During the latter half of Bryson Tiller‘s sold-out show in New York City, he paused his set to do what has become customary for every marquee young star: give a brief speech about his struggle, his steady grind, and the road he traveled to arrive at something like a sold-out two-night engagement at Webster Hall. The only problem? He could barely be heard over the screaming fans and squealing girls that packed the house Monday night (he was still cheered loudly at the conclusion of his anecdote). If you strained your ears and focused well, you would’ve heard him tell the story of how Timbaland got in contact with him, and invited him down to Miami to work, which resulted in “Sorry Not Sorry,” the brazen crowd-favorite about declining involvement with past love interests with less-than-genuine motives, but it was clear that he wasn’t fully comfortable telling that story in celebratory jest. After all, it’s been just four short months since his album was released, and despite the success of “Don’t,” co-signs from Drake and a major label partnership with RCA Records, there’s certainly more work to do, though his recent accomplishments don’t necessarily indicate that. Though it moved a meager 22,000 copies in its first week, Tiller’s debut, Trap Soul, has steadily made noise on the Billboard 200, and has sold just under 230,000 copies as of this week. In addition, he’ll be playing back-to-back shows at Radio City Music Hall this April, both of which sold-out roughly 24 hours after tickets went on sale. Counting his one-night, two-show engagement at SOBs in October, that makes six sold-out shows in six months at venues varying in size from intimate (SOB’s comfortably fits 400) to not-so-intimate (Radio City, the world’s largest indoor theater, sits 6,015). Here’s some perspective: a year ago, Tiller was working at Papa Johns.
At the first of those October shows, New York City was exposed to, for the first time, the strongest “new” face of R&B since Frank Ocean‘s “Novacane.” Tiller’s voice resonated well within the close confines of SOB’s, but he hadn’t completely figured out his stage presence, and there was something slightly awkward about his transition between songs, as if he was apprehensive about how the crowd would react if he didn’t allow them to settle down before cuing up a new song. On Monday night, with a more extensive band and smoke machine, Tiller confidently performed his Trap Soul album in its entirety, barely emerging from the silhouette-inducing smoke as he ran through the seamless transition between “Difference” and “Let ‘Em Know,” but eventually fully engaging his young crowd by the time fan favorites like “Exchange” and “Rambo” were cued up, pausing unexpectedly to corral bras that were airmailed from overzealous fans. Trap Soul is his clear mission statement as an artist, but Monday was proof that as a performer, he’d begun to find his way. In an interview with The Source last year, Tiller admitted that being an artist or star wasn’t his first plan for success. He initially preferred to be a songwriter for other artists, or create demos that he would then give away to other people to perform, much like the case with Chris Brown‘s “Proof,” which was originally a song that Tiller made for himself. As we watch him blossom into not just a comfortable solo artist, but a star, Tiller’s every day, relatable mantra will absolutely be his driving force. He’s got the intriguing reclusiveness that helped make Ocean one of the most sought after artists in the genre, but the romantic gall of an early 2000’s Trey Songz, a dangerous combo as his ticket sales suggest. If his trajectory continues on this arc, considering what’s happened in the last four months, we could be dealing with a monster by summer’s end.