Rare Candy had the pleasure of chatting with multi-talented hip-hop artist Tiyé Pulley about streaming culture, upcoming multimedia projects, and making music on a college campus.
By Sophia Loo
Rare Candy: You have a lot of experience making music as a solo artist and also as part of a group, namely Origin Story. Can you talk a little bit about how these processes differ for you?
Tiye: A lot of times the band will have stuff that one person has been working on, or that they've been working on without me. Someone will come in with a riff or a chord and be like, “Alright let’s work off of this.” Then I'll freestyle my way into it. We'll jam until we hammer out something that sounds good, and then I'll go back and I'll write accordingly. For many Origin Story songs, we’ll come up with this dope chorus and then I’ll go back and listen to the recording and write to it. It’s very in the moment, and has a very focused kinetic energy. It’s the same thing with my band at Swarthmore, since we do improv-y jazz and hip-hop, and most of those songs are almost entirely freestyle. I work with whatever is brought to the table and I work with the energy that we have.
When I do solo work it's very much like, “Fuck, I'm feeling something right now… I need to write”, and I'll be play a beat over and over, and listen to it twenty, thirty times, and then pause it, and write something, play it back, write something, play it back... Usually those songs hammer themselves out within thirty minutes.
I had the beat for the last song I put on my Soundcloud for months. My cousin made the beat, and I was feeling kind of sad so I wrote, recorded, and mixed the song in two hours. I put it out immediately because it was just this feeling.
I'd say the main difference is that with the band it's a work in progress, it changes it evolves. A lot of the time with Origin Story our lyrics will change because we haven't recorded yet and I'll think about how I can do much better. When I'm writing my own stuff, it's a product of a moment.
RC: You wrote your first EP, The Way Out, in just a week. What was that specific experience like?
Tiye: I almost feel like a totally different Tiye was making that EP. It's a cool timestamp of where I was. I actually wrote the bulk of The Way Out when I was finishing up finals my freshman year of college. During that post-finals period, I was still on campus doing work for the school, and it was just a rough period. My academic life and my personal life were unraveling at once. I was facing a lot of anxiety because I was going into a summer where I didn't have any plans. I felt like everyone living in this highly competitive atmosphere was getting internships, and I was just doing shit. I didn't know how I was going to make money. I felt a lot of pressure, and I needed the release, and that's what the EP became. It was a way to honestly say how I was feeling about a lot of things. There are some throwaways on that EP that were not totally related, but I think a lot of the songs capture the angst of 18-year-old Tiye.
RC: Was there any advice that you heard from your family or friends that resonated with you and helped you during such a hard time?
Tiye: Honestly? At that specific time, there wasn't. There was nothing. My roommate was gone, and I was just not at a place where I really wanted to be open. My sister was really helpful at that time. I remember a lot of late night phone calls with her just being like, “I don't know what to do.” She would just be like, “Listen dude, it's going to be okay.” I think I just didn't know who to talk to, and I didn't know how to talk. I remember when I finished my last final. I just had a really terrible fight with my partner at the time and I had pulled an all-nighter to finish this final paper, all within the same twelve hours. I had a therapy appointment at noon, the middle of the day, which was when this final was due. Once I finished it, I had a choice: I could just knock out and be done or I could go get help. I went to therapy and that was a big moment for me. I needed that session. I think in those circumstances, what I learned is you can't always help yourself, and you have to find others who will help you help yourself.
RC: It sounds like making music at Swarthmore, or on a college campus specifically, influences you. How do you think making music on such an isolated college campus affects the process and your work?
Tiye: Well, it's interesting because we are pretty close to Philly, and I feel like sometimes I do get to go to Philly, and I get to link up with people who are creating there. This summer especially, I was in West Philly, and there are cool people there. You just run into people, start talking to them about art, and then things cascade. At Swarthmore, I think part of the strength that I draw from making music there is that there are a lot of things that I want to say to the community. I want to do a show, or I want to make a song about things that are happening there. I've been working on some music that is almost a direct allusion to what it's like to be young, black, and biracial in an elite private institution, and just feeling weird. Feeling out of place. I want that voice to be heard, because I feel like it's not being heard enough. I also think there are mad other creative people at Swarthmore. I have a friend who just taught himself how to play didgeridoo and it was like, “What the hell?!” We have people who are classically trained musicians, and people who are just amazing musicians who are so low-key about it. I could just go next door and be like, “Hey what do you think of this?” and someone will give me an opinion. A lot of people actually make rap music as well, so they’ll be like, “Yo, that bar was hot!” or “Nah.” We're able to help each other. We have events called Freestyle Fridays where we go up to the radio station and people just bar out on Friday nights. It’s really helpful because people come with heat, and you have to be prepared. It's very friendly, but at the same time it's about making personal bests. I go in there and I'm trying to have a good time and freestyle, but also I'm trying to see how much I can flex lyrically off of the dome. You can't get too content because then someone's is going to come up one day and surprise everybody, and we’ll all sit there and say, “Oh my god this guy never comes here and he just delivered these crazy sixteen bars” so I think I’ve got to go make more stuff. I need to do better.
RC: Are there any like student artists or musicians you'd recommend checking out?
Tiye: At Swarthmore? Definitely. My good friend goes by Bdsn on Soundcloud, and he's been making some crazy stuff. It's really dark, it’s really good, and he's got crazy flows. I've been working on a track with him. There's also Zikiwe, who's been making a lot of beats with me, and he brings a lot of cool stuff to the table. There are a lot of people who make music but, don’t publish it. I know so many amazingly talented female vocalists, and they'll just do a set with a student band thing or something, and I'll just be like, “Oh my god you're not even recording! This is amazing!” and that's super inspiring.
RC: You were talking about distributing music and having it published places. You just had an album put on Spotify as part of Origin Story, so what do you think about the role of streaming and the distribution of music nowadays?
Tiye: Nobody is selling physical copies anymore. Cassettes are kind of cool. I buy cassettes from basement punk shows that I go to because they’re such an artifact. Physical music is definitely becoming an artifact. We consume so much music on the go. I have to have a soundtrack if I'm in a car, if I’m on the train, if I’m walking, whatever, wherever. It's great that we got the EP on Spotify, but I don't use Spotify. I literally only listen to music on Youtube or Soundcloud. I feel like I've discovered so much new music just from clicking and clicking. I think that it's the underground, the sort of bootleg streaming culture has really pushed new music out. Whenever Spotify puts a feature on someone I think they blow up, but I they're getting the cues from people on Reddit, Soundcloud, Youtube, the streaming and the comments and the threads. So, I think that whole underground streaming culture is super important. You'll notice artists like Gucci Mane and Young Thug and really big artists who are making pop crossovers will just put their whole album for free to stream on Soundcloud. A lot of people I don't realize that, that you can just listen to the whole album for free. Those guys are not making a compromise. Shoutout to Chance also for making his last mixtape free. Mad people do that, but when big artists do that it really makes you question the exclusivity culture of some other forms of music.
RC: You’re super talented musically, but you also indulge in other types of art. You draw, you’re working on a short film, and you’re starting up photography. Do you think each of these fields have an influence on each other? Is there an intersection between video and audio?
Tiye: For me, it's all the same thing, because it's all what I want to do. I want to make movies, make music, make art, make clothes, and take photos. I don't see those things as separate. They're all influencing each other. I was making songs and art about police brutality, and then I wrote a script about it, and then it became a film. Those things just sort of fell into each other. For so long I was writing music on my phone, and then I started handwriting stuff, and then that turned into incorporating text and drawing. Then all of a sudden things like lyrics that I was thinking became ideas to of things to draw. If I could just create, and if I had a free space to create anything, it would be this crazy audio, visual, 3-dimensional, art conglomerate. It would be a movie, and it would be a music video, and it would be a song, a painting, a fashion show, and all of those things as one creation. We're seeing that now with artists like Kendrick and his “DAMN.” tour. There's a short film that plays in between songs. Travis Scott comes in on an animatronic bird… It's not just music, it's the experience, which is why you're paying like $300 for it, but it doesn't have to be that expensive, you can just do that.
RC: Is there anything that we can look forward to from you next?
Tiye: So Origin Story has another EP recording, and we're just waiting to master it. We will hopefully put it soon. And I've been working on a lot of solo much that I haven't recorded yet. Right now it's a bunch of singles, but I'm gluing them together. I have a couple short comics that I haven't published yet, and I'm waiting for the right place and time to put those out. I've been working on doing custom clothing designs, as well. I’ve also been working on a film that I’m hoping to release next summer. It’s tentatively titled Swisher.
Latest Video Drop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3DKo6OeyD8&feature=youtu.be