Interview: A Long Conversation with Tyrese about Race, ‘Empire’ and ‘Black Rose’

Tyrese Gibson is an old-school R&B singer who happened to come of age in the ’90s. But he is a great, and passionate, champion for the older era of R&B that he loves: back when R&B singers didn’t need hip-hop stars to help sell their records; back when there was no auto tune, you could either sing or you couldn’t; back when people bought full albums. 

To many, that train left the station a long time ago, and likely isn’t returning. But Tyrese is a true believer. And he can afford to be: these days, music isn’t his main income. He’s a bona-fide movie star, as part of the mega-successful ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise. He sings because he wants to, not because he has to; as he points out in this interview, he’s a millionaire anyway. But he’s still pretty down-to-earth; he and his team took the subway to the Radio.com studios for this interview. 

We’ve already run an excerpt of the interview, but here, we’re running nearly the entire thing at Tyrese’s request. It’s only been edited slightly for readability.  

Over the course of a rather lengthy interview, Gibson spoke about the different ways white and black singers are treated (and discusses it as politely as possible), what his new album “Black Rose” means to him and previews his upcoming role on “Empire” (and explains why he wasn’t on season one). 

 ~

Tell me about your subway ride up here.

Yeah, man, I just took the train, man, from Brooklyn. I was performing on the train trying to help sell my album. I left all the major labels, I’m independent. So I figured instead of using a car service, I had to bring it to the people and try and get some attention—because supposedly singers like me that put out R&B albums that don’t have 15 rappers on it, we just don’t sell records anymore. Supposedly, the day of asking fans to buy a full album is like seeing a unicorn or a shooting star. It’s probably not gonna happen. Supposedly, R&B singers don’t matter unless it’s incorporated with a bunch of other genres. Supposedly, the days of just having Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye to put out an R&B soul album without featuring hip-hop artists will get no attention and no energy. Supposedly, the days of having real R&B fans to support the genre is over.

So you know I just said, “You know what? I’m gonna take it to the streets. I’m gonna talk to the people, and I’m gonna see what happens.” Because if I wanted to make money, I wouldn’t be doing music. I got a passion for it. I love it. It’s all I know, it’s in my soul, it’s in my heart. And I don’t use Auto Tune. I’m actually a singer; this is what I do. It’s for real.

Even when it comes to the GRAMMYs, they don’t even telecast R&B singers winning awards. It’s in the pre-telecast. I’m trying to figure out what I can say or do to change that. And so I’ve been doing all these interviews, and I’m figuring out, like, what do I actually say that can get people to do what they don’t do anymore, which is buy a full album.

How did the people react to you performing on the train?

Oh, man, the energy was crazy. This one dude just got out of jail, and he had his luggage with him, and he started singing my song, “Sweet Lady.” He was like, “Yo, look son, I got everything I own right here in this luggage! I just got out right now, son!” And I’m like, “Yo, this is crazy!” He starts, “[singing] ‘Sweet lady’—I’m a real fan, son!” It was real. It was a moment.

And you know, here’s the thing: I’m not mad, I’m just curious. Like my mom, when I was a kid she said, “Look, son, you’ll be successful if you remain curious.” And I’m asking the questions. I’m curious. How is it possible that if you twerking, dropping, “Watch Me nae nae,” you all over the radio. And then the singers are unemployed. They got kids, family, they house is in foreclosure, ain’t none of the promoters booking them, they not touring. Like what’s happening here?

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