The Knockturnal spoke with soul singer and rapper Tish Hyman on how meaningful music is to her and growing up in tough circumstances.
Born and raised in one of the most violent areas of the Bronx, NY, Tish Hyman has emerged unscathed. From battle rapping in basements for street cred, to working with Kanye West and Pusha T, then opening up for Jill Scott on tour, Hyman learned the power of passion, hard work, and talent, all meeting together to create an experience that is life changing and suited for no one but her. A passionate artist who is wise beyond expectations, she defies the standards of the modern hip hop artist, as she describes her musical journey as just that – a journey. Not a facade of the fast life, that is unattainable and unrealistic.
The 33-year-old singer revealed that her upbringing was anything but glamorous and plans on addressing it through her music. From coming to terms with being a lesbian, to growing up with a single mother in the destructive crack era of the 80’s, Hyman holds nothing back and divulges everything. She says that this is done deliberately and with intention. She poignantly spoke about her willingness to be vulnerable despite the industry’s push to promote a falsified image of perfection.
Hyman said that pretending that opportunities and success just “fell” in her lap would be counter productive to inspiring those growing up like she did to follow in her footsteps. She’s soft spoken and jokes around as she pleases, but somehow still maintains a level of seriousness in her tone when she speaks about what she wants for herself. Hyman talks about the beauty in the struggle, creating a legacy, and learning that simply coming from an environment doesn’t mean becoming a product of it.
So, I made an observation about you: In all of your interviews, you’re very bubbly and funny. In your music, though, it’s not like that at all. You come across as wanting to put out a very serious message.
Tish: I moved to LA and I have a lot of friends who don’t know me from New York and don’t know what I’ve been through. I thought that it was very telling. You wouldn’t even know that I went through half of the s**t. I feel like I need to tell people because they need to understand that no matter what happens to you, you can be happy as you want to be. You don’t have to be a product of your environment. You don’t have to be a product of the things that have happened to you. It’s important to tell that part of the story. My music won’t always be that way. It’s important to grow. My next album, we’ll be talking about a lot of different things, but I wanted people to know what’s the root [of me].
That’s interesting. Did you always have this mindset or is this a recent revelation?
Tish: I live in Hollywood now and I don’t live in the Bronx. I haven’t lived in the Bronx in five years. So I was like, I can talk about that, which is cool, but no one’s gonna know how I got to this point. What is there to really talk about? It’s not like I’m doing that f*cking awesome! I’m living in LA, surviving, writing songs for other artists … I said, you know, I wanna make an album about me and who I am today. So, that’s what I did. At least now, my next album I can talk about whatever else I’m going through and whatever else is on my mind and not be as dark. This is one story getting the root. Now you can find out why Tish is so happy! [laughs]
Highlighting these parts of yourself puts you in a vulnerable place. How does that make you feel?
Tish: Living in New York is a tough place to live. You have to have thick skin. So, I felt like it was very important to me and would do more for hip hop if I really wore it on my sleeve and not hide it. That’s not helping anyone. What if people look at me when I’m on top and they just think that I winded up there. No. I went through so much s**t.
Coming from a rough upbringing, do you appreciate this experience that you’re going through even more?
Tish: I’m happy, but I’m not content. There’s so much to do. I want so much more to do and I’m just focused. Right now I feel good that I’m able to support myself. I feel good putting together a project and evolving … I feel really good about performing, and getting on stage. I feel really good about the response. There’s just so much work to do right now, you know? I’m not even able to think about much more but doing more.
And, you’ve also been working with some heavy hitters in the industry like Pusha T, Fabolous, Alicia Keys. How has that experience been?
Tish: It’s amazing. Alicia Keys was amazing to work with. She’s so talented and she’s really in there with you. I appreciated that. It was very refreshing to be around her. She’s a very sweet person. Kanye was really nice … Whenever I see him, he’s really nice. He introduced me to Drake! … It feels good to be meeting the people that I love and look up to.
Many people don’t know that Kanye is a nice guy. The media doesn’t portray him that way. What do you want people to know about Tish?
Tish: Everything on that album [Dedicated To] is what I want people to know about me. I love people, that’s why I do music. I truly believe that we can live in a world where people can love one another. I believe in the kindness of strangers. I’m a kind person, I like people so much! If you see my on the street, you can definitely come up to me. I love what I do and I do it for you, I do it for the culture.
So let’s talk more about this new album and what it means to you.
Tish: This album is super important. It’s the root. You listen to this album and you feel like you’ve gotten to know me. I’m proud of that. There’s a song on there called ‘Lezbe Honest’, which is my life story. A couple of people sent me pictures of them with tears because it’s a very heartfelt story and it’s a lot going on. I’ve been through a lot. ‘Subway Art’ is really important because it embodies what the subway life is like in New York. ‘Dream’ is really a testament to what I’m really about. I’ve loved Fabolous, and it’s a dream to be on a song with him … There’s a song ‘Four Letter Words’ which celebrates a break up. A lot of people get depressed after a breakup. And, I thought, man… you don’t have to necessarily be depressed after a breakup. It might be a good thing, so I made a song about that.
What is your driving force?
Tish: I grew up very poor. No one in my family owns anything. No one in my family owns a business. I think we have one college graduate. Very few high school graduates. I’ve just wanted to be great ever since I can remember.
How do you define greatness?
Tish: Being influential. I want to be influential and powerful. I want to create things that change cultures. I don’t want to do one thing that can change, I want to do many things! I wanna get into television. I wanna get into film. I wanna act. I wanna create content. I wanna help other artists that I think are talented. I have a lot of ambition and I plan on living all of them out.
Speaking of film: you recently made your acting debut on Chiraq with Spike Lee, which is amazing. Can you talk more about that?
Tish: Friends are really important. Treating people nicely is really important. One of my best friends is a casting director for Facetime Agency who books most of the models that are in music videos. We’ve been friends for like 12 years. He was booking models for Chiraq, and Spike wanted to meet with him. I was having an album listening and my friend says to Spike ‘You should come out to my girl’s listening, she’s amazing’. Spike came, he saw me at my listening. I performed a little bit and I kind of went up in his face so he could know that I knew it was him … He said he wanted to put me in his movie and I went down, I auditioned, and I got the role. I thank him so much for giving me a shot. My first shot being in a Spike Lee movie is not a bad start!
Tish: Yeah, I haven’t aggressively sought out any new roles because I like to give anything that I do the respect it deserves and really take my time in the craft. If I could get a role in ‘Orange Is the New Black’, I’d totally take it!
So, you’ve recently been signed to Jill Scott’s record label. How has it been working with her?
Tish: She’s like a big sister to me. She’s helping me a lot. She’s a big part of why I’m here.
How did you meet her?
Tish: In California, at a house party. We free styled together for like 10 hours. It was crazy. From there, we just became friends . . . I called her when I knew she was going on tour and was like “Listen, I know you’re going on tour and I would really like if I could perform. You know I can do it.” . . . She put me on.
That’s life changing.
Tish: Yeah. She didn’t just tell me I was ill, she showed me.
Do you have any new projects that we can look forward to?
Yeah! Check out my ‘Dreams’ video with Ty Dolla $ign and Fabolous. It’s out now. Check out the ‘Dedicated To’ album. We’re just building. We’re taking it one step at a time.