From the time he was five years old, Dallas-area rapper T.Y.E has made music his life. His Dad, Rich E Blaze, was a prominent producer who worked with the likes of Bone Thugs & Harmony and who taught him how to conduct himself in a studio environment. In high school, he took a turn toward the classical, joining the choir, singing Mozart and Beethoven, and later, earning a scholarship to Abilene Christian University because of his vocal talents.
Though he listens to and absorbs almost everything, hip-hop has always been T.Y.E’s bedrock, and as it turns out, his salvation. In 2015, T.Y.E attempted to take his own life. He was later admitted to mental institution where he discovered he was bipolar. Since receiving that diagnosis, he’s learned how to cope on the day-to-day with his anxieties and fears, and channel them into his art. The cumulative outcome of that process is his brand-new album 32, which stands as one the best rap releases of 2017.
32 is an illuminating glimpse into T.Y.E’s view of the world. You feel his pain, and root for him as he searches for love in all of its many forms. It’s sonically diverse — he created the beats himself – and lyrically ambidextrous. Ethereal ballads like “Ledbetter Lady” are stacked next to frenetic bangers like “Aliens & UFOs.” It all comes to a close with the stunning single “La La Land,” the melody for which he composed while still in a mental institution, yearning to transport to somewhere else entirely; somewhere it didn’t hurt anymore.
Last week, I had the chance to talk to T.Y.E. about his fantastic new album, his mental health struggles and what his hopes are for the future. Read our conversation below.
One of the major themes of this album seems to be love, and your journey to obtain in it in several different forms. Can you talk more about that?
Love in any way, form, or fashion, whether it be a relationship with a woman, whether it be my relationship with God, whether it be the type of love you get from your friends and family, you know, just a support system in whatever you do, whether it be sports, or music, or opera, or just education in general, it doesn’t always have to be said verbally, but you can always feel it. Sometimes we get addicted to that feeling of love whether it be in a relationship or anything. Even in church, people turn their back on you and stuff like that. It takes me through a dark time, but I’m very appreciative of it when I can get it.
What is the significance of the number 32 and why did you decide to name your album after it?
It’s all about growing up in my environment; my environment being 75232, which is the zip code of where I’m from [in Dallas, Texas]. The 32 album is a love story in the environment of 75232. It also deals with my mental health. It’s all those aspects and all those details. 32 has so much relative meaning from the gangs we grew up around and how they evolved into another gang called 32, which wasn’t really a gang so much as it was a business. All my fam, all the OGs.
You’ve been very open in previous interviews about your mental health struggles, and you’re very open about them on this album. Do you ever worry that you’re letting people too far into your headspace?
I used to, but now it’s kind of out and about. I think when I let my family in on my mental health [issues], that’s when I really didn’t have a problem letting anybody else know. The only people’s opinions that I truly cared about was my family’s. Once my family accepted it and supported me, I was able to open up about it more in interviews and such.
You had a background in opera coming up, what was the catalyst for you to dedicate yourself full-time to hip-hop?
There wasn’t really too much of a click. All my life I’ve been listening to hip-hop. My pops was a music producer and so I grew up around all types of music, but hip-hop was my base. Classical music has always been an interest of mine too. The first classical song I heard, the first Mozart song I heard was on a Jordan commercial. The Jordan 22 commercial, “The Lacrimosa.” I fell in love with classical music then.
What were some of the MCs that really influenced you early on?
Eminem and Ice Cube were probably the first two rappers that I was introduced to. Then came Nas. Then came Biggie. Then came Tupac, but I listen to every rapper. From damn KRS One to Lil Yachty. I don’t discriminate. It’s just music and music evolves. The D.O.C. is especially important. That album with “The Formula” [No One Can Do It Better] man, my pops had me listening to that whole thing on repeat. Then Biggie; that Ready To Die album was very influential to me. Just that song “Ready To Die,” with Puffy on the hook and all three of them verses.
When did you start writing your own raps?
The first time I wrote a rap, it was like a Taco Bell commercial. I was like five. It came on during the WWF. The Rock was doing his thing then the Taco Bell commercial came on and they would be like, “My name is this, my friends call me this, and this, and this, and this.” That was the first time I wrote. I was like, “My name is Tyler / My friends call me Ty / The Rock and Sock is gonna make you block.”
That’s hard man!
Yeah! You remember the Rock and Sock connection between Mankind and The Rock?
Absolutely I do.
That’s exactly where I got the freestyle from. Me and my brother would look at WWF all the time. Back then, he had his pens and he would always get in trouble for being at lunch and making the beats with the pens and freestyling. Me as the little brother, I was looking at that and I wanna rap so that he’ll bring me in and I can get him some girls cause I’m his younger brother rapping. That’s how I first started.
Getting back to 32, is it safe to assume that everything kind of stemmed from “La La Land?”
Yeah. “La La Land” was me actually creating. As far as coming into what I am right now and the music that I made for the 32 album, “La La Land” was definitely the first. That was the first track I made that I knew, this was the big one.
What went into that track from a personal standpoint?
I was in the Dallas Behavior Health Care Hospital and I didn’t have my phone of course, but I just needed something to kind of get me through the two weeks that I was there. I would think of songs and that was like a melody that stuck with me. When I came out of the mental hospital, I just put it into the pro tools session. Then the lyrics of course…I wanted to die. I didn’t wanna suffer anymore, and “La La Land” was the place I could go and not kill myself. It’d just be bliss.
How do you feel today?
In recent times, I’ve just been trying to focus on music. It’s hard. It’s a daily battle. But if I can keep my focus on music and not try to force my happiness, let the happiness come to me, then I’ll be okay. When the happiness comes, I try and grasp it and hold on to it, but, I got to keep it moving. Today is a beautiful day because I’m getting dope ass write-ups, the album is released, it’s being perceived well. I’m doing good today. Tomorrow is the problem. We can get very addicted to the feeling of love. I feel great today because there’s so much love and support form everybody, but when it’s over, that’s when the work has to come in. Now, I say that, and it sounds all beautiful, but it’s easier said than done. I’m here with my Granny right now and she’s looking at me like, ‘Yeah, I feel what you’re saying, but…’ When I have my anxiety attacks and I come over here to my Granny’s house and I’m on my knees and I’m crying and busting blood vessels in my eyes because I’m so angry, that’s the times where the music comes from. It’s like I say on “Universe,” ‘That is my gift disguised as a curse,’ because I get down that low, but when I come to, I can kind of put those feelings and emotions I have into a creative space on a blank portrait. That’s where these songs come from. That’s where every track on 32 comes from.
What do you hope to accomplish in the music game going forward?
The goal is to win a Grammy. The goal is to be a big as I can be right? But as long as I keep seeing progress, the sky’s the limit.