When NME connects with Tyla Yaweh over a Zoom call, it’s 1.30pm local time in the rapper’s hometown of Orlando, Florida, and he says he’s just woken up. His late rising can be forgiven, however, seeing as it was his birthday the day prior – the star just turning 25. While he marked his birthday across the previous weekend, Tyla acknowledges that it doesn’t feel like celebratory time though, given the current situation in the U.S.
A day prior, he took to Instagram to write: “Today’s my birthday & I’m fucking lucky to see another year, but I just want to talk about and acknowledge the current state of the world we live in. Whoever is out there protesting I just want you to know I stand with you. It’s finally time our voices are heard & I’m disgusted by what I’ve seen happen to George Floyd and this isn’t the first time. If we stay silent this shit will keep happening.”
Speaking to NME, Tyla says: “I’m disappointed with all the other stuff going on in the world. But we’ve got to keep it going.” His new single, ‘Tommy Lee’, sees him link up with recent tour mate Post Malone and is an escapist anthem of sorts, its release an attempt to provide some light amid all the darkness. As Tyla puts it, it’s a song about “living life and spreading positive energy”.
Tyla spoke to NME about ‘Tommy Lee’, his upcoming album ‘Rager Boy’ and what it’s been like to meet his heroes.
‘Tommy Lee’, of course, refers to the Mötley Crüe member. Why did you choose to name the song after him?
“It’s me and my friend being rockstars and doing whatever we want. Living life and spreading positive energy and giving people good music, what they want. Tommy Lee just doesn’t give a fuck and I love that. I’ve got “fuck the rules” tattooed on my neck so I kinda live by that same rule – being me and not letting anyone judge me. And that‘s what I feel about Tommy Lee. And me and Tommy Lee just got cool. It’s really cool to be cool with somebody I looked up to for so many years.”
The song is about living like rockstars and you recently toured with Post Malone. Do you have any good stories from the tour?
“Uh, there’s a lot of wild stories. The constant parties on the tour bus, every night just waking up with your friends, trashing hotel rooms, getting in fights sometimes, managers getting arrested. You know, it was just real rockstar life.”
Why do you you and Post Malone connect so well on the track?
“What connects us is that we’re friends. It was 2015 when I first opened up for Post in Orlando. That’s where I first met him and it was just crazy because years later after that we ended up being friends. Being able to tour the whole world with him and just talking every day, connecting and being like family, it’s amazing. It’s a blessing to have him as my brother.”
The last few shows with Post Malone were cancelled due to coronavirus. Was it a strange feeling going straight from a world tour to, like everyone else, being cooped up at home?
“It was strange, it was definitely strange. It was heartbreaking because we really love being on the road. We love connecting with our fans. But it was just for the safety of the world. I can’t be selfish for the world you know?”
When you spoke to NME at Reading Festival last year, you said you were surprised to see so many kids in the crowd that knew every single word of your songs. Why do you think that, like Post Malone, you have that kind of dedicated and fanatical fan base that really takes your songs to heart?
“I put real emotion behind it and I speak about things that people don’t really speak about themselves to bring it out. Whatever emotion I put in my music is like an energy to help the next person in whatever they’re going through. So every single day if I make a song it’s not for me it’s for you guys, I’m just using my talent to bless the world.”
You’ve said you’ve been making a lot of music in quarantine – is that stuff going to be on your upcoming album ‘Rager Boy’?
“Yes, definitely. A lot of good music is going to be on the ‘Rager Boy’ album. I’m excited about it and I can’t wait to get out this good music, especially in this time we’re going through. I feel like we need something refreshing to keep us going. I can’t tell you too much, but it’s coming soon.”
What can you tell us about ‘Rager Boy’? How would you say it’s different from ‘Heart Full of Rage’?
“‘Heart Full Of Rage’ is just so many different sounds, all different rock influenced sounds, to hip hop, to all different R&B sounds, to trippy melodic music. There’s no genre, you can’t put one genre to each song. I wanna do the same thing with this album, but it’s just good music, and not the same thing over and over again, just put your mind in different places you never thought you could be.”
‘High Right Now’ was a massive hit for you last year – did you expect that? How has that changed things for you?
“I didn’t expect it. but I knew it was good music and I knew people were going to love it. I just wanted to put it out and keep it going and be a rockstar. But it was just so amazing to see that song go crazy and like, the marijuana community [embracing it], people just wanna sit back and relax and just enjoy their lives. It’s crazy to me that that song pushes all my fans so hard.”
Wiz Khalifa was on the remix, someone who you’ve cited as a big inspiration. What was it like working with Wiz?
“The first concert I ever went to was a 4/20 concert, and it was his show. So to go from being a kid and seeing him to now he’s on a song I made about 4/20… And now that’s my good friend and we got more songs coming out together too. It’s amazing.”
In the video for the remix, you also had Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong…
“That’s my stepdad.”
How did that come about, and what was it like hanging out with him?
“Well, I met him in Oakland backstage. They came to the Post concert and we were playing beer pong. Just before Post went on stage I just told [Billie Joe] straight up, ‘Yo, you’re a big inspiration, Green Day is the reason I make music. Green Day was the first album I got from my family – a guitar and Green Day albums, that’s all I wanted’.” I’ve always been inspired by them. I jammed their CDs till they broke and broke all my guitar strings trying to play all their songs that I couldn’t even play, but I swear I could.”
“I just told him that I got this song that had Wiz doing a verse [inspired by ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’] and started it off with that. We had to show him right away, he was like ‘Yo, this is awesome, I wanna be part of this’. And since then, it was just history, me and Billie are friends, I talk to him a lot, it’s just crazy to me still. It still feels like a dream, I gotta pinch myself.”
You’ve said you have more music coming with Wiz. Can you reveal any other people you’ve been working with for the album?
“It’s a lot of crazy people. I’ve got the homie G-Eazy, and we’ve been doing a lot of crazy stuff with Hitmaka. His whole team, his whole Maker Sounds team, we got a lot of hits to show people. I don’t want to give out too much information.”
When we spoke to you last year at Reading you said Young Thug would be your dream person to work with. Has that dream become a reality yet – have you reached out or met him?
“I met him before but it was brief, nothing crazy. But I’ll just be patient, everything just happens when it happens. So I never rush no process.”
I read that you grew up wanting to be a professional skateboarder. Did you see the news that they are re-releasing remastered versions of the first two Tony Hawk games? Obviously the soundtracks of those games were so iconic, would getting your music on a Tony Hawk game be something you’ve dreamt of?
“They are?! Hell yes! That would be amazing. I’ve played every Tony Hawk game. I had them on every fucking station.”
You posted on Instagram showing your support for those protesting against the death of George Floyd. What do you think artists can do right now? And how can artists use their influence for good?
“By leading people to do the right things and to go out there and spread their voice. No violence, just peace and more positivity. Give your voice out to the world. Tell people what you’re going through. I’m here to stand with everybody, and I’m here to rage with them.”
Tyla Yaweh’s ‘Tommy Lee’ is out now