The biggest noise to come out of Louisville, Kentucky since Muhammad Ali, Bryson Tiller has become an R&B heavyweight at a breakneck pace. The 23-year-old only played his first ever live show last September and sent his debut album into the US top 10 soon after that. A year earlier he was working at a pizza place and has said he was sleeping in his car. Even without a UK hit, his first London concert escalated into three fast sellouts, and next he’ll be high on the bill at Finsbury Park’s Wireless festival.
But it’s his proximity to harder times that makes him an uncommon proposition in the glitzy, invincible world of American urban music. Here, in contrast to proud lovermen such as R Kelly or Miguel, he introduced Sorry Not Sorry by claiming to have had a mere four ex-girlfriends, all of whom cheated on him. When he did boast, as of course he did, he detailed his rise on Ten Nine Fourteen with an air of disbelief.
This meant that he lacked star power when he took centre stage beneath a black baseball cap. His album is unusual for having no special guests. He stands alone, even coining his own genre with its title: Trapsoul. It’s a sound characterised by slow, minimal beats and weighty bass throbs, contrasting sharply with his light voice, which skims over the surface with a singer’s melody and a rapper’s lyrical flow.
He wasn’t charismatic enough to stop the crowd chatting when he spoke between songs, but when he sang they sang every word with him. The singles Exchange and Don’t were met with lusty screams and a glowing forest of cameraphones, the latter considered such an unimpeachable highlight that many left as soon as it finished. They clearly needed no further proof that here is R&B’s new big hitter.