A viral moment, courtesy of Soulja Boy’s bewilderment that fellow rapper Tyga had a bigger comeback than him last year, has left the latter unfazed. Tyga simply lets his music to the talking. And musically, Tyga has had one hell of a year. The upbeat, catchy and contagious anthem “Taste,” featuring Offset, rose above the noise in 2018, becoming a top contender for song of the summer. Within one year, it has been certified five-times platinum, amassing over 2 billion streams worldwide. Further, the song’s official music video currently claimed over 728 million views and counting — and it didn’t hurt that a friendly cosign came from Kanye West who called it the “best video of all time.”
Fast forward to 2019 and a revitalized Tyga just released his seventh studio album, “Legendary,” his first on EMPIRE after breaking from the major label world and free from the drama surrounding ex-girlfriend Kylie Jenner. From top to bottom, the 14-track project follows the trajectory of a Los Angeles MC who knows a thing or two about hard-hitting beats and West Coast production. Enlisting the likes of Gunna, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown and J Balvin, among others, the 29-year-old manages to turn up, while still showcasing self-reflection, as on the closing track “Made Me.” Tyga spoke to Variety a week after his album’s June 7 release.
What makes you legendary?
It’s putting in the time, committing. Being over-passionate and withstanding the test of time. Being in the game over 10 years now — to still be consistent, still keep giving people new vibes, still keep dropping hits, that’s everything. It’s your whole persona.
What inspired the cover photo?
Definitely “Carter II” and also an old Ice T cover. I kept it West Coast with the girls on there. Then I did the Phantom, kind of as a tribute to Wayne.
Is “Carter II” your favorite Wayne album?
Yes because It was his breaking point of Wayne becoming who he is. I like the whole album. He rapped to the same beat three times on “Carter II”: the intro, the middle of the album, and the outro. The whole ting is just a good body of work.
What lyric on “Legendary” are you most proud of?
It’s crazy, I don’t write down anything so I make it up as I go. I don’t even remember. [Laughs] I couldn’t tell you lyric for lyric unless I was listening to the song.
So you freestyle everything?
Well freestyle like not write it down, record it as I go. Everything has a feeling and it means something. Every song.
Talk about linking with J Balvin & Chris Brown on “Haute.”
That was the first collab me and Balvin did. I actually sent them another song that was more of a Spanish vibe, but he liked that one. He was, like, “Nah, I wanna be on the party vibe. I wanna be in the clubs.” I’m like “alright well, we could shoot this video. I got the perfect idea for the video.” Because Chris was on it first, then I sent it to Balvin and he knocked it out right away. Shout out to Balvin, I’ve been a fan of his for a minute. … He’s like the president right now of Latin culture. He’s the biggest. To cross those two worlds and then bring him into my world, for him to still rap his verse — he rapped on it, he didn’t sing on it, which he usually does. That’s what makes the album legendary — taking people out of their element and bringing them into your world, but still letting them be themselves.
How did it compare to recording “Go Loko” with YG?
It was a different vibe because I didn’t like the beat of “Go Loko” at first. … I think Mustard oversold the beat to me so much. I was just, like, whatever. Me and YG were working on some other songs for Mustard’s album. I had [gone] into the studio earlier before everybody got there and said, “Yo, pull up that beat. I got an idea, let me try something out.” I just did the hook and the verse, didn’t think nothing of it.
Then YG got to the studio, I played it, and he just went crazy. He played it for Mustard and Mustard’s like, “This is crazy! This is gonna be a big song.” And I still didn’t know. I thought, “it’s cool, it’s a vibe.” But it was good for YG to put it on his project because he really sold it. He’s super tapped in, especially to Mexican culture. If you look at the video, to go to the places he went, only he could do that. It’s super LA. It brought everybody together, black and brown. And he dropped it on Cinco De Mayo! The perfect turn up song. [Then] dressing up like cowboys with the horses in the hood, in the street. That was pretty fun.
What’s the process when it comes to who’s a feature on a song?
For me, some songs I do, I won’t finish them when I record them. Because I don’t like to rush shit. I like to come back to it later and be, like, “Maybe I should add this person.” It really depends on your preference. I like to work for people who I’m a fan of. I want to bring out the best in them, so I try to find the right songs for certain people.
Is that what happened with Cardi B? She was supposed to be on “Haute,” right?
Yeah, she was actually gonna do it, but scheduling-wise, it just didn’t happen. I know she did the Grammys and a bunch of stuff. No one knew I was coming out with an album, I wasn’t trying to be like “I need it ASAP because I’m coming out with an album!” I kept it a secret, so it’s all good.
You hear people pushing back their albums for a feature. Was that something you considered?
Nah, I don’t care. When I wanna drop, Imma drop. [Laughs] Oh well, we’ll get another one.
The last song on the album, “Made Me,” stands out. What does it mean to you?
“Made Me” is a real important song, it kind of narrates where I’m at in my life. It summarizes the last couple years up until this point, what made me. … Basically you over-believed in yourself to get to this point. Regardless of what people say, regardless of haters or negativity, you still saw the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s why I put it as the last song on the album.
Explain your decision to put “Taste” right before it on the track listing?
Because it kind of sums it up, almost like a recap. Boom, it’s the last song. Then we talk about the new chapter with “Made Me.” “Taste” is like a flashback, so [I] put that at the end.
Can you bring us back to the studio session for “Taste”?
It was definitely a party vibe. I had girls in the studio, couple homies, some liquor. I usually record while people are in the studio. Even if it’s loud, I still record because of the atmosphere and the vibe. People don’t know what I’m working on ‘cause I’m in my headphones. But once I play it back, then everybody’s, like, “Oh shit, it’s a party!”
When did you sense that it would be a hit?
Once we put the video out and I saw all the reactions super fast. Usually, songs take a couple weeks or a month for people to catch on to it. You can see if people are playing it on their Snapchats or their stories. But right off the bat, the next day, two days — in 48 hours, it was trending on Apple Music. I’m, like, damn! It was just going up. It wasn’t really on a playlist or anything, it was just natural. People started catching on to it. That’s why it had such long legs, because people are still discovering it.
Kanye said “Taste” was Best Video, what does an endorsement from Kanye West mean to you?
Kanye is Kanye. He says a lot of things, but creatively he definitely gives his opinion — especially when he’s inspired by something. If the video was something, like, “Man, this is inspiring, this is lit! It’s fun.” He always compliments when I do a video, he’s always supportive.
What do you say to critics who claim that “Taste” is derivative of your previous work?
The thing about it is, it’s a sound. Me making records with the same BPM or similar, or a certain type of vibe — it’s a vibe that I’m going for. If I would’ve put out a slow song right after “Taste,” everybody would be like “go back to ‘Taste’! We want ‘Taste’.” Before “Taste,” it was, “Make another song like ‘Rack City’!” You know, people are just trolls. At the end of the day, I know good music and what I like to vibe to.
What can we expect on the deluxe version? You got YG & Blueface on a record.
That’s gonna come out on the deluxe, we got a video too. But I don’t want to interrupt “Go Loko.” “Go Loko” is going so crazy. We gonna give them that some time this summer. Definitely a couple new features, a couple new songs. I think I’m gonna put “Dip” on there with Nicki [Minaj]. Some of the singles that I didn’t put on the project that came out in the year, I’m probably gonna put it on the Deluxe.
Do you feel like you’ve had more freedom putting out music through EMPIRE?
Definitely, they’re very supportive. They’re just as fast as me. I’m so fast, the way I like to move. The relationship is really good. We’ve been able to do a lot within a year.
What was your reaction when Soulja Boy went off on your name?
I just thought it was funny. The thing about it is if you’re in people’s mind, you’re on the top of their brain. But it’s funny when somebody makes it obvious that they’re thinking about you. It’s just funny. I mean, I didn’t think it was gonna be a whole campaign..
Would you think about using that “TYGA??!” on a song or remix?
Probably not. It was fun for a moment.
Would you work with Soulja?
I did a song with him before, I’m not opposed to it.
Do you rightly feel you had the comeback of the year?
I never said it. If people feel that way, that’s cool. That goes to show everything I’m doing is finally getting noticed, which is good. I just want to keep collaborating with different artists, keep doing new music.
Father’s Day just passed. What’s the biggest lesson you learned in fatherhood?
Every day you learn something new. Having a kid with technology, it’s way different. They’re very advanced. It’s not like when I was growing up and my mom was raising me. It’s different now, they’re exposed to so many things. They know the new songs, they’re like your friends almost in a way. It’s a good experience though. My son is cool, he’s pretty chill. He’s not too spoiled, he’s not too crazy. He knows my limit, so he doesn’t do too much to make me mad to where I have to punish him. He’s pretty aware and smart.
How do you stay grounded in the music industry?
You gotta stay focused and find ways to be inspired. Once you lose inspiration, then you get lost in everything. You gotta find ways to get inspired. Artists inspire other artists. You gotta show other artists love, too.
Fashion is one of your passions, do you plan on blending the two?
I definitely want to do some collabs in the future. I just know retail and having my own retail line in stores is a lot of work. I don’t want to put too much on my plate while I’m really having fun with music right now.