Meet Luh Tyler, The 17-Year-Old Phenom Taking Over The Rap World

Music

17-year-old Luh Tyler is the reluctant but increasingly confident vanguard of new school pimp rap. As he explains on My Vision, his Atlantic Records debut, “I wasn’t tryna rap for real, I did that shit on accidental.” For all his natural ability, his lustrous melodies, well-placed bon mots, his feline grace, he only started rhyming last summer. And he certainly wasn’t gunning for the title of hip-hop’s boy wonder. Back then, Tyler was just some Tallahassee kid with curly brown locks who couldn’t be parted from his friends or his trusty hoverboard. “A lot of my friends was rapping—and they had this app called BandLab they were using,” Tyler explains via Zoom. “They told me to try it, so I did.”

Soon enough, he triumphed with the ultra-mellow “Back Flippin’,” a player’s anthem for the ages, but still, Tyler was unconvinced that big things were afoot. His mind was elsewhere: “I made it so fast,” he says of “Back Flippin’.” “I didn’t think nothing of it. And I was doing a TikTok with somebody that day, so I wanted to hurry up and record. Then it just went viral.”

Some readers will complain that the influencer class has young people in a vise. They will catastrophize Tyler’s seeming lack of discernment and his muddling of wants and needs (what kind of MC would just as soon be a TikToker?). But in all the ways that count, Tyler is an old soul. His values — technical precision and lyricism — are recognizably traditional. He takes after his forefathers in other, more tangible ways too. What do you get when you cross Suga Free, a gloriously rampaging, dictum-spouting icon of SoCal pimp rap, with Shawty Lo, a long-deceased pioneer of ATL snap music? Tyler, at times, sounds like an amalgam of those two older gents. (The bonnet joke on “I Got a Dollar,” one of Tyler’s best loosies to date, is classic Suga Free.)

Refer if you would to his “Law & Order” video, in which he briefly pantomimes a photographer. That one frame captures Tyler’s quintessence; he is easygoing but a master of portraiture. His stated resistance to pen and paper is no impediment. If we’re talking vividity, “Law & Order” is unbeatable in its depiction of Tallahassee at sunset. It’s unbeatable in its depiction of a teenage Mack on the prowl. Tyler has no history whatsoever of criminality, but the Slickback vibes are strong with this young fella. It can’t be a coincidence that Detroit rapper Babyface Ray employs pimp vernacular on his song “Luh Tyler Flow.”

And how about that instrumental? Though he’s never let on that he has an affinity for mass-produced cop dramas, he did have every intention of repurposing a famous, jazzy Mike Post number. Instead, Tyler went with a swooning and precious recreation he’d found lying unclaimed. “I just got that beat off YouTube,” he says. “I was looking for the regular theme from the TV show, but that beat was all that came up.”

In any case, “Law & Order” was momentous. It transposed Tyler to the thick of boardroom deliberations. It also set in motion a scramble for Tyler’s affections. Pick a label, any label. Just about all of them sent representatives to meet with Tyler and his family personally.

“We talked to almost every label, and my mom was like, ‘Go with that one,’” Tyler says, cackling affectionately. “She said that about everybody. After every meeting. If she meets you and finds out you’re a nice person, that’s it.” This trustingness, this freehearted estimation of the world, seems to run in the family. At Rolling Loud, Tyler did the unthinkable and brought his grandmother on stage, perhaps as repayment for her unstinting encouragement.

“The first person I think I met was — I got a joint venture deal with Motion Music and Atlantic,” Tyler continues. “The dude from Motion Music, Sean, just hit me up. Then he just pulled up on us. He put me up for video shoots, he brought the cars out, so I was fucking with him.”

Having toured continually for a month, Tyler is recuperating at Grandma’s home in Tallahassee. The interior of the house is calming, rustic, and solidly maroon. In three days, he’ll be back at it, playing to a packed house in Miami. Rolling Loud is the biggest draw of the hip-hop festival circuit, and the novelty of performing there hasn’t worn off for Tyler, who is still quite green even if his maturation of late has been dramatic. “Festivals are more fun ‘cause I get to perform and see other people perform,” Tyler says. “But the clubs fun too.”

Can he recall rocking a particularly enthused crowd? “Germany was the most hype [of his tour spots]. They were moshing on every song, even the songs that don’t have hard beats. They jump around to anything.”

That description (“hard beats”) is not really paradigmatic of Tyler’s debut. Released in March, My Vision is very relaxed and remains true to Tyler’s vision. There are few, if any, ill-fitting trap beats and no oil-and-water collaborations. Invitees to the Luh Tyler experience include BabyTron and Trapland Pat, whom Tyler cites, not unreasonably, as perhaps the best young Floridian in hip-hop. They are nothing less than complimentary. Tyler, his guests, and his label constitute a troika of shared understanding; how smart of Atlantic not to intervene creatively, to let Tyler be Tyler.

Shortly thereafter came the “reloaded” (deluxe) edition of My Vision. It, too, plays to his strengths with midtempo and paradisiacal funk – the most flattering backdrop for Tyler’s flow. “Every day I hit my knees and say a prayer,” Tyler says on “Jayda Wayda.” Blessed are the pimpin’, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Days after our interview, RapCaviar (a much-followed Spotify playlist) ended its campaign to determine the best in 2023 hip-hop. Tyler was a Rookie of the Year finalist, but that distinction

ultimately went to Destroy Lonely, a vaguely emo balladeer with ropey blonde dreads. And as if he weren’t feted enough already, Drake was RapCaviar’s pick for MVP. Someday, Tyler hopes, the brass ring will be his. Despite his unassuming origins, Tallahassee’s boy wonder has come to believe that stardom is, if not the highest good, then definitely a worthy pursuit.

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Tyler is the gift that keeps on giving. One of his newest cuts is the splendidly festive “St. Nick”; it’s a song of good whimsical cheer, but Tyler sounds just as at home — or, at peace — on the slightly foreboding “I’m Him,” and the melancholy “Rapper of the Year.” The title isn’t mere bluster, either. Asked about the future he envisions for himself, Tyler says he aspires to “be on Drake’s level…selling out stadiums and shit.” Does he have a working relationship with the OVO chieftain? “We not been in direct contact. He follows me [on social media], though.”

“Moncler on My Coat” is almost impractically catchy, one of many such songs on My Vision. But Tyler isn’t a miniature Slickback here for your amusement: “This ain’t no skit,” he warns toward the beginning of “Moncler.” What started as a lark 13 months ago is now his life’s work. By the time this story goes live, Tyler’s tour with the great Memphis hardhead Moneybagg Yo will have gotten underway. Like Moneybagg, Tyler has a serious, committed fan base that probably isn’t going anywhere. A recent upload to his YouTube channel is “Brand New Blues,” a hot song but faintly noneventful as these things go. It has a lot of views, 734K at press time. That shit is not accidental.

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