R&B, like any living thing, is undergoing unending shifts. The symbiotic relationship it has with hip-hop has only deepened, with the feels of the genre’s overlapping nonstop. The foundation of R&B, the Black soul and its states, are finite, but everything else is flexible. R&B’s new digs are a hot topic always—discourse around the subject matters, vocal approaches and production pops up in cycles. The ether cuts through with fresh acts.
Bryson Tiller, 28, is one of the faces of the new era. His lyrics are self-aware, with trap influences serving as the sonic vertebrae. Tiller emerged as an enigmatic figure in the mid-2010s, having dropped off only a few spaced out releases since then. A star who tinkers with the mechanics of fame (He pulled his breakout single, “Don’t,” from SoundCloud in 2015, re-uploading it only at the request of fans. It quickly shot up to 3 million plays.), he’s a mellow force who knows himself and his audience. He’s also keen on listening to both.
Tiller’s latest offering, ‘A Different Christmas,’ is the result of a sincere interest in holiday music and pleas from fans. The idea of the holiday project is beloved across music types—OutKast’s debut single was a part of LaFace’s 1993 Christmas album, The Carpenter’s first Christmas album sold over a million copies, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” routinely tops the Billboard Hot 100—giving Tiller a chance to make another mark on cuffing season.
So, will one of R&B’s young musical evolutionists master bottling Christmas’ essence? We think so.
ESSENCE: Tell me a little bit of the backstory behind ‘A Different Christmas.’
Bryson Tiller: I was going through some things in my personal life and I started thinking about what it would be like to spend Christmas alone. Just like, ‘Man, I don’t want to spend Christmas alone.’ I’ve spent Christmas alone before my past and I remember that those times I did felt really eerie in a way and just weird. I was watching Christmas movies and next to a Christmas tree and it was a weird day. And I was like, ‘I can’t even fathom what it would be like to do that this year.’
So I started making a song about it and just writing about it, how I felt. And man, I [said], ‘You know what? I’m going to make a Christmas album.’
I was in the studio with a guy named Camper and he’s incredible on the keys, incredible producer. [H]e started playing ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ on the keys and it brought a tear to my eye.
This is a year where I said I was recording a lot more music and I’m just literally around the clock in the studio all the time. And it started last year, but because of a couple different things and different reasons we didn’t release it last year. But I’m excited to finally show the world this year.
ESSENCE: I saw you say that it was inspired by Ariana Grande. I was wondering if there were any other artists, projects or songs that you were listening to when you were developing the theme and overall feel.
Bryson Tiller: Absolutely. Justin Bieber. I listened to his Christmas album over and over again. I’ve been listening to both of their Christmas albums, like all the time. Pentatonix, they just released a new album, shout out to them. That’s called ‘Evergreen.’ They’re really amazing.
I’ve pretty much just been listening to as much Christmas music as I possibly could, just listening to how other people tell their stories. Most people do mostly just renditions and stuff, but I kind of wanted to build a project around my truth and stuff that I have going on, how I felt, just the emotion.
ESSENCE: You mentioned Justin Bieber and I know he’s on the project, so how was working with him?
Bryson Tiller: Good, man. Poo Bear, he connected us. And he had actually heard the song before I had even heard it. And he already loved it and I loved it as well. I was like, ‘Man, this is perfect.’
I talked to Poo Bear and I told him kind of the situation, the story of what I was doing. He said, ‘Man, this sounds like a song I wrote ten years ago…and then he played it for me on Christmas. I was like, ‘Wow, I love this.’ So I cut my parts.
We sent it to Bieber, Bieber loved it, he cut his parts and then [we] made it happen.
ESSENCE: Can we expect any new videos?
Bryson Tiller: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, we’re working day in and day out trying to put together some projects for the fans.
ESSENCE: Also are there any special ways you’re looking to celebrate with your family this year? I know last year a lot of people didn’t get together, so is there anything you’re looking forward to doing with your family this year?
Bryson Tiller: I’m excited to just do some winter things with my daughter. It’s been my first Christmas with my oldest daughter in about three years now. Going on three years. So I’m really excited and we’re going to be in the snow and just having a blast.
ESSENCE: You’re strategic about your releases. You’re not someone who floods people with projects. So what made you want to focus on this season specifically and dedicate an entire project to it?
Bryson Tiller: Man, I just always wanted to be a part of Christmas. I tried making a Christmas song ten years ago actually, when I first started, but it was just a song that I was trying to do and fans would be like, ‘You should do a Christmas album.’ They would tell me that and I just thought it was funny whenever people would say that, just because I just love Christmas, you know what I mean?
I was just like, ‘Why not make a project, make something when a lot of us have a couple things to talk about? I can put some original Christmas music out here, that’d be great.’
I would never want to just make a Christmas album full of nothing but renditions. I don’t think that would be me. I don’t know, I just feel like that would be weird for me to do. But I am getting to doing more renditions, so I’m excited about that. And there’s classic Christmas songs that I just don’t want to touch. I just try to pick the ones that I feel like really mean the most.
ESSENCE: What are some of your favorite Christmas songs of all time?
Bryson Tiller: Man. Anything Frank Sinatra touches is beautiful. He’s a legend. I love Boyz II Men.
ESSENCE: Oh yeah.
Bryson Tiller: That R&B vibe, man. I love their Christmas album because it’s just such a vibe. It’s just that real ’90s R&B… I love that. And man, some of the newer Christmas stuff like Ariana Grande and Bieber, they made some amazing original Christmas music. I only wish..to be able to do what they’ve done, to just give people vibes that they can hold onto for every Christmas.
ESSENCE: The end of the year is a time for a lot of people to be reflective about the year that passed and also look ahead to the new year. So what are the things that you’re looking forward to in 2022?
Bryson Tiller: I’m excited for my new next album. My next album’s all about collaborations and I’m just excited to collaborate with new people, new writers, new producers, new album artists, just everything. It’s the whole works. Everything you can think of—just collaborating with people, not doing everything myself, like I’ve been used to doing. So that’s the thing I’m most excited for. And also touring. I’m seeing more and more tours starting to come back. I can’t wait to go and see my fans.
Listen to ‘A Different Christmas’ below.