Staying relevant while standing on a roster alongside three of rap’s biggest stars isn’t an easy task. But 21-year-old Tyga of Young Money Cash Money Billionaires clique has kept his stature visible. Since his debut, No Introduction, in ’08, as if on a quest to discover his artistic identity, the Los Angeles-raised rapper has steadily put out polished materials via successful mixtapes and chart-topping guest appearances (“BedRock” with YMCMB; “Deuces” with Chris Brown and Kevin McCall). The process has not only amassed a sturdy following — it also provided him the platform for his own label/clothing brand, Last Kings.
Of course, to rap fans that aren’t still in high school, the only facts they know about Tyga are a) his neck piece was allegedly taken a few years ago, and b) his full-body tattoos strike a resemblance to Wiz Khalifa. Further details about Tyga’s artistry, Vietnamese ancestry, or making snapback hats into a trend have hardly been highlighted. While promoting his forthcoming sophomore effort, Careless World: Rise of The Last King, which drops November 19th, Tyga sat down with BET to discuss the aforementioned matters.
BET: Tell me about your upcoming album, Careless World: Rise of The Last King.
Tyga: Basically, it’s a story of how I became a king. I compare the king situation to regular life. It’s like knowing in your head that you can reach your goals without actually being a king. I’m letting people know that everybody can reach their dreams. I’m not referring to myself as a king, but it’s just how I view life. I’m still comparing it to a king, but we go through hardships, breakups and girl problems. There’s a bunch of stuff out there. It’s a real good album though.
Who are some artists expected to feature on the album?
Of course, I have the Young Money family on there. Nicki’s [Minaj] on there, Chris [Brown] of course, J. Cole, Robin Thicke ... So it’s a real good album.
Tell me about Last Kings.
I got a label called Last Kings. My first artist, Honey Cocaine, is an 18-year-old Cambodian-Canadian female rapper from Toronto. She speaks both Vietnamese and Cambodian. And Last Kings is also a clothing line. I wanted to represent my own lifestyle. It’s going to be for kids to wear. The prices aren’t going to be crazy; I look at it like Pharrell when he came with BBC.
But the prices for that weren’t really for kids.
Yeah, I already had a talk with [Pharrell]. And he was like, “Yeah, don’t do that. That’s a mistake I made.” The prices are going to be affordable, and it’s going to make you feel fly. It’s going to represent you being a king.
What’s the reasoning behind ancient Egyptian art?
Because I thought that [pharaohs] were the only ones who were really living life how they wanted to. King Tut was 19. They were just ahead of time. And I just wanted to embrace that because that’s what it’s about when you’re branding yourself. It’s about symbols and stuff like that. I really wanted to make sure I put a lot of meaning behind it.
Tell me about Honey Cocaine. I’m guessing the name cocaine is to represent her music being addictive, right?
Yeah, I guess Honey Cocaine means sweet and addictive.
Do you think that name might cause some issues?
Yeah, but she’s already an Asian rapper. So people would want to see what she’s talking about. So it’s all part of the plan. When it’s time, and she has her first big hit, I’m ready to just call her Honey.
How much of your Vietnamese background constitutes your life? Is your mother a Tiger Mom?
Nah, nah, my mom is cool. My grandma doesn’t even speak English. So she really doesn’t know what’s going on when she comes to my shows, but she’d be proud of me. I do have a lot of Asian fans and you know, with Honey as an artist, I think I’ll start embracing my Asian side a little more.
Recently, I feel like in the L.A. scene many rappers are taking the indie route. From the get-go, you were affiliated with a big name. You ever thought about possibly leaving a big label?
If I was with a label, which didn’t allow me to do what I want, then, yes. But being part of YMCMB, you kind of build your own brand. And that's what I’m doing with Last Kings. You don’t need a big label. All you need are mixtapes, videos, Twitter, Facebook ... I do sold-out shows with one or two official songs people really know from me and the rest are all mixtape joints. It just shows that it’s always good to have a platform, like how I have Young Money, but at the same time you don’t need a major label’s support.
How closely affiliated are you with other artists on YMCMB?
We chop it up as much as we can. I’m close with Gudda Gudda. I chop it up with Nicki on iChat all the time.
But are you guys in recording sessions together?
We did that for the first album. We were all in the studio. Wayne would throw in a hook and we would pick beats.
How are things with you and Travis McCoy?
We keep in touch. We’re just hip hop cousins. I look to him as a mentor and I always commend him for showing me the hustle of an artist.
You’re kind of well known for your tattoos. Do your grand folks say anything about that?
Nah, they’re cool with it. I don’t think my family sees me as a person with a bunch of tattoos. They see me for me.
Are people still confusing you for Wiz Khalifa?
Yeah, sometimes. But I’m like 5’ 7” and he’s like 6’ 5”. And when people see us in person there’s no comparison. I think it’s the tattoos, we have somewhat of a similar fan base, and we kind of came up around the same time.
Your first album came out in ’08. After, you did a group album and you were involved in a huge single with Chris Brown. But during that time span, why didn’t you put out another solo album?
I was just trying to be original and create a fan base. Nobody really taught me these things, so I was learning as I went.
You don’t have musical mentors?
I don’t know if I have a lot of mentors. I would just say people that I’m around. I like Drake’s music a lot because I know him on a personal level. So I could understand where he’s coming from. I listen to a lot of Kendrick Lamar because I know exactly what he’s talking about. I think they are my favorite artists right now. They know how to capture emotions without being boring.
Back in ’08 there was a lot of talk about you getting your chain snatched.
There was this one situation in my life. I was like 17, being young, roaming the streets. I wasn’t thinking about the precautions. So you know? Shit happens. After, someone I used to run with had something happen to him and people thought that it was me. So I had to eliminate a lot of people who weren’t moving right in my circle. In the process of doing that, people made stuff up.
What about the recent news about you getting your piece taken in Philly?
I went to some wack-ass club for like five minutes, and I got out of there. The promoter wanted me to stay for an hour. I didn’t want to. So [the promoters] came, and they were trying to take my brother’s bag pack when he was by himself. The rest of us were in the club, but nothing happened.
You’re still a big advocate of jewelry, right?
Oh, man. I got jewelry everywhere. That’s part of me. I’m a flashy person. I feel artists need to be attractive visually, like how fans are attracted to their music by ear.
A lot of artists come and go. You ever thought about saving up?
You definitely have to be smart and save up. I’m not saying you can be ignorant with your money. I’m definitely smart. Because I haven’t even accomplished that much and I own a house, I own a condo, I own cars and jewelries. I don’t even have a number one single yet. It’s just about moving the right way, and making the right investments. As far as me having my own artist, having a clothing line, just doing stuff like that.
It was a big thing for artists in the beginning of the millennium to rock excessive chains, but the trend kind of died down. Are you trying to somehow bring that back?
What? Wearing gold? I’m just doing me, man. Hip hop is trendy. Once we do something, everybody’s going to do it. I was rocking snapbacks before everybody.
Is that one thing you can proudly say?
I know for a fact. I was rocking snapbacks to the point I was getting it from old sports collector shops. And they had them in the back for like five dollars before they had them in these boutiques. I was doing that four or five years ago. I’m still rocking snapbacks because it’s me. I’m not trying to start a trend, but I’m a trendsetter. People are going to follow everything I do, or what they think is cool.
Many say rapping is a young man’s game. Are you planning on rapping for the rest of your life?
Right, because there’ll always be young rappers who are going to come through with slicker [rhymes], say what you say, but more fly. I think I’ll always be involved with music because that’s something I love to do.