In the world of hip-hop, where stories of rapid ascent and sudden stardom are a dime a dozen, Luh Tyler’s is a tale worth hearing. It’s one that sums up the scene’s DIY determination to make the music industry work for them, not the other way around.
In 2022, the Tallahassee, Florida rapper’s career started when he followed a friend’s footsteps and started rapping for fun, releasing songs on SoundCloud for the hell of it. He was recording his music on his iPhone via the music-making app BandLab, ripping beats from YouTube and spitting over them. When his tracks blew up on streaming services like Spotify, the 17-year-old rapper said he “wasn’t planning on persisting with” rap because “my focus was on finishing school and making some money.” Luh Tyler, it seems, was making his own future.
The song that changed his life was ‘Law & Order Pt. 2’. Released in November 2022, Tyler made the track by rapping over a beat that sampled the iconic theme song of the long-standing crime drama and recorded on BandLab. A year later, the music video for the song has been watched over 33 million times.
Since then, he’s had more viral hits including ‘Jayda Wayda’, ‘Back Flippin’ and ‘First Show’ – the latter being his most popular track. Blending psychedelic sounds inspired by his love for pluggnb – a niche subgenre of trap – with the wheezy of Cali rap, the track blew up online with more than 48,000 TikTok videos and over 15 million streams on Spotify. ‘First Show’ is an effortless listen, showing Tyler’s signature charismatic yet simplistic approach to rhyming.
But the love took him by surprise. “I didn’t even like TikTok at first, for real. I like Instagram and posting [short-form music videos on the app] Triller and stuff. I feel like you can still post Trillers and keep the fans interested on Instagram, but that’s become a bit stale. But TikTok is the new wave.”
We meet Luh Tyler twice; the first in July ahead of his London debut at Colours in Hoxton, and then again on Zoom as he zips across New York post-NME shoot to the airport. There’s already a noticeable change: where in our initial correspondence his answers were short – “not much has happened in my career”, he reasons – on the second occasion, he’s feeling the hustle and bustle of a full-time music career. He’s currently signed to a major label in Atlantic Records [Cardi B, Bruno Mars] and readying the music video for ‘Change My Ways’ in the coming weeks.
“I don’t really like serious rap like J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar. They’re great, but I don’t want to make music like that”
In March he dropped mixtape ‘My Vision’, introducing listeners to his smooth and suave rap style over an eclectic range of beats: distorted Chicago drill-like production, modern G-funk and more. When making the mixtape, Tyler says that the body of work was simply made by doing what felt right. “I wasn’t even thinking, ‘I’m going to make this type of song,’” he says, “I just went into the studio then I played them for the people around me, and we picked the best ones.” It landed at Number Two on the US Billboard Heatseekers chart upon release.
This summer, the rapper toured Europe and the US with the help of the popular rap festival Rolling Loud. It is a stark difference to his first gig, in a strip club aged 16. He laughs: “It wasn’t even a lot of people there, it wasn’t anything but the workers”. While his music was starting to gain some attention at the time, a promoter from Palm Beach reached out to his team, and Tyler thought, “Bro, that’s my first show. Let’s do it!” and got paid “like, a thousand dollars” for it.
One of rap’s biggest bills couldn’t ignore him. “I’ve come a long way in a short period of time,” he says. He used to watch various sets from Rolling Loud over the years on YouTube but “never really cared” too much as he believed he’d “never get to a place like that”. He was wrong: headliners Trippie Redd, Ski Mask the Slump God and Kodak Black all invited him to perform on stage at the various global editions of Rolling Loud. He capped off his summer with his ‘ROTY’ EP, where he boasts on ‘Rapper Of The Year’: “See the kid done turned into a star, it’s my time to shine”.
Born in Tallahassee in 2006, Tyler Meeks never looked far for inspiration. While Florida’s capital may not be a city known for producing many rap stars – T-Pain is its most notable – Tyler is proud of the unique sound that’s emerging from his community. With their distinct accents, funky basslines and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, Florida has become a reliable source of feel-good melodic music. Tyler namechecks local hero Wizz Havinn as a key influence who have influenced his laid-back approach.
He also boasts that Tallahassee, specifically, “has its own style now” and that “everyone has come up with their own wave.” The only thing is that some rappers “still rap about street life, but not as much. They’re trying to switch things up and talk about money now.”
In a recent viral snippet of the upcoming ‘Change My Ways’, some of the lyrics are more earnest or “emotional” than usual. In the snippet, the 17 year-old raps: “I remember when times were hard we prayed for better days / Now I’m getting paid, I’m bringing home the racks, I’m filling up the safe.”
“Whatever I’m doing, that’s what I rap about,” he explains about this slight shift away from rapping about money and women. He believes that rappers “don’t even gotta say they better [than the fans], just let them know that they ain’t the only ones who feel like that. Everybody probably think rappers have got the best life, but I gotta let them know that we just like you fans, we got the same problems y’all got.”
Serving his fans means his focus is direct: “I don’t really like that serious rap like J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar. They’re great, but I don’t want to make music like that. I just want to make you nod your head when you listen to it. It’s all about what I like. I’m not a gloomy person; I don’t rap about sad stuff. That’s not me. Not much sad stuff has happened to me to be sad about.”
While Cole and Lamar are lauded as hip-hop revolutionaries today alongside Tupac and Biggie, Tyler isn’t the first to say that those artists have little impact: Lil Yachty infamously called Notorious B.I.G “overrated” in 2016.
Instead, Tyler points to people like fellow Floridian Kodak Black. Tyler first met Kodak Black on the Rolling Loud tour, and credits him for influencing “all the Florida lingo” he uses and even had gold teeth like the star. “Those guys from the ‘golden era of hip-hop’ are probably only 20 years older than [Kodak], but they’re 40 years older than me. I’m not sure who I would consider an old head to me, maybe [Kentucky rapper] EST Gee. He might be an older inspiration for us down the line.” Tyler is more interested in their careers and longevity and “not necessarily what they rap about or how they sound. I like their beats, though.”
The late 2010s saw a surge in Floridian rap thanks to SoundCloud propelling artists from the state to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Remember the infectious, Iggy Pop-approved ‘Gucci Gang’ from Miami rapper Lil Pump? “Everybody was locked into our rap because of Kodak Black. When that happened, people thought they could do the same. It’s like when I blew up, now people are thinking they can do this rap thing. Those who thought it was nothing are now considering it. They want to blow up like us.”
“My first gig was in a strip club – but it was just the workers there”
Since blowing up, Tyler has been in the same space as many other rap juggernauts who have taken him under their wing, including ASAP Ferg and his “favourite female rapper right now”, Latto. A standout track on ‘My Vision’ was the Lil Uzi Vert-starring ‘Ransom’.
He recalls the advice given: “Uzi was telling me to make sure that you’re still able to drop your music, like don’t let the industry change you, stay yourself. Don’t let them change how you rap; if you want to drop this song, you drop the song and don’t let them make you feel any kind of way about your music because you’re the artist. It’s your work. They signed you for you, not for anybody else.”
And he promises NME that he “ain’t no different, even as a rapper” from what he was before, taking on board Uzi’s advice. “I can’t switch up on myself,” he says. “I finna change up for nobody. I finna stay me. The music ain’t finna change me.”
When asked about his ambitions, Luh Tyler wants to be a business mogul just like Rick Ross: ”He started with rap and now he’s into investing. I don’t have a ton of passions; I just want to be wealthy. Make money, invest, do some other things, and I’ll be all set. Don’t get me wrong; when I make music, it’s not just for the money. I listen to it and I like it. But when I put it out, that cheque comes in, and we’re good.”
Ultimately, he wants to be the new bar for Florida rap: “Whenever a talented kid [from Florida] comes up, they’re always compared to someone like Kodak. That’s how you know Kodak is the best – that’s how I want to be.”
Luh Tyler’s ‘Change My Ways’ will be out soon
Listen to Luh Tyler’s exclusive playlist to accompany The Cover below on Spotify and here on Apple Music
Words: Kyann-Sian Williams
Photography: Sam Keeler
Styling: Maurice Diallo
Label: Atlantic Records
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