OTH: For the people who don’t know who Tyleen Johnson is, could you give us the lowdown?
TJ: I am very ambitious, I’m a go-getter, I like a challenge. I don’t think there’s nothing that I can’t do, I try to make the most of everything that I do. I think of other people a lot with everything that I do. I want to have fun.
OTH: Was rapping something that you had always seen yourself going into at some point? During one of your interviews you had last year you mentioned that you used to write poetry, but you also used to write church music.
TJ: Yeah, I was in the choir when I was young. That’s how getting into music started. I also did dance since I was 3, like ballet, jazz, hip-hop, so I already had a love for music from dance. Then I just started writing with my brother one day and I was like shit we can do this. I wouldn’t say I grew up thinking oh I’m gonna become a rapper, or I’m gonna be the biggest female artist in the city. At first I was really just gonna go into nursing, which I am, I do that on the side, because the medical field is also my passion. But I always liked entertaining, I always liked having my dance shows, I knew I liked to be on stage, I liked to perform but I didn’t know it would turn out with me becoming a rapper.
OTH: You were modelling before as well.
TJ: Yeah but I didn’t wanna do modelling anymore, I wanted to do music and model for my own music.
OTH: You wanted to be in your own music videos, not other peoples?
TJ: Exactly, so I was like now lemme use these connections that I have from modelling and let me see if I can do songs with them. And that’s how it started, I got Flawless and Joe Rocca and we did that track. Even there I was kind of nervous, but I knew I could write so that wasn’t really the issue. When I did my first show with them at MURAL, I was like shoot, I only got to perform that one song with them cause that’s all I had but I liked the feeling. This feeling of being up there and performing and the crowd, it was so nice and I was like, I want this.
OTH: So is that what really motivated you to do Fanta$y, your EP that came out in May of 2020. What was the transition? Did Joe Rocca introduce you to the people who helped you make Fanta$y?
TJ: Actually, Flawless had introduced me to VNCE and Joe Rocca, and me and VNCE started working together from that day on. Once we started working together we recorded my first track Dollars, it was never released but he sent it in to Make It Rain, the label, and that’s how I got signed. I got signed before I ever dropped my first single. I could say it was honestly having good connections and having a good group of people that really supported me, saying it doesn’t matter what everyone else is saying, you could do this. I know a lot of artists don’t start with a good foundation of connections or people that could really help them in the music industry, so I was really lucky that I had those connections already. And every day I work on building stronger connections and networking.
OTH: What does your daily life look like now? You said before you were doing nursing now, are you studying? Doing your bachelor's?
TJ: So I had taken the PAB course, and was doing assistant nursing since I was 15, and I was like I wanna move up now so I’m starting back with school soon for RN. Right now, my day to day is promoting my new EP and working on my next project. I'm really focusing on branding myself, and I’m learning different things, like I was sewing at one point so I started sewing my own clothes. I find anything that I can do artsy-wise, if it’s not writing music then I wanna be making something or branding myself overall.
OTH: The branding is definitely a huge part of any rapper really, and even if you wanna look at branding as a whole you can look at someone like Cardi B, and her personality. It’s so out there and just the way that she oozes sexuality, and that’s her branding, and you’ve actually been compared to her. How do you feel about that? Is that something that you think is cool or you respect that but you want to have your own identity?
TJ: I have mixed emotions about it. On one end I’m like oh that’s dope that people compare me to another hot female artist, and I feel like we have a lot of the same characteristics, she’s really outgoing, fully comfortable with her sexuality, and those are some things that I am too. But, I only had mixed emotions, but she started off as a stripper, and I never went down that route, so I don’t wanna be looked at like that, I really did this straight for music, connections and myself. So on that end I don’t wanna be compared to anybody because I’m different from what everybody else is doing. If anything, Meg The Stallion is someone that I see myself like because she’s in school and also doing her career on the side as an artist, and that’s like me... I’m working on balancing both things, and I think that that’s also really important for people to see. You’re able to go do the protective lifestyle of just getting a regular career that you know is gonna pay, and then there’s also following your dream, and doing what you love, what you have passion for. I think it’s important for people to see that sometimes you don’t have to just know “okay I want to do this or that” you can explore things and take your time with things.
OTH: The pandemic years had a lot of people looking inwards and more people wanted to push their creativity, which is why we want to showcase some of the amazing talent Montreal has
TJ: Yes and I think the pandemic really helped people look at their life and say, what do I really want to do? I mean if you really didn’t do that during the pandemic then I don’t know. You really just had to focus on yourself. We have so many creative people in the city and I like that brands are now starting to get more and more involved with the local talent and giving people a platform like you guys to actually showcase that we do have talent in this city, we have people who have good background stories to go with it.
OTH: And it’s not just the big guys too, Montreal is not playing catchup. We're here.
TJ: And I feel like now we’re not just trying to stay local, we’re trying to get other people to notice Montreal. As a female artist here I feel like that’s something I definitely can do and that’s why I’m so motivated to be the best at what I do, because I really just want people to see Montreal for what it is. We have so much talent here, we don’t really get the opportunities or the platforms to grow, so it does give us a bit more of a challenge. Honestly, it’s hard work but it’s also how bad do you want it? And if you want it bad enough, then it really doesn’t become hard work anymore, it just becomes “how else can I get this?”
OTH: In the traditional eye having someone hypersexualized or even so comfortable with their body that they’re willing to do, say for example, the shoot with Club PRNGRAPHY. Already PRNGRAPHY is a very risque brand, and the shoot that you did was also a little risque, but it’s coming back to something that’s a part of everyone's lives. Slowly people are starting to get comfortable with it but not by any means should someone’s reputation be looked at any less because you’re down to show that sexier side.
TYLEEN FOR CLUB PRNGRPHY'S "SAVE THE PLANET, SHOWER TOGETHER" SHOOT
TJ: I hope I inspire other women to be more confident with their sexuality. Like we can be dominant too, we can definitely have our demands and go after our demands the same way. I feel like that’s also important for other females to know and see, because we don’t see it often. So it’s always gonna be like, you can’t please everybody, and I didn’t go into this game hoping I can please everybody, but that’s what it is, I’m in here and giving you guys me and what I like and I’m hoping you like it too, that’s just what it is.
OTH: How did you get to working with PRNGRAPHY, with its branding being so sexualized? Was it something they saw and they were like “Hey Tyleen, you know your branding in itself is also similar” is that how you guys came in contact?
TJ: So basically, Adamo reached out to me because he already knew me from my music. He was like I really love your music, I feel like you’re a good fit for the shoot that we want to do, and I was like I’m with it. I’m always into helping growing brands and anybody who’s really trying to do something for themselves. I love that you wanna do something, so if I can help you then I’m definitely gonna help you.
OTH: Getting back into music, French rap in Montreal is already a big scene. There aren’t as many English rappers on the other hand, though the scene seems to be growing.
TJ: With English rap, I feel like we do have a lot of talented rappers that are much more underground and they just don’t have the platforms to showcase themselves because I feel like a lot of the platforms we have like shows and festivals are run by French corporations. So if you don’t have that connection with the French industry then honestly it’s really tough to be an English rapper over here. I feel like I got lucky because I signed with Bon Sound, which is a French corporation. I did, I don’t even know how many shows before I dropped Fanta$y. So if we look at other English artists who have been putting out songs and still aren’t getting the recognition that they need or deserve. It comes down to who do you know? and how many connections are you really making? Cause it’s one thing to drop music and it’s another thing to drop music on heavy platforms or have a good distribution deal. So that’s kind of where the English rappers kind of take an L over here, because if they don’t speak French, how are they gonna have these conversations? If they aren’t on a French label, it’s just not really gonna go, unless you get noticed outside, it’s gonna be hard for you to do anything in the city.
OTH: What was your immediate reaction when one of your songs was featured on the TV show Bete noir earlier this year? How did that happen?
TJ: So basically the show had hit the label up and asked them if the show can use the song from my EP and the label had messaged me saying they wanna feature my song. I was like what the fuck? Me? I was super excited. I was just chilling when I got that call and I was telling everybody. It was just a wave of emotions. I remember watching movies, and once I started making music I was like yo it’d be so dope if my songs could play in a movie or a show. It’s so rewarding to see that people are noticing you. I’ve had other artists who are younger than me, probably 14 or 15 who would message me and send me verses and say “Hey I’m tryna rap, can you tell me how this sounds” I love that stuff because it’s like I am inspiring other people to do stuff. That stuff is just rewarding to me, cause I don’t do this for the money or the fame, I do this for the people. I didn’t come from much and the area that I came from didn’t have anyone famous, everyone just did a regular job. My mom passed away when I was young and she passed away young, she passed at 30 from cancer. I always just remember, I’m gonna do everything that she couldn't do. I’m gonna live the life that she couldn't live. I’m the oldest of all my siblings so that was another reason I had to show them like you could do it by the books, or you can also be your own entrepreneur and work for yourself and make your own income. That was also really important to me, and it also shaped me and how I live my life.
TYLEEN PERFORMING AT LVL UP 2019
OTH: Do your siblings help you write?
TJ: Haha no, I write for myself. I take very strong pride in writing for myself and I feel like that’s also important as an artist. Right now I know later on in my career I will get writers and stuff like that, but in the beginning of my career I wanna show the people that I write my shit myself and I take pride in writing for myself and I don’t need a man to write for me. I also feel like I’m a person who’s been through so much so I can relate to a lot of people. So I really just do this for the people, like look this shit is possible, it doesn't matter that we come from Montreal, it doesn’t matter that you’re a female, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a million dollars or a million followers. I used to tell myself that all the time, nothing is impossible. Anything that I do I wanna do my best, I wanna do it 100%.
OTH: You said you constantly tell yourself nothing is impossible, but what has been the biggest difficulty you’ve had to face in the short amount of time you’ve been in the game so far?
TJ: I mean in the beginning it was really hard before I even met VNCE, it was very hard for me to find beats, find producers that wanted to work with me, and find people to take me seriously in general. I had a lot of negative feedback, I remember I would just rap on Snapchat for fun, and I remember one time I got posted on CanadablackTV and the feedback was she should do something else with her mouth or she should be a stripper. Basically I feel like when they see a pretty girl they put her as she should strip and that’s it, so it was really hard for people to take me seriously. I didn’t have those connections, I didn’t grow up with family in the music industry.
OTH: So how did you meet VNCE, Flawless, and all of them?
TJ: So Flawless Gretzky is another local artist here, when he came out, he did his first day out track and blew up really quick and then Setiz from New Regime had connected me and Flawless for a music video. I couldn’t make it that day for the shoot, but at this time I had just started working on GarageBand with my brother, so then I was working at home, and I had a little freestyle that I had, so I said this might be the perfect time to get a connection. I hit him with the “I rap”, maybe we can work on something. So I sent him a voice memo, I literally rapped into the phone and he was like “Oh shit you’re hard, we can definitely work on something” and the next time he was in the studio he was in there with VNCE and Joe Rocca and he was like come to the studio right now, come record. I had literally never recorded in a studio before, I didn’t even know anything I was doing. I said I was a rapper but I literally just recorded at home, but I said you know what I’ll just go do it. I didn’t know anyone there, I didn’t even know Flawless really because we were just supposed to do a video, So I went there by myself and they were just like this is the beat, I started writing, everybody started going in the booth one by one, then it was my turn to go in the booth, I was trippin out, it was one of those you go in and close the down and there’s padding everywhere and stuff, and I just never had that experience before so I was nervous, but it was super dope. I remember Flawless telling me, “look, you don’t know who these people are but this shit is gonna change your music career for real.” and it really did.
OTH: Is that how you got signed too?
TJ: Well it wasn’t from that song, but it was from the song that I made after that which was Dollar$. The reason we couldn’t release that song was because somebody already had exclusive rights to it, but that was supposed to be my first single and that was a hot track. It literally got me signed before I had released anything. It’s one of my hardest tracks.
OTH: Now, after going through your past, it all comes full circle. You've signed for a new label with New Regime Records, dropped a new EP, Maje$tic, and on that project, we finally get to see Dollar$. Tell us more about the year you’ve had because you’ve been very busy.
TYLEEN SHOT BY KOKU AWUYE
TJ: So basically what had happened was I released Fanta$y with Make it Rain, I was actually still in a contract with them and unfortunately we couldn’t come to an agreement for the second project which kind of gave me the opportunity to branch out and connect with other people, which led me to signing with New Regime.
OTH: And what about the new record, Maje$tic?
TJ: The project I was working on that I had ready. We just started off when I started working with New Regime, we were just starting to regain momentum because that whole year had a lot of things going on behind the scenes that people didn't really know about and that’s why my releases took so long. So we were able to drop two singles last year around the end of the year in November and we wanted to release a project this year, so that’s why we put out Maje$tic. Like I said, we’ve just been working.I have a lot in storage so It’s never an issue to put out an EP, it was just more timing and going through the legal stuff. Dollar$, the last song on the EP, like we said, was the first song I ever wrote back in 2017. So there’s a lot of things on this EP that a lot of people don’t really know about. Sometimes it’s interesting because with the music, you never know what's really been recorded recently or what’s something that someone has been holding on to and they drop later on.
OTH: Was this kind of like you really had some songs that you really wanted to get out there and you saw this as a chance to get them out?
TJ: Yeah, so basically like I said, I really wanted to give my supporters a second EP and it was really long overdue. I kind of just said these are the songs I really like, I think they show a different side of how I am musically and this project just meant a lot to me. It took me through quite a lot of ups and downs to get it out there. I’m really happy that we finally did what we had to do to do it. I’m so happy for all the producers and everybody who was there waiting and supporting… ready to go.
OTH: Do you think that in the past year, with all your new singles Don’t Text, You & I and now Majestic, that your work process has changed?
TJ: Yeah definitely. When I first started I didn’t really know much about the music industry and how it really worked, I was just kind of winging it and hoping it was gonna work. Now it’s more about strategy and really going after those goals instead of just hoping they happen. I definitely feel like my mindset and everything has grown. I’ve seen different parts of the world since then, I’ve got to see supporters in different parts of the world so I definitely feel like a lot has changed but in the best way. I couldn’t be happier with where I’m at and I can just see how much further we’re going to go within the next year.
OTH: As the first lady of New Regime records, what’s it been like being the star artist for the label?
TJ: It’s definitely one of those things where when I was younger, before I was even doing music, just modelling and stuff, I had worked with New Regime a couple of times and I always wanted to take it a step further. When I heard about the opportunity to be their first artist and be the first lady on the record label, I didn’t even hesitate. I was so happy to start building what we’re now doing. I feel like we’re going to do really big things for the city and I can’t wait.
OTH: This has been a long time coming. You said the way you got connected to VNCE and Flawless was through Setiz from New Regime way back then.
TJ: I’ve always had a connection with them aside from the music. They believed in me from the jump. I feel like New Regime themselves are for the people and that’s exactly what I want to be. I can be that person that really holds it down for the people of Montreal and the artists of Montreal. That’s really where I want to go with it.
OTH: For sure. In terms of artistry, your image and the content that’s coming out, there’s always a certain level of finesse and art direction from Koku and his lens that is so clean. There’ve been so many changes, even when looking at the cover art for Fanta$y and Majestic, you still lean into a very “embrace your body” type of vibe, but it’s very artistically done now.
TJ: Exactly! I’m so happy you noticed that because it’s actually one of the first things that Koku and I actually spoke about when we started working together. He does help a lot with the creative direction, he’s amazing. That was one of the big things he wanted to work on. I can’t quote his words exactly but he was basically saying that we can do the sexy, but a little more classy. Like you said, more artsy. It’s definitely been really fun working with someone who gets my point of view and also puts their own artistic touch on it. We really do work together and we make magic. I'm super happy to be working with Koku.
OTH: It almost feels like a rebrand, but it’s still very much in vain with who you are.
TJ: Exactly. My image before kind of confused people with who I was or what I do so now just really rebranding myself into something bigger and better was the goal.
OTH: Everything has a much more polished look. Do you think this is going to have an affect on any of the new music you put out?
TJ: Definitely, I mean it also changes people's approach. I feel like the more polished you are when you put yourself out there the more people respect you and gravitate towards you a little more. So I definitely feel like It’s working for the better.
OTH: Moving forward, when should we be expecting more music? Should we be expecting a new EP? An Album?
TJ: Yeah so, definitely right now we are still pushing Majestic obviously. It’s only been 2 weeks since we released it and it has 36k streams plus, so I’m pretty happy with how it’s doing. It was funny cause even today I was looking back at Fantasy and it’s actually almost at 100k streams on Spotify. It’s definitely humbling sometimes to go back and see how far you’ve come. But yeah, right now we’re still working on new music. I’m actually working on another project that will have features. I’m trying to bring more of the people that I’ve been wanting to work with and not just talking about it, I’m really excited. I have a lot of cool people from in the city who will be on the next project.
OTH: Nice! We had spoken once before and we asked about whether there were other Montreal artists you were excited about and you told us you didn’t know too many. It just shows that there’s been a lot of growth, you’re making connections, and now there are people within the city that you want to have tracks with. Do you think you’re going to do a mini tour for Majestic, another show for it, what’re you thinking?
TJ: We’re kind of all working those things out right now. I can’t really say exactly, but my goal is to definitely connect with my supporters more. By outside a lot more. I’m really excited and I want to say everything I’m doing but you know haha.
OTH: We’ve gone over your tracks, your move, you did shows at Metro Metro and MURAL too right?
TYLEEN PERFORMING AT METRO METRO 2022
TJ: Honestly Metro Metro was so much fun. It’s one of thoes festivals that I’ve been wanting to do since I started doing music. I was always like I can’t wait to get on that stage and it took me what? Not even 2 years to get up there, so I was super happy. And not only that, to see one of my favourite rappers of all time and to be up close and personal with 50 Cent was really mind blowing. I technically opened up for 50 Cent because I performed earlier the same day. Then I did MURAL which was also really cool. I got to perform with PahPay who’s also featured on the EP. We performed You & I and we got to see the feedback from the audience which was amazing. Everybody was loving it. That was really cool cause that was my first feature that I released on the project and I think Pay is a dope artist. He’s definitely gonna be coming up in the music industry in Montreal in no time. It was fun. Two really good shows back to back, and then my project, and then my release party. I’ve been really excited for everything going on this summer.
OTH: The listening party was really cool. Hearing the EP for the first time while skating through tunnels with all those crazy lights actually made it such an interesting experience.
TJ: That’s really what it’s all about. I didn’t want to just do a listening party where everyone just stands up in a room and we play the tracks. This project took a lot to get done, so it means a lot to me, and I wanted to share it in a fun, cool way where people can do something at the same time. I always wanted to rollerskate, cause I was young I had a pair but I obviously grew out of them, so I’ve wanted to do that. It was definitely something I wanted to always consider when doing any other listening party.
OTH: Just over halfway through 2022 and it’s been a huge year for you.
TJ: Yeah, it’s been a very big year, I’m very excited. I know last year it kind of seemed like, is she still making music? Is she not? Just because I hadn’t released anything since May, but I definitely didn’t quit. I’m not a quitter, I don’t ever suggest anybody quit so I can’t quit. I’m too far in and I have too many people who have looked at me and said I inspired them in many ways so there’s no way I quit now. What you’re hoping and working for is right around the corner, keep on keeping on.
OTH: How do you want to be remembered through your work? We’re lucky enough to catch you early in your career, but further down the line how do you wanna be looked back at?
TJ: I want to be remembered for who I am. I didn’t have a lot, I didn’t grow up with two parents, but I never let anything that I went through stop me from doing what I thought I could do. I was somebody who didn’t let anything get in my way, no challenges, no obstacles. I was somebody that was unstoppable when it came to getting what I wanted done. I want them to remember me as someone who helped other people do what they wanted to, because that’s really my goal. What’s the point of having a platform if I can’t help people? I just hope that I inspire people who are going through a lot and feel like giving up. I know there've been times where I've thought what am I here for? I’ve had so much taken from me, I wanted to give up on life, and I realised that I had so much more to offer, I have a purpose, I’m here for a reason, and I hope that others see me and discover their purpose. I had people like, you know that girl Tyleen? I went out and did this because of her.