25-year-old Californian artist, Tai Verdes, has a similar mentality to Kanye West. They both believe they’re winners, they’re both driven and they never take their eyes off their goal.
Verdes might not even like Kanye – he seems weary to the comparison – but considering all of the positive ways Ye rose to fame, it’s true. For Verdes, this manifests in an unquestionable self-belief. Though he may not be the best skill-wise (his own words), genius to him is made, not born. The opinions of others don’t matter: they’re not real. All he cares about is what he can do and what he thinks is “good.”
If you want something bad enough, you can have it.
It’s a mindset that to this point has pushed him far into the music lexicon. His songs have millions of streams on Spotify and his single, “Stuck in the Middle”, has made its rounds on TikTok – an artist’s ultimate tool in going viral.
He’s the type of guy that has his future mapped for 10 years. Everything is meticulously laid-out in front of him with a formulaic mentality, with the idea that he is a “business” at the core. It’s the kind of thing this new generation of songwriters and artists have had impressed into them. Artistry mightn’t sit on the backburner, but there are some things more important: consistency, practice, the right songs and the right marketing.
From day one, Tai Verdes had a plan.
When Verdes was 21, he auditioned for Are You The One?, a multi-national dating show where contestants can win thousands of dollars if ten pairs figure out their perfect match. But unlike some who were trying to find love, Tai was there with one intention: To win the money.
“I look back on it and the entire time I was there I was like ‘I'm here for the money and I'm going to be bigger than every single motherfucking person on this show’,” he told VICE.
“I think that my idol is Cardi B - going from [the reality show] Love & Hip Hop to just being Cardi. Nothing really matters what people say. Opinions aren't real. And that's why I like the challenge of being like, ‘Whatever, I'm gonna just take this money and run’ “.
At the end of his time on the show, Verdes ended up with $50,000. His plan was simple: Move to LA and use the money to try everything. For four years, while slumming it on a couch in a friend's living room, he invested his time and winnings into all corners of the entertainment industry. From stand-up comedy, to podcasting, acting and modelling (“I literally tasted everything”).
Verdes began treating everything as if it were an investment with zero return. All things for him were a business - to be hammered away at until something stuck. Though he knew that he may not be the best singer or the best producer, he believed that he procured the most valuable knowledge of all: A deep understanding of how the internet and the industry worked.
“You just follow the pattern of people moving on from whatever social media platform is biggest at the time. Just right now, TikTok is hot, but there's gonna be something like ‘Knick Knack’ or whatever the next thing is, and we're gonna forget about it,” said Verdez. “ And then I'm just going to be Tai Verdez.”
Verdes’ biggest inspirations became big stars from Vine and YouTube, or internet-borne celebrities like Justin Bieber, DJ Khaled, and Shawn Mendes.He saw first hand how a big following and a move to LA could result in fame and riches.
“I don't care what anyone says, however, ‘artistic’ they think they are, everyone's a business. If you make a music video, you're a business, if you hold a concert, you're a business. I bring that mentality to what I'm doing right now.”
Verdes wrote his first viral hit while working as an essential retail worker at phone company Verizon. Posting it in a string of videos to TikTok, and upping it through his channel, it became a viral sound on the platform. The following weeks it had 40 million streams on spotify.
Up until that point he’d practice singing in his car, trying to get his voice to a point where he could record it. And before that he auditioned for The Voice and other national singing shows, all to no avail.
When asked what he thought he did differently to make himself stand out - or what made him shoot to the top in the way he did - he rejects that what he did was different at all.
“I really wasn't trying to be different. I was just trying to be myself. I think if you try to be different it's gonna sound like you're trying to be different which is also kind of lame,” he said.
“It's okay if you're like everyone else and you're talking about being like everybody else. Like I'm saying you could write a song called ‘Clone’ and now you're the clone guy. I think that the big thing is that you have to be creative with who you are as a person.”
For Verdes - and like so many others before him, - a toxic relationship acted as his inspiration.
“‘You’re a player aren’t you and I bet you get hoes’,” he recalls his ex-girlfriend saying to him. Those words became the lyrics for “Stuck in the Middle”.
“And now I'm here writing music,” said Verdes. I think that you have to think that your opinion on your own life matters. That's it.”
Kid Cudi, Chance the Rapper, and even Kanye are the blueprints for Verdes music, a sound that relies heavily on storytelling and concept. Though he thinks describing yourself as “real” is lame, there’s a certain element of that, too.
“They're all telling stories, right? With the complete album. So it's just like: tell your own story.”
“Everyone has their own struggle. I think that in recognising that your own struggle is art, why would you not want to share it? You only got one go at this thing, and if you're good at it, why not? If you're bad at it, get better at it. Keep doing it. That's the thing. Good is relative. Genius doesn't exist. It's all time on tasks, resources and environment around you.”
Verdes debut album TV, which houses tracks like “Drugs”, “Stuck In The Middle”, and “A-O-K” – all of which have millions of streams – follow this mentality. The album documents his dropping out of college, taking drugs, meeting girls and breaking up – all things he experienced in his early 20s. His next will do the same, compartmentalising his life to create deep dives into his mindset at a given time.
Titled HDTV, for “high definition TV”, the new release will plunge into the pools of his relationships.
“It's gonna be talking about my life when I was in a toxic relationship, to a good relationship or new relationship or healthy relationship,” he said, “That's why the album is going to be red for love.”
“Then the next one I can't really tell you. It's too far in the future. But I can tell you that it's gonna be called 3DTV.”
Though Verdes almost accidentally spills his ten year plan, stopping himself before he does, he does reveal that he has four albums planned on the horizon.
“I've designed every single one. Every single one has an era, just like the big dogs.”
His albums are also peppered with Easter eggs and titles made up of upper and lowercase letters that might point to some hidden message. He’s weary of revealing anything about that as well.
“I can't even tell you. It's a secret. If you want to figure it out, you can,” he said, laughing. “But you know, that's another thing. I'm just playing at different levels. I'm just gonna do it so well that you're gonna have to fucking say that I'm a genius.”
As Verdes moves into the future, the longevity of his career is one of the only things on his mind. And for him, his success doesn’t rely on other people's opinions - just his own.
“I always try to make my plan something that isn't predicated by other people. The only thing that you can control is what you can do. And the only thing I can do is make the best album possible. Just make good songs, consistently, for 20 years.”
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