Photos courtesy of Tish Hyman
“I won’t eat anywhere with under a 4 rating on Yelp,” Tish Hyman says as we sit down in the West Village’s Dojo restaurant (which is sadly only a 3.5). “I’ll eat some sake though.” Yelp scores are a far cry from her Bronx beginnings, but the singer-songwriter-rapper left hip-hop’s birthplace for good as a late teen anyway. A graduate of battle rap, Tish found her singing voice as a kid, but the rhymes took her further.
What you’re witnessing right now is a 32-year-old star in her infantile stages. Tish dropped a video for her single “Subway Art” this past spring, and it was quickly followed by a guest turn on the Fabolous track “You Made Me.” On the former she sings every note about New York City living with enough fire to blanket London circa 1666. Couple that with her upcoming single “Dreams” with Ty Dolla $ign and her gig supporting Jill Scott on tour, and yeah, Tish has some decent names on her CV. Her upcoming project Dedicated To is slated for an early 2016 release, but in the meantime, Tish Hyman stays getting her reps in.
In person, Tish is gently intimidating. She’s tall, toned, and tough. Her voice is gruff, and her head is shaved. She’s beautiful but not delicate: the stylistic comparsions to Lauryn Hill all get squashed once Tish says her hobbies are “smokin’ blunts and fuckin’ bitches.” That’s when you learn Tish Hyman is her own breed of musical superhero.
The story is unlike any other. Tish did her rhyming thing in the BX, but recorded in Mount Vernon. She met a wealthy woman from Manhattan—coincidentally named Hope—who moved her out of the Bronx into New York City. From there she sold mortgages, gained 70 pounds, navigated a bad relationship, and found herself in a rut. She jumped ship, heading to Atlanta to record with producer Kenny Flav after seeing him on Missy Elliott’s “Top 5 on MySpace.” After writing on a bunch of records she booked to Los Angeles and started songwriting there. Her music reached the ears of Diddy, Kanye West, and Alicia Keys, among others. And here we are. But I’ll let her tell the rest, because if there’s one thing Tish Hyman is really fucking good at, it’s telling her story.
Noisey: So you left the Bronx when you were 18?
Tish Hyman: Yeah, I met this Jewish chick in the studio. She was like 13 years older than me, and for some reason, she just thought I was so talented and she became a friend. Then I didn't have anywhere to live, so she moved me into this apartment on 50th and 8th Ave and I stayed there for like, two years. Then her brothers gave me a job, and I kind of just went up from there, controlling everything in my life.
Before that I was stressed out. I slept so many places. I was sleeping in crack houses. Shit was crazy. Luckily, I was a dyke bitch, and no one wanted to rape me. So I'd pass out in places, and I'd wake up untouched, which is great because when you're a woman you can't leave pussy out like that. Shit doesn't work. Most girls would never be able to live the way I lived. Many times I could have been unlucky, but for some reason, [knocks on wood] I was lucky.
You just met this woman in a studio?
Yeah, a studio in Mount Vernon. She was like a comedic actress or some shit like that. She was just a crazy Jewish chick, honestly. She was the black sheep of her family. They think she's nuts. She wanted me to write these songs for her, like a comedy rap album and at first I was like, “What the hell?” I didn't even know one white person in my life, you know what I'm saying? So I'm like, “Is this bitch trying to slave me?” I ain't know what was going on. But after a while, we just became cool friends. She was like a big sister, literally. My mom kind of kicked me out of her house from like 15 up because I wanted to rap and I was smoking and I was drinking. I was every parent’s worst nightmare. And it didn't really look like at the time that I was going anywhere with my life because I was like, “Fuck school!” I was living in the studio for like a year, and then while I was living at the studio, somehow this white lady named Hope Adams just winds up in there. I called her one day and was like, “I'm going to move into the projects on 66th Street” because my cousin lived over there. She was like, “No, you're not going to fucking move to the projects! You're going to move here! I've got a doorman in my building!” I never even lived in a building with a doorman. I didn't even know people lived in this building. For some reason I thought it was all offices.
I know you got started in battle rap. It was very different from what it is now.
Absolutely. It was real.
Were you part of an affiliation at the time?
There was none of that. It was just like basement, a bunch of dudes battling! Rapping until you get to the last two or three, and I did that for years. I just got tired of screaming. I was like, “Man, this is bullshit. My voice hurts.” And I felt like, nobody really knew what I was saying at that time. Well, just any time a girl raps period, they're like, “Oh, whoa!” And I wanted more than just the wow factor and for them to see that I can actually keep a flow and keep going. I wanted people to listen.
Plus you can’t battle forever.
I got older, honestly. I started to feel differently. Because when I was in the Bronx in my earlier ages, I was angry about a lot of stuff, and I was doing a lot of drugs. I was just angry and high. So when I met Hope, it's not like overnight I changed. Probably by the time I was 25 or 26, I straightened my act up. I was working at a bank.
Yeah, the brothers owned a bank, so they fucking hired me on some, “She's gonna come in, and she may work or she may not.” But when I saw that shit like oh, I could make this much money doing this and this? I worked so hard! I made a quarter of a million dollars on my own over two years.
Mortgages! I was in the mortgage business—one of the best salesmen they had! As soon as they taught me, I got good at that shit. I loved mortgages. If I wasn't in the music business, I totally would have been a mortgage banker. It got complicated though, and the business kind of went to shit in 2007 or 2008. Shit was not working out, and I was in a bad relationship with this bitch who I hated, and I was 70 pounds heavier than I am right now. So I got back into music.
Watch an exclusive video recap of Tish's tour with Jill Scott. Continued below:
That’s when the songwriting happened?
Yeah, I wanted to be an artist, but somewhere I got fat and I lost confidence in myself, and I felt like oh, maybe this is my calling as a writer. But as I began to write songs with artists and realize I was shining brighter than them, they wanted me to be less. I couldn't take it, so at one point I was like, “I got fucking 20 grand left before I go broke.” And I walked out of the studio at Universal and I told them, “I want to make an album that feels as good as when you listen to Miseducation for the first time, Biggie's Ready To Die for the first time, and Jay Z's Reasonable Doubt for the first time.” Those are my three blueprints. I said, “The album's going to win Grammys; we're going to do this.” I had 30 people every day in the studio—amazing people. And so we created the album that I have today. And I was still 240 pounds at that time, and I decided one day, “I'm going to lose weight! I'm going to work out every day, I'm going to diet and I'm going to lose weight so that I can promote an album and I can make this album that changes the way that hip-hop is viewed today and how people do it today.”
Did you feel like you had to lose the weight to deliver that message?
Well it was really because when I was performing, I was out of breath. And I've been a performer for a long time, so I remember when I was not as heavy and I performed with no problem. And honestly, losing weight is the best anti-depressant you'll ever have. It's not about outer appearance and feeling happy—I felt happy when I was fat, and I still had the most beautiful girlfriend. That didn't stop me from anything, I was just fat. But for me, to see the transformation, I saw how people responded to me being an artist, the difference of how I looked on camera—which is fucked up that that's the perception.
Especially for women.
It's just like, men can look like shit. They can be ugly baboons. It won't matter! Most of them are! They're mostly ugly. They get some money and start looking cute. I blame it on fucking bitches, because they're dating these ugly motherfuckers. You know that guy's ugly.
So how did you link up with Kanye West?
Malik Yusef is one of Kanye's oldest friends. I was at a studio playing my album, and the owner of the studio was looking kind of weird. His name is Nick, and it was Truth Studios in LA. He just like starts texting Malik on the low like, “Yo, you need to get your ass over here and hear this fucking girl's album.” So Malik comes through and he hears it. He's cool. I ain't even think the nigga liked my shit because he's like, “Aight sis,” and he just left! I was like all right, cool. I seen him at a party later and he's like, “I fucking love you!” Next thing I know, he brings Elon Rutberg to my house. Elon is the creative director for Kanye. He did the Yeezus Tour and all that shit. He and Elon come over—at 3 AM, mind you—to listen to the album. The full album! And they listen and two days later I got the call, “You need to go see Ye.”
And you went to go see him?
Yeah, I went to go see Ye. I can't say much about it because I did sign a NDA, and I want to respect it and not get sued. But he was sweet; he listened to two of my songs, and we just played around on some other stuff. I don't know if it'll make his album. Probably not. He has 100 geniuses around him all the time. But it was a great experience. I fuck with Ye. “All Day Nigga” is some crazy shit! I think Ye's just a nut. So that was awesome. And he winded up playing my songs for Diddy, telling Diddy he wants to remix it with Jay on it. So it's been a couple months now messing with Diddy and Stevie J and Mario Winans. It's just amazing and a dream come true just being around them. I don't really care if anything I do makes an album or goes anywhere. It's just like, dude, I'm in the studio with Diddy! To me, he's like an amazing role model, and more than he was when I was younger, because I looked at him like a role model when I was younger, but I didn't understand. Now I understand all he's done. Now I'm like whoa! So it's crazy to be with Diddy and just have that synergy. He came to my show last month and just came backstage with some love and some good words, and it's been great.
Kathy Iandoli is a writer living in New York. Follow her on Twitter.