Bryson Tiller is a man of a few words—at least, he is in interviews—but when he sings, his magic lies in the way that he speaks to you, not at you.
He mastered the art of seduction by taking a note from 90s R&B greats like Boyz II Men and 112, but instead of catering to nostalgia junkies and recreating a sound from an ended era, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter engages a listener by making you feel like it's only you in the room. This is his gift, and why he’s already solidified himself as one of 2016’s breakout stars.
"If you listen to the lyrics, they're honest—they're not afraid to be, and [it's] the way they put the words together,” he tells Fuse. "It's the way they say certain things, the way they talk to a woman on a song—that's what I try to do with my music. Some people talk at women, and they talk to women."
In October, Tiller talked to a few people when he released his debut album, Trapsoul, through RCA Records. Then he started talking to more people, as the hypnotic single “Don’t” began taking off at R&B radio, then crossing over to Top 40. Now Trapsoul is a regular inhabitant of the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 albums chart; “Don’t” is still getting massive mainstream looks; and Tiller is being anointed as R&B’s next big star at a string of sold-out shows.
However, Tiller was nowhere near radio two years ago. He was trying to make ends meet and support his daughter by working two jobs and sleeping in his car. His daughter shifted Tiller's mentality and drove him to commit to music full-time. "Having a kid made me care more about the things that I love—I started taking music more serious," he says. "I quit music for two years when I found out I was having a daughter, to [raise] her. During my hiatus, I studied music and I also listened to my old music. Every time I listened to it, I just hated it. I think it grew older, and I got more mature. I decided if I make music again, it has to be of quality. I have [higher] standards as an artist."
He gradually developed his songwriting, which flirts with the line between transparency and brutal honesty. He often says the words that women wish their men would say, and what men typically leave unspoken.
"I've had guys come up to me, like, ‘Man, you're helping me just be a better man to my girl.' [My music] makes them talk differently to their women, [and] that means the world to me," he says. "I've had a few people come up to me and say that I saved their relationships. At this show one time, this really attractive girl walked in, and I was like, ‘Oh?' Next thing you know, her boyfriend walks in, like, ‘You saved our relationship.' I was, like, ‘Oh.'"
His lyrics inspire memes of men yelping and crying in cars, and women subtweeting wishful thinking. And Tiller is well-aware of his place in the Internet hierarchy, but tries to stay honest about it. "I always tell people—I've seen some memes actually that were like, ‘I want somebody like Bryson Tiller,’” he says. “In my head I'm like, ‘Nah, you probably don't want someone like me.' I'm terrible at expressing myself in relationships, which is why I use music as my outlet, to say all the things I want to say and get my point across. I just created something recently [about how] dating me is hard because, if we argue, you probably won't hear it from me until the song that you just inspired is finished."
His storytelling is behind Twitter trolls comparing his prompt success to Usher's legacy. He doesn’t follow the back-and-forth on social media, but he did watch a video in which someone pretends to call Usher asking about the Tiller comparison, and is directly led to the beginning portion of Usher's "Confessions." He found the video hilarious. The comparison? Not so much.
"I don't like to hear people say I'm better than anybody, especially when they compare me to people who have tons of classic albums,” he says. "I just got here. This is my first album. It's cool for some people to really feel like that. I feel like they should keep that to themselves and wait until I get six more classic albums, and then start that debate. Because, the person who's never heard of me [could] walk in and judge me—the first thing they do when they listen to my music is listen to see if I'm better than that person. That'll turn them into a hater quick."
While we both agree that the comparisons ridiculous, you can't get that mad at it, seeing that Tiller is one of the few singers right now that has the attention of you, your ex, and your next ex. And Trapsoul is built off of engaging narration, the element of Confessions that makes it stand out in Usher’s discography.
Tiller claims that Trapsoul isn't his Confessions, but he plans to make an album as such. "I actually plan on making an album like that," he says. "I want to make an album where I'm really confessing everything–just put it all out there and see what happens. … It's real scary because some people are gonna listen to it and find out things that they never knew."
Tiller builds his songwriting around conversations, real life experiences, or experiences he could see himself in if he makes the wrong move. "Don’t”—which has peaked at No. 13 on the Hot 100 chart—is one of his handful of songs that sparked a firestorm of memes and vines, but the story behind the song isn't what you may expect. It "wasn't even really about me taking somebody's girl or trying to tell some girl she'd be better off, it was really about me,” he admits. "I wrote it from the perspective of me, someone who wasn't doing what I needed to be doing in my relationship. I was like, Wow, what if someone as serious as me comes in and talks to her [my girl], and be like, ‘What's he doing? You deserve better.'"