It seemed like the YMCMB empire was already blessed enough with its trifecta of rappers-turned-pop culture icons: Lil Wayne, Drake, and Nicki Minaj. Then along comes Tyga, the next undeniable star to emerge from the camp. His current single, "Rack City," just reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week.
We caught up with the 22-year-old Compton native before he grabbed dinner in Miami after a day of shooting videos, recording features, and running around the city with Birdman. After a few false starts, it looks like T-Raw the Ruler is really coming into his own. Whether it's about his upcoming album, Careless World: Rise of the Last King, or the riot he started in San Diego, the kid has a lot to say.
Interview by Ernest Baker (@newbornrodeo)
Tyga: I’m recording. I was shooting a remix video for “Rack City” and I just ended up staying.
Who’s on the remix?
Wale, Fabolous, Jeezy, T.I. and Meek Mill.
What are you recording?
Other songs that aren’t going to go on the album.
The album is finished?
Yeah, it’s all turned in. Pre-orders go up this week.
What’s the release date if it’s not January 24th anymore?
We’re looking at February 7th. Hopefully.
A lot of songs on #BitchImTheShit sound similar to “Rack City.” Is that the sound you’re sticking with for the album?
Nah, it’s a different sound. I made #BitchImTheShit intentionally for those types of fans. The album is more of a story, more of a theme. I’ve got some of the party vibe just to have dynamics on the album, but it’s different.
What story are you telling?
It’s the story about me becoming king in this place I call Careless World. It goes through me being at the bottom trying to get to the top and going through war, love, and stuff like that.
What other hits do you think will come out of that?
The new single, “Faded” featuring Lil Wayne. That’s along the same lines as “Rack City.” I’ve got a few tracks. Every song is video-worthy.
I saw “Rack City” hit the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week.
Yeah, that’s pretty dope. It’s crazy that a song from a mixtape, a song that I thought would just be regional, is worldwide now.
Young Money’s “Bedrock” was a big song, but how does it feel to have a solo hit?
I appreciate the recognition that I’m getting, but I’ve been doing my own thing. I’ve been touring overseas. I’ve been on five tours in the last year with no album out. It’s really just these fans, these kids—through Twitter and the Internet, being able to connect with people. Being able to have your fans follow your every move and feel like they’re really a part of your life. They follow the music now.
But having a massive pop hit has to change things to some degree.
Definitely. There’s more eyeballs watching you, like a hawk. But I’m the same. I don’t want to get caught up in all that. I just want to put out this album and keep painting my picture. That’s it.
Was it frustrating when past singles like “I’m On It” didn’t catch on enough to launch this album with?
Nah, because in my world, I had a lot of underground hits that weren’t getting pushed to that level. I felt like “Lapdance” was a big song, but it just didn’t get a push. So it stayed where it was at. “Rack City” I pushed myself. I was shooting my own videos and paying my own radio guys and stuff like that. Then the label caught on to it. Now to be able to get a major push, it’s good. You’ve just got to stay with your same mentality and always be pushing yourself.
Me and Wayne had a long conversation the other day. He was just telling me about certain strategies, and how to keep it going. Just giving me some advice. But you have to learn on your own.
I know you met Lil Wayne at the VMAs years ago and he ended up getting in touch with you. What’s your relationship with him like now? What about you and Birdman?
I’ve been with them all week. That’s why I come to Miami, because this is their home. Me and Wayne had a long conversation the other day. He was just telling me about certain strategies, and how to keep it going. Just giving me some advice. But you have to learn on your own. It’s not like you need someone to tell you what to do, but the help is always there.
Is there one thing they said that hit you as particularly great advice?
It’s not what they say, but more what they do. Just being able to see how they move and be in the studio every night. Videos. Tours. To see their hustle and take my new artist hunger and add that to it. The one thing about them is that they don’t talk a lot. It’s their actions, really.
What’s your ultimate goal as an artist?
I want to make people feel certain ways when they listen to my music. Whether it’s partying or going through relationship problems or grinding or getting dressed and feeling fly. I want to be who I am and have emotion in my music that affects people.
What do you to say to people who hate on “Rack City” for not being lyrical enough?
If it was lyrical, with big-ass words and shit, do you think half the world could relate to that? No, they can’t. When I’m drunk, I’m not reciting any real difficult shit. I don’t want to hear shit like that when I’m drunk. I want to party. I want to have fun. People have got to understand that there’s music for every type of thing. Hip-hop isn’t “It has to be this topic and this topic only. Struggling, talking about drugs and the streets only.” That’s not hip-hop. That’s not music. Those are just motherfuckers who are stuck in their ways. If you don’t like the song, turn off the TV and turn off the radio and listen to your preference of music.
If ["Rack City"] was lyrical, with big-ass words and sh*t, do you think half the world could relate to that? No, they can’t. When I’m drunk, I’m not reciting any real difficult sh*t. I don’t want to hear sh*t like that when I’m drunk. I want to party. I want to have fun.
Yeah. There’s artists I don’t listen to, but it’s not like, “I hate this song.” I just don’t bother. I don’t listen to them. If you were to ask me what I’m listening to right now, I’d say, Ross’s mixtape, Jeezy’s album, myself, I’m a big fan of Wale and Meek Mill, and that whole new movement, because I can relate, but I’m not listening to every rapper.
You don’t ever want to impress those guys who want that super-lyrical rap?
That’s where my album comes in. I’ve got a song called “Kings And Queens” with me, Wale and Nas. That’s not “Rack City.” The story on that record is the opposite end of what “Rack City” is. That’s a song that will fill that void. The album is more relaxed and more thoughtful and more meaningful music than the party anthems. That’s why I released the #BitchImTheShit mixtape. I wanted to release a mixtape for my fans that are 12 to 24. That are in that whole party and high school environment. But at the end of the day, I still like listening to story-type records, like real hip-hop, but that’s because I’m a musician. The average 22-year-old or high schooler isn’t listening to that type of stuff. They’re not listening to old Nas and Wu-Tang. I like to listen to stuff like that because it gives me ideas. You’ve got to realize that when you get to a certain level, you’re not making music for yourself anymore. You’re making it for the world. That’s one thing I learned being around Wayne.
So, you’ve got Nas and Wale on a song. You’ve got Wayne on “Faded.” I’ve seen Big Sean tweet that he was on a track. I saw something about you and Pharrell being in the studio. Are there any other features on the album?
I’ve got a feature with Chris [Brown]. J. Cole is on there. The rest of them are features that I didn’t list, that I want to be a surprise when you hear the record. It puts the icing on top.
How did your L.A. Clippers anthem “Lob City” come about?
Chris Paul called me like, “Yo, the ‘Lob City’ is crazy.” I had to put it out. I recorded it and I dropped it. He called me that same day, so it was crazy. I did it for L.A. It’s fun. I go to the games and stuff. I’ve always been a Chris Paul fan, and I’m from L.A. I’m also a big Kobe fan, so I’m not Lakers or Clippers, really. I’m more a fan of the players. I like the Clippers new roster. “Lob City” is a regional thing. You go to Miami and you might only hear one Tyga song on the radio. You go to L.A. and you might hear six or seven on the radio. There’s certain things you do for your city.
How important is hometown recognition? You see how much Drake cares about his city.
It means a lot to be able to get that love. It’s much easier now, because there’s a lot of talent out there now, but early on, it was hard to get that support from LA if you weren’t a straight gangster rapper like Snoop or some shit like that. It was dumb, because there’s so many creative artists out there doing way different things that don’t want to talk about that stuff. It’s real important, though. You’ve got to start somewhere and have a homebase. I love doing shows in California and the West Coast, period. To go to other places and get that same love is always shocking to me. I never know what to expect, but the shows are always just as crazy.
Do you think “Rack City” influenced the sound for “The Motto”?
Definitely. “Rack City” opened the whole West Coast, Bay Area sound back up. I think I really influenced a lot of people to get back into that have fun type of feel. I like a lot of the artists that are out, but at the same time, everything doesn’t have to be so serious. When I go to the club, I don’t hear none of that shit. I hear the same records when people are drunk and partying.
Yeah, it’s dope. Kendrick, man. I had his first mixtape when I was like 15 in high school. So coming from the same place, to see how much he’s grown as an artist is crazy. That dude is a really hard worker. I think it’s good. The other thing is that we’re all young.
How did you feel about those guys who tried to expose you as not really from Compton a couple years ago?
I mean, you’ve got niggas that showed pictures of me when I was in elementary. Like, alright, of course. Everybody went to elementary school. How does that expose me as a rapper? “Oh, look at him. He was in school when he was 10.” Everybody is in school when they’re 10. That’s just life. That’s part of being a celebrity and being in the public eye. People want credit for knowing you when you weren’t famous. Okay, big deal. If you used to fuck with me back then, I appreciate it. If you didn’t, I don’t care. I’m trying to be successful and better my situation and better my family and friends’ situations, and you’ve got motherfuckers getting on WorldStar and shit. If that’s what people live for, that’s cool. I be in the studio. I work. I just want to make music and put it out and shoot videos and go on tour. That’s all I want to do. I don’t care about all that other shit. I’m a creative person, and I’ve got a lot of ideas. People probably thought that my mentality was quick fame because I made “Rack City” and it blew up fast, but I have over 1,000 songs recorded. I don’t sit around the studio and bullshit. I make music. That’s what I Iove to do.
On the flip side, there’s also video of girls getting naked for you on stage. Has it always been that wild or is it starting to get crazier as you’ve gotten more popular?
I noticed that when I put out that [Fan of a Fan] mixtape with Chris. That changed a lot of things and got a lot of females knowing who Tyga was. It always helps when you put out a mixtape with one of the top R&B stars. [Laughs.] Girls always want a reason to get crazy. I get the feeling that girls are crazy anyway, so they just want a reason to really get wild. Why not let it be to a Tyga song?
Is this Chyna Blac girl you’ve been photographed out with, like your girl?
Nah, just chilling, man. Like I said, you get a hit song and people are like hawks now. I’ve done way crazier stuff that people will probably never hear about, but it didn’t matter back then. I guess everything matters now.
Did you learn anything from going on tour with Diddy?
Regardless of how many years you’ve been doing it, and regardless of how much you’ve accomplished, those people in the crowds are the same. Your life may have changed a million times since you last went on tour, but those people in the crowds lives haven’t changed. It’s still the same people coming to see you. I’m like, “Damn, I want to be doing this until I’m old.” When I get to a certain level, I still want to be able to connect and relate to those people that have average jobs and are going through regular problems. Watching Diddy perform every night at those shows was a great experience. You just know what kind of goals you’ve got to set for yourself and beyond that.
Speaking of live shows, what happened in San Diego on January 6th? They say you started a riot.
Basically, a promoter at the second club that I went to paid me to host a party. He wanted me to walk through, chill, whatever. Eventually, I got drunk and ended up going onstage and having fun with the crowd. My contract was to go do two parties, 20 to 30 minutes. I guess something happened with the promoters where he dealt with some false people that said they booked me. He gave them money, and the guy said he lost about $30,000. So I went to the first event. It was an 18-and-under event. I got there, and it was like 2,000 kids in the street. The capacity of the club was 700 or 800. I didn’t know that until I got there. There were kids inside, and they were standing there waiting for me to perform. There was a stage set up, and I’m like, “A stage? I’m not performing.” I had put it on my Twitter like, “I’m chilling at this place tonight. I’m not performing.” I made that clear, because promoters don’t care.
Yeah, it’s possible that will get shut down, too.
Yup. They’re going to have to deal with it. They want to drag my name all on the news, like I’m some bad person, like I took people’s money. They said people were paying $50 for regular tickets to get in and then they were paying $150 to meet me. I’m like, “Yo, this is crazy.” That falls back on the promoter. I didn’t know nothing about that. It’s not right to do people like that.
How do you feel when you see Internet comments trashing you over that incident?
It’s crazy, but it’s nothing you can do. When I do my show out there and it’s crazy packed and I’m out there sweating and I put on a great show and people are happy, that’s all that matters to me. I really don’t care what they’re saying. It’s the action that I’m going to take when I perform. They can put that on the news.
Did you see that Charles Hamilton diss from the other day?
Nah, one of my homies told me. I didn’t click on it, though.
That doesn’t interest you?
Nah. It’s just like, “Alright.” [Laughs.] I’m in the studio, talking to Birdman about trying to take over shit. I ain’t really tripping. When you’re focused, you have a whole other vision.
I’m sure you saw that grandma dancing to “Rack City” though.
Yeah, that was crazy. A bunch of people were tweeting it to me. Then I clicked it, and I was like, “Yo, this shit’s hilarious. Wow. This is funny.” I’m working on trying to do something with them now, maybe like, on the Ellen show or something like that.
What was the deal with your arrest in Vegas?
I think the cop wanted a reason to pull me over. He said I was speeding. Ironically, he didn’t give me a speeding ticket. He just wanted to pull me over. Young dude, nice car. I was in a Ghost. I was in a Phantom, 2012. They didn’t put that on TMZ. It’s all good. I was chilling. No tint, just on some regular shit. The cop pulled me over, and you know how that shit goes. I think I had some unpaid tickets or something from a long time ago, from before I went on tour with Chris, like last summer or something like that. I didn’t know about them. So I spent a night at county.
How was that?
That shit was pretty wild. There was a lot of people coming up to me rapping and shit. I’m just trying to get booked and bail out really quick, and do what I’ve got to do to take care of it.
People were showing you love in there?
It was mainly a lot of drunks. There was a couple dudes in there, young dudes. They were rapping, asking me questions about Drake and Nicki and shit like that. It’s definitely a place I don’t want to be. I’m too creative, and I have to move around. I can’t sit in a place like that.
Does the idea of still being racially profiled fuck with you?
There’s always going to be that. Then you’ve got officers that ask me to take pictures with their daughters and their kids. So it’s a weird thing. As soon as they find out who you are, they want to treat you a certain way, but when they don’t, they just think you’re up to no good and they’re like, “I’m going to fuck with this person.” There’s stereotypes that you’re always going to have to deal with, so you’ve got to mind your own business and move how you move.
Like you say, “Bitch I’m the shit, I ain’t worried ‘bout shit.”
Yeah, I just be chilling, man. People are going to love this album, though. It’s been pushed back a million times, but when they get it, they’re going to love it.
How does it feel for it to finally be coming out?
I’m excited for it. I’ve got to put this tracklisting out. Then I’m working on shooting a video for “Faded” and this song I have with Nicki on the album. I want to get those shot.
What does getting to this point after all the setbacks say to you about perseverance?
You have to be dedicated. When you put out so much stuff, and you keep going, you’re going to gain fans. Everybody has fans. I don’t care what type of music they make. You’ve really got to travel and move around. You’ve got to stay consistent. That’s the main thing with people. Be consistent in dropping videos, and I’m not saying just do anything, but always be creative.
And what do you say to people who think your music is sexist or that you don’t have respect for women because you make songs like “Bouncing On My Dick”?
If you feel that way, then don’t listen to it. You can listen to songs like “Far Away” or “Deuces” where I speak about women in a different way. You don’t build your life on one type of emotion. Look at Tupac. He went through 19 different emotions. He would say, “Fuck everybody,” and then, “Love the world.” People wouldn’t understand, but it’s just the mind of a genius, man.