Tyrese Gibson
Tyrese Gibson

My conversation with R&B singer and actor Tyrese began with a soft-spoken and tentative artist who was feeling me out, and it quickly transitioned into a more familiar and rowdy conversation that eventually included Tyrese's mentor, and well known film director, John Singleton. We spoke about Tyrese's new double album, Alter Ego, which for the first time includes an additional CD on which he is rapping under his self appointed moniker, Black-Ty.

Throughout the interview, Tyrese inspired me with his unrelenting drive to see his vision come to fruition, whether it's an album, film project or one of his many business ventures. There is more to him than meets the eye. Completely self made, Tyrese is a multi platinum selling and Grammy nominated recording artist, movie star, model and business executive. He oversees his own multi media company, Headquarter Entertainment. Tyrese's upbringing in the Watts Quarter of South Central Los Angeles, he says, is what is responsible for instilling in him a strong desire for success at an early age. He found initial success in a Coca-Cola commercial and modeling contracts with Tommy Hilfiger and Guess?. Tyrese released his self-titled, first album in 1998 followed by 2000 Watts in 2001. That notoriety led to films like Baby Boy, Flight of the Phoenix, 2 Fast 2 Furious and Four Brothers. After several multi-platinum selling R&B albums, Tyrese is venturing into hip-hop with a new double album entitled, Alter Ego. This album will feature two full discs of music: one R&B disc and one disc under his hip-hop alter ego, Black-Ty. This is a project that Tyrese takes very seriously, as he explains to me that he has always had a passion for rap music. The Black-Ty hip-hop disc features guest appearances from Snoop Dogg, The Game, Kurupt, Too Short, Manni Fresh, Lil Scrappy and Method Man and comes out on December 12th through J Records.

PR.com (Allison Kugel): Whose idea was it to make a double CD having R&B on one disc and hip-hop on the second disc?

Tyrese Gibson: It was mine.

PR.com: Why?

Tyrese Gibson: It's always been in me to do this hip-hop thing. I used to be in a rap group called "Triple Impact" long before I started singing, and it was always in me to want to do it and it just kind of had a life of its own.

PR.com: Was Triple Impact before you even started modeling, when you were a teenager?

Tyrese Gibson: Yeah.

PR.com: I actually think doing a double CD is really smart because you get to introduce something new without alienating your R&B fans. I think it's a smart business decision, so I compliment you on that.

Tyrese Gibson: Have you heard it yet?

PR.com: I heard the song "One" from the R&B side and then they sent me two tracks from the rap disc. I like them a lot because, the hip-hop… I don't know if you agree, but it's seems more musical than some other rap songs that other artists do.

Tyrese Gibson: Yes.

PR.com: In that respect, it's definitely different, and I liked it.

Tyrese Gibson: Wow!

PR.com: Speaking of that, do you think that within hip-hop music there are many different genres?

Tyrese Gibson
Tyrese Gibson

Tyrese Gibson: Yeah. They got conscious hip-hop, they got gangsta rap, they got middle-America hip-hop, they got political hip-hop. There's so many different forms of hip-hop.

PR.com: Which category would you put yourself in?

Tyrese Gibson: To be honest, I haven't put myself in a category because I got records [where] I'm doing conscious hip-hop, I got records where I'm talking about shit that happened in the streets. I've got too many different kinds of records. I've got relationship records.

PR.com: Your R&B music is very romantic. Are you a romantic guy in your personal life?

Tyrese Gibson: Yeah.

PR.com: What's the most romantic thing you've ever done for a woman?

Tyrese Gibson: One time for Valentine's Day I invited this girl over and I left the door cracked open a little bit and I had rose pedals throughout the whole house. A trail of rose petals led to a note. She would walk five feet and one note, she would read it, "Make a right, right here…" I had her actually start at my front door, make a right turn, go out to my garage, walk around the whole car in the garage and the last note was, "Don't you feel real stupid for walking around the car for no reason." I remember her laughing and then she later went all the way upstairs following the roses and then she got to the bathroom and in the shower I had a camera on a tripod and I was filming. She opened the door and the flowers were right there and she reacted and I caught the whole reaction on camera.

PR.com: That's cute.

(Tyrese tells me to wait a second while he negotiates a business purchase, and I'm eavesdropping and admiring his negotiating skills.)

Tyrese Gibson: Sorry, I was negotiating.

PR.com: (Laughs) You're a good negotiator. Always act like you don't have money.

Tyrese Gibson: You always have to play broke.

PR.com: I know. My father taught me that.

Tyrese Gibson: One of my specialties is leaving people a voicemail saying, "My name is Michael."

PR.com: Instead of using your real name?

Tyrese Gibson: You better believe it.

PR.com: My father used to always go in and negotiate for cars wearing old beaten up overalls with, like, paint on them…

Tyrese Gibson: Yes! Play it down. Your father's a great actor. I love him already.

PR.com (Laughs) Why did you create an alter ego for yourself for the hip-hop music instead of using your real name?

Tyrese Gibson: Because Tyrese is an R&B singer and Black-Ty is an emcee. I didn't want my fans to show up to buy a Tyrese CD and hear me rapping on it. It's two different experiences, two different worlds.

PR.com: So this album is two discs, it's called Alter Ego, but when you open it up, is it like, two albums within one?

Tyrese Gibson: It's two different CDs. One says "Black-Ty" on it and the other says "Tyrese" on it.

PR.com: If you continue to release rap albums, you're going to continue to use that moniker?

Tyrese Gibson: Oh yeah. I have to. Tyrese don't rap.

PR.com: What was the reaction from your label and other hip-hop artists?

Tyrese's Alter Ego Album Cover
Tyrese's Alter Ego Album Cover

Tyrese Gibson: My record label gave me a lot of friction and problems with this whole double album concept. They signed me as an R&B artist and they was not interested at all in me rapping. They didn't know how they was gonna be able to convince the world that this is something that's real and legitimate. They basically had their minds wrapped in a box. And through my determination and through me just not giving up and not settling for the "no" answer… when this album gets on the shelves in six days it's gonna be a true testament of determination and never settling for another man's opinion of what you can't pull off. When the success of this album goes down the pipe and it happens, it's gonna be crazy. It's gonna be crazy for me 'cause I'm gonna sit back and say, "Wow, I really did it. I really pulled it off." Right now is crazy. I've been approached like eight times already from R&B singers wanting me to do 16 bars of rapping on the end of their R&B song.

PR.com: Who are your biggest influences in hip-hop music?

Tyrese Gibson: My biggest influences are… Tupac is one…

PR.com: So we have something in common…

Tyrese Gibson: Jay-Z, Biggie… I love Eminem, Canibus… I love a lot of rappers. I don't necessarily become fans of rappers because they sell the most records. A rapper has to do it for me.

PR.com: What does it for you? Is it a certain type of lyrics that you find attractive? For instance, I love political rap. I love Tupac Shakur because I love that he was very politically and socially conscious.

Tyrese Gibson: Oh yeah. I think Tupac was the most well rounded rapper in the history of hip-hop. He had the sex symbol thing going on for him. He kept his body up to par. You know, the full court press. I look at that and I say, "Wow! This is definitely one of them real rappers to me." The amount of books that Tupac read made him a force. I look at him as a prophet.

PR.com: Me too. I agree. I couldn't have said it better.

Tyrese Gibson: You hold on to every word that comes out of his mouth. As long as he's passed on, why does his presence still feel so relevant? He's still present. It's crazy. You still feel his presence out there.

PR.com: Yeah. You feel a palpable presence even though he's not physically here. It's strange. It almost sends chills up your spine when you think about it. How long did it take you to record the whole album (Alter Ego), both discs?

Tyrese Gibson: I've been working on it for the last two and a half years.

PR.com: Full time?

Tyrese Gibson: Yeah. Every collaboration that's happened on that album… I did what I had to do to get a hold of them. Went to a club, tracked them down. Did whatever it took to get these collaborations done. I take this very serious, this rap thing. Another thing is, it's real simple. People have asked me, "Why would you make a transition now, after three R&B albums?" Well, you look at Lauryn Hill; look at Mary J. Blige, who's out here rapping. You look at all these other alter egos and you say to yourself, you know what, at the end of the day we're all creative people. If you decide to limit yourself and put your own creativity in a box because of the backlash or the opinion of another man, then you're taking your blessing for granted. I don't really know of anybody who does the amount of things that I've done and had the success at it. It's because I get bored easy and I always try to figure out a way to stay stimulated and accomplish one thing after the other. Audio Clip

PR.com: Well, let's talk about how you got started…

Tyrese Gibson: My career started from a Coca-Cola commercial. Then I released my first album. It had songs like "Sweet Lady" and all that on it. Then I put out the campaign with Tommy Hilfiger. Then I did my second album. I started modeling for Guess? after my second album, and at that time I was hosting on MTV Jams Countdown. And then I did my first film after that.

Taraji Henson & Tyrese Gibson in Baby Boy

PR.com: Your first film was Baby Boy. How did John Singleton find you to star in Baby Boy?

Tyrese Gibson: He came to my house and bullied me into acting.

PR.com: Are you serious?

Tyrese Gibson: Yes.

PR.com: Did he see you on MTV?

Tyrese Gibson: Yeah. He was trying to get me to be in the movie Shaft and I ended up changing my number cause he just kept calling me, trying to get me in the movie, and I just wasn't interested. I wasn't interested in acting. He ended up coming to my house after Tupac was killed. He came to my house and said, "I had this movie in mind for Tupac. It's called Baby Boy, and I want you to do it now."

PR.com: Did you feel like you had some pretty big shoes to fill?

Tyrese Gibson: Biggest shoes ever. It was weird. It was weird cause I'd never seen, or was exposed to, anything so massive and so big. I was very overwhelmed.

PR.com: I watched it yesterday.

Tyrese Gibson: What, Baby Boy?

PR.com: Yeah.

Tyrese Gibson: (Laughs) Oh, really?

PR.com: Whenever I interview someone I try to watch or listen to as much of their stuff as I can, just to get a feel for it. For a first performance and to be carrying a film on your own like that, it was an incredible performance. And speaking of that, I know that you grew up in South Central Los Angeles. Do you think that John Singleton's portrayal of life in that community is accurate in the films that he's done? (Boyz n the Hood, Poetic Justice and Baby Boy)

Tyrese Gibson: Oh yeah, they're very accurate.

PR.com: When you were growing up, were you aware that it was an economically disadvantaged community, or did it just seem normal?

Tyrese Gibson: I knew I lived in the hood and I knew what I was dealing with on a day to day. It was definitely in my face every day.

PR.com: Threats of physical violence?

Tyrese Gibson: Oh yeah. I was exposed to anything from shootouts, murders, drugs being sold, drugs being used, alcoholics, beat downs… you name it. That's the hood baby. But I loved it though, man. Being in the hood was some of my better years. Because what you learn in the hood is you learn instincts. It's like predator instincts. When you out in the jungle in Africa, if you don't know what to stay away from, you can walk into some real dangerous shit. But my hood instincts is something that I've been able to use throughout my career and my life. If it wasn't for me living in the hood, I really wouldn't know what to stay away from. You read people's energy and you know that, that dude is not it, versus being gullible and clueless and just hanging out with anybody who smiles. Because they giving you good energy. "Oh yeah, they good people. They smiling and giving me good energy." No, no, no, no, no! Audio Clip

PR.com: (Laughs) Well, I always say there's a difference between being nice or being good. Anybody can act nice.

Tyrese Gibson: Oh yeah. Some of the best people out there actually don't smile.

PR.com: Exactly. There's a difference between nice and good.

Tyrese Gibson: So a lot of the instincts behind that come from being in the hood. You learn so much and it's just great. Experience is your highest truth. Until you experience it, you won't be able to speak up on your truth, you know?

PR.com: What did your mom explain to you about your environment when you were growing up?

André Benjamin, Garrett Hedlund, Mark Wahlberg & Tyrese Gibson in Four Brothers
André Benjamin, Garrett Hedlund, Mark Wahlberg & Tyrese Gibson in Four Brothers

Tyrese Gibson: Moms taught me a lot of things. Mom taught me that you'll never know who you are until you discover who you're not... in the hood. My mom is one of the smartest people I know. She's still alive. I love her to death. At the same time, mom put me through hell. You know? It wasn't easy growing up in my household. That's why I was able to do Baby Boy, 'cause that was my life story, but I just don't have any kids. Audio Clip

PR.com: What does she think of your success?

Tyrese Gibson: Oh, she's very proud. She tells everybody, everywhere she goes who her son is. My mom is my best promoter.

PR.com: That's cute. Did you pursue [show business] or did you kind of fall into it? Did it find you or did you go after it?

Tyrese Gibson: I had to go after it. I go after everything that I believe in.

PR.com: And did you buy your first house when you were 16 or 17?

Tyrese Gibson: Yes. I did that because of all the shoulda, woulda, coulda's. I didn't really know at the time that I would still be doing what I do or the amount of years that I'd be doing it. So when I got my first big check I went and bought a house. I didn't want to be one of the people who said, "Man, I shoulda; Man, I woulda; Man I coulda…" So I just made it happen.

PR.com: John Singleton had said originally that he wanted to have an ongoing collaboration with Tupac Shakur, much the way that Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese have an ongoing working relationship. It seems that after Tupac passed on, he kind of turned that energy onto you. I looked at your filmography, and you've worked together a lot. How many films have you guys done together?

Tyrese Gibson: We've done three. We're about to do our fourth.

PR.com: So it's been 2 Fast 2 Furious, Four Brothers and Baby Boy. And now what's the next one?

Tyrese Gibson: We might be doing Luke Cage, and then another film that he wants to do that will be filmed in Israel.

PR.com: Would you be excited to go there?

Tyrese Gibson: Oh yeah.

PR.com: I'm Jewish and I'm scared to go there. I want to go, but I'm nervous.

Tyrese Gibson: Go to the Dead Sea, baby.

PR.com: (Laughs) I'm nervous, 'cause of everything that's going on.

Tyrese Gibson: Do you speak any Hebrew?

PR.com: No, I don't. I was bat mitzvahed, but as soon as it was done, I forgot everything.

Tyrese Gibson: (He recites the following Hebrew phrase) Ten li neshika.

PR.com: What does that mean?

Tyrese Gibson: Kiss me.

PR.com: (Laughs) In Hebrew?

Tyrese Gibson: Yes. Say it. "Ten li neshika."

PR.com: Ten li neshika. That means kiss me?

Tyrese Gibson: Yes.

PR.com: Alright, so kiss me.

(He kisses into the phone)

PR.com: YES! So what do you think John Singleton sees in you, and why does he want to keep making movies with you?

Tyrese Gibson: John Singleton is my hero.

John Singleton, Taraji Henson & Tyrese Gibson
John Singleton, Taraji Henson & Tyrese Gibson

(At this point Tyrese tells me he would prefer that I ask John Singleton to explain to me why he chooses to keep casting Tyrese in his movies, and proceeds to get him on three-way conference call.)

Tyrese Gibson (to John Singleton): It's Tyrese. I'm doing an interview and she wants to know what does John Singleton keep seeing in you? What is it about you that makes John want to keep working with you? And I really couldn't answer it, so I figured I would call you up and see if you'd be interested in answering that question.

John Singleton: I don't know. He's like my little brother. I just can't get rid of him, that's all. (Laughs)

PR.com: Alright then, that's the answer I'm putting down. (Laughs)

John Singleton: [Tyrese] is mad at me 'cause I missed his concert in L.A. He was like, "You don't care about nobody. We're old friends. How come you don't support me?" So I showed up at his studio at 12:30 in the morning and I went off on him.

Tyrese Gibson: (Laughs)

John Singleton: And I said, "I got my own responsibilities as a man but I'm still your f**king friend, so shut the f**k up."

Tyrese Gibson: (Laughs)

John Singleton: And then we hung out till 4:30 in the morning.

Tyrese Gibson: Yeah. We got a love/hate relationship.

PR.com: Are you guys around the same age?

Tyrese Gibson (to John Singleton): John, I'm 27. How old are you?

John Singleton (to me): I'm 38. I'm 11 years older than him. The cool thing [is] we're both from the same environment. The things that we've seen at an early age, it's phenomenal that we're not destroyed as men. We're still rising. We're still shining. Even though we work in the entertainment industry, we don't have the airs of the kind of people… a lot of people in this business, they re-invent themselves to a degree that they don't know who they are anymore. That's what he and I share. We're sophisticated but we're still ghetto.

PR.com (to John Singleton): Why'd you stalk Tyrese into doing your film, Baby Boy? Why'd you come banging on his door? What was it about him?

John Singleton: He told you that?!

(We all laugh.)

John Singleton: I wanted him to be in Shaft. He read for Baby Boy two and a half years before we even did it, and then he just read a little bit of it, like a few lines. I said, "Ok. I want you to be in Shaft, in the beginning of it, in the first scene. And he was doing the MTV thing. He was like, "No man." And then he wouldn't accept my calls. You remember that (to Tyrese)?

Tyrese Gibson (to John Singleton): Yeah, I remember.

Neal H. Moritz, John Singleton, Paul Walker, & Tyrese Gibson
Neal H. Moritz, John Singleton, Paul Walker, & Tyrese Gibson

John Singleton: He wouldn't accept my calls because he was, like, so scared. He was too nervous to try to do it; to act. So then Shaft comes out and it's all over the billboards and television and everything. Then he said, "I'm soooooo sorry." He gave me a long-ass, 10-minute message on my cell. "I'm so sorry man. I see all the advertising. I see your vision. You still want me to do this movie thing? I'm down with it." So then I had him come back and I went over his house and gave him the script for Baby Boy. He was living in a little condo in Gardena. Audio Clip

Tyrese Gibson (to me): My house wasn't little, by the way. It was not a condo.

PR.com: What's wrong with a condo?

Tyrese Gibson: It was not a condo! It was a four bedroom, brand new house, with a two car garage. He trippin'.

PR.com: (Laughs)

Tyrese Gibson (to John Singleton): Don't downsize me, God damn it, to a condo! Audio Clip

John Singleton: (Laughs) Anyway, I went over there and gave him the script and was like, "Read the script." And he was like, "No, no. Just tell me about it." He was telling me to read the damn script to him and I was getting pissed off! I was like, "Take this f**king script and read this script!"

(We all laugh.)

PR.com (to Tyrese): You wanted it read to you word for word?

Tyrese Gibson: He was over there trying to sell me on the script and I was still in my little music mode. I wasn't really interested in acting. So he got frustrated and said, "Mutha fucka, read the script!" He bullied me. So I read the script and we ended up doing the movie, 'cause I loved it. So that's the story behind Baby Boy. That's how I started acting. Audio Clip

John Singleton: That's that public Watts school education. That's a true story.

Tyrese Gibson (to John Singleton): You're the only person on earth other than Jesus Christ who saw something in me that I didn't see in myself. Because I've never been more rebellious towards such a big opportunity. I've never given anybody so huge, as far as a director, producer, writer… so much friction against not doing something that he wants me to do. And then once I did it, it ended up being the biggest thing I've ever done in my life. Imagine being on a movie set, when everything you hear about Hollywood is all fake. They compliment you and they don't really mean it. It's a bunch of ego strokers, and they don't really mean what they say on most movie sets. So the whole time I'm on the set of Baby Boy, he's like, "Oh, man! That was incredible!" With John Singleton getting all fired up and excited over certain scenes I was doing. The whole time I was appreciating it, but I didn't believe that he was really being that excited.

PR.com: You thought it was just B.S.

Tyrese Gibson: I thought it was that Hollywood shit that I always heard about. Once the movie came out and people were running up to me telling me what they thought, that's when it started all hitting home for me. So then I recognized that maybe there is something really there that I didn't realize. For John Singleton to see that in me and I didn't see it in myself… that's why I dedicate so much of my success and where I am as an actor to him. That's a part of the reason we keep working together, too. I know that John Singleton is never going to move on and do another scene until I am at my best, 'cause he knows when I'm at my best. So I think we have a great chemistry, and I think we are one film away from Denzel Washington and Spike Lee, with the amount of films that they did. So that's why we're trying to figure out which next film we're going to do to change the world together.

PR.com (to John Singleton): See, you're responsible for inspiring and encouraging another person. If it wasn't for you, he never would have known that he had this talent.

John Singleton: He knew he had the talent…

PR.com: Well, he didn't have the confidence. Thank you for that.

(Our three-way conference call with John Singleton concludes, and Tyrese and I are back to our one on one conversation.)

PR.com: You have your own production company?

Tyrese Gibson: Headquarter Entertainment.

PR.com: Are you there on a daily basis?

Tyrese Gibson: Yes. I am there every single day.

PR.com: What's a day in the life of Tyrese at your production company?

Tyrese Gibson
Tyrese Gibson

Tyrese Gibson: I run a multi-media company. I have nine different companies under one roof, and I basically have everything from a film and television division called HQ Pictures to HQ Graphic Design and Print Company. We do everything from Web design to print work… stationery, letterheads, business cards.

PR.com: So you actually do marketing for other companies?

Tyrese Gibson: Absolutely. They send me their budgets and we figure out a way to maximize their dollar with print work. We also have a company called The Glam Squad, which does all hair, makeup, styling and image consulting. And that's a team of about twenty-seven. For the VMAs (MTV Video Music Awards) recently, we had nine people working out of The Glam Squad. We also have HQ Artworks. It's pretty extensive. At the end of the day, I love fame and popularity, but the day that it all stops I will still be able to run something that's successful.

Tyrese's double album, "Alter Ego," is available in stores December 12, 2006 on J Records/Arista.