A year and a half ago, Bryson Tiller was sleeping in his car and juggling two jobs to make ends meet and support his daughter. Now, his name has lit up the marquee at New York City’s Webster Hall as part of his 36-city Trapsoul tour in support of his namesake debut album.
On an unseasonably warm Monday night, Pen Griffey invaded the stage, clad in all black attire and his signature baseball cap. The Louisville crooner began his set with “Differences,” the intro of his RCA Records offering. As the track pulsates through the speakers, the whole venue was shrouded in darkness with hints of light flashing through the sea of smart phone cameras. A purple backdrop greets his on-stage arrival as the young crowd of teens and 20-somethings recite every lyric back to him while several ladies screech. (One fan even threw a note at Tiller, which he slipped into his back pocket.)
The 23-year-old singer followed through with catalog standouts like “For However Long” and “Exchange.” After each song, a different color backdrop accompanied Tiller’s performance, which also boasted a live band, a notable difference from previous shows. When he delivered the Sylvester Stallone-cosigned “Rambo,” the stage was painted a neon green, dismissing its previous fire engine red hue.
Tiller’s stage presence mirrors that of a confident MC with the appeal of a sensitive R&B singer. When he’s throwing up bars for a live rendition of the Street Fighter-sampling “Sorry Not Sorry,” his arms dangle in the air as he points to the crowd. Then he transitions into a more somber plea to his girl and clutches the microphone for slower jams like “Open.”
The more revealing moments come in-between tracks. In between the reflective “Ten Nine Fourteen” and unapologetic “Sorry Not Sorry,” Tiller shares stories of his come-up, including his meetings with Timbaland and Drake—the latter even gifted Tiller a pair of OVO Jordan sneakers last year. His musical director and drummer, Thaddeus Dixon, made the suggestion to incorporate personal anecdotes into his set.
“We have a lot of different things that we have thrown in there to make this a show,” he tells Billboard prior to the show. “When you come to see Bryson, you’re coming to see a show. As opposed to you listening to the music, like listening in your car, we have different breaks where he talks and interacts with the crowd. That [also] highlights the band.”
Dixon — whose resume boasts gigs with Ne-Yo, Meghan Trainor and performances at the White House and Carnegie Hall — notes Tiller’s openness to switching up the live show. “Now we have the liberty to stretch out and be more musical and do things that we think will enhance the show,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of growth from him performance-wise, musically and everything, which is good to see.”
Beyond being a Soundcloud magnet (his hit single “Don’t” has landed over 36.2 million plays), Tiller’s LP landed at No. 4 on the Top R&B/ Hip Hop Albums charts while “Don’t” peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Tiller ends the night with the vulnerable number “Right My Wrongs.” Backed by an illuminated sign that reads “TRAPSOUL,” he celebrates his full-circle moment before launching into “Don’t,” the smooth DopeBoi-produced love note that propelled him from Internet favorite to R&B star. “[My friend] said one thing that stuck with me,” recalls Bryson. “He said ‘it’s only going to take one song to change your entire life.”