Inevitably, the first thing you notice meeting Tyla Yaweh are the words “good” and “vibes” tattooed on each of his eyelids. Framed by an extravagant collection of facial ink, the 23-year-old singer, songwriter and rapper tells me their prominent placing is an ode to self-expression.
“It’s not hidden. It’s like, ‘Yo, this is how I’m feeling!’” He exclaims. “Everything I had on my face is what I’m feeling. Every tattoo is a moment, a time in my life. It’s a story.” On this occasion, they mark Yaweh’s stint supporting Post Malone on his winter 2019 European tour – which he’s about to conclude at London’s 20,000 capacity O2 arena the day we speak in March.
It’s this allegiance to unfiltered self-expression that stands out on his latest project, February’s LP Heart Full of Rage, which Yaweh hopes will inspire his fans to do the same. “I’m just expressing myself through my art and I want everybody to express themselves – not as in being mad – but just rage your heart with emotions,” he explains, dropping his eccentric bravado to expand on its message: “Speak your mind; tell people how you’re feeling. Don’t be scared to go and talk to your friend. If you’re going through something, tell somebody. If you keep that bottled up, it’s just going to cause depression and anxiety. It’s a beautiful world out here, with a lot of beautiful people…”
(LEFT) Shirt and trainers LOUIS VUITTON, trousers MARNI.
(RIGHT) Shirt FENDI. All jewellery Tyla’s own.
Shirt and trainers LOUIS VUITTON, trousers MARNI.
Shirt FENDI. All jewellery Tyla’s own.
As Yaweh highlights, the 10-track record borrows from a range of different genres – seedy trap numbers are softened with mellow R&B, and catchy club hooks and hip-hop beats punctuate slow rolling tracks. The lead track and his latest single, “High Right Now” (“I don’t think that I’ll ever come down…”), blends these elements seamlessly, oscillating between airy vocals and lyrical rap flow, with guitar, hazy synths and with punchy trap beats. Having grown up in Orlando surrounded by “hella metal” and “hella pop”, Yaweh cites his background as the formative influence on this eclectic sound. He’d listen to everything from angsty emo music (think “I hate everybody, My Chemical Romance, paint my nails black” vibes), to rock, pop, Prince and Michael Jackson. “I lived in the hood, so you had to listen to rap music too,” he adds, “you had to hear it.” But more than anything else, it’s late 60s icons like Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison who’ve inspired Yaweh’s style and theatrical charisma – all of which inevitably set him apart when he packed up his life to pursue music in LA at the age of 19.
“The American Dream was out there, so I just felt like I needed to be here,” he shrugs when I ask about the move, pretty much glossing over the fact that he “went homeless for a second” in the process. That’s the thing about Yaweh: when he talks about his prodigious rise so far, it’s like he’s always known he’d be stepping into his heroes’ shoes. So while he lists winning a Grammy, joining the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and becoming as infamous as The Rolling Stones amongst his aspirations, his main aim is to keep “always being Tyla Yaweh”, on his own terms, certain that the rest will unfold naturally if he does. “Fuck the rules!” He laughs before it’s time to leave for his O2 performance, referencing the same words tattooed on his neck. “Stay positive, keep going, chase your dreams. Do whatever the fuck you want. Fuck the rules.”