing some dope stuff out like street-wear. There’s really no limit now, especially with Instagram and stuff. Like, people on Instagram are hitting me up to design shoes, pants and sometimes it’s crazy, like kids. But it’s all coming from the street, all coming from a warm place, what people are making.
It’s so easy to get lost in a superficial lifestyle, especially with always being in the spotlight and how the media portrays you. Is there something you want people or fans to know about you that they don’t already know?
I’m very hands–on with everything. I just watch everything. I’m a person that really absorbs information. I don’t know, I feel like you can only get to know somebody as much as you can, and once you get to know all the things about a person, you create an idea about somebody. So, everybody’s idea of me is probably different based on different things they’ve seen or different songs they’ve heard. And I am always evolving as a person. I just think that, especially as an artist, you are always involved, you make mistakes and then you do good things. Life moves so fast when you are dealing with fame and the lifestyle that the average person who listens to your music might not understand you and judge because they don’t really know, or they are coming from a place where they can’t relate sometimes. I think it’s about being more open-minded cause for artists man, we deal with so much.
Tell us about one of your favorite childhood memories.
Definitely has to be playing sports and me as a kid. It was real fun, something I looked forward to every day, having baseball games and football games every Saturday and Sunday. It was a simpler time, you know?
What are your top three favorite movies?
Of course, Scarface, The Mask and Casino.
If you could collaborate with any fashion designer in the near future, who would it be?
Definitely Prada. I have always been a fan of Prada. They always keep it simple, but it’s always sporty and comfy, you know? The thing with Prada is always comfort, but it’s still luxury and now everything they’re doing is crazy, especially the latest collection. It’s definitely one of my favorite luxury brands for sure.
If you had complete control in the world of music and its direction, what would you change?
I think it’s in a really good space right now, but I think they need to change global certifications. This is stuff that fans and certain people shouldn’t care about though. I think for the artists, though, because it’s so worldwide now with streaming and everybody is listening at the same time, you know? They kind of separate everything from America and I think it all needs to be one because it is one. Music is one, the way people are discovering it. Honestly, I am excited for where music is right now, especially for rap. And I think it’s only going to continue to get better for sure.
If you ever had a chance to do a music collaboration with an artist from the past who is no longer around, who would it be and why?
Of course, Tupac. Like being in the studio with him and to see his process. Tupac and Michael Jackson are my all-time favorite inspirations. Just to experience and witness their process. I’ve been in the studio with a lot of different people and everybody’s process is different, you know? But definitely, if they were still alive, I’d want to be around them.
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