In the world of blockbuster movies, he’s Tyrese Gibson. His music fans, meanwhile, have known him for 18 years simply as Tyrese. But by those or any other names, he’s a Black Rose — which also just happens to be the title appended to his new double-album and book, both due in July as part of a tsunami of activity from the multi-hyphenate star. The bloom is still very much on for the Watts native who rose from among the cracks to become a celebrated singer, rapper, actor, author, designer, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and raconteur. Especially for those fans who’ve been patiently waiting four years for his return to the world of music, Black will truly be beautiful.
The world already got a significant dose of Tyrese Gibson in 2015 in the form of Furious 7, the April release that was his fourth entry in the indomitable Fast and the Furious series — one of two multi-billion-dollar movie franchises with which he’s associated, the other being the Transformers films. But to experience the more personal and less literally steely side of Tyrese, you’ll have to pick up Black Rose, which includes two stylistically distinct discs devoted to breaking down his R&B and hip-hop sides.
Do note that this window into his musical soul is a limited-time offer, as they say. Because Tyrese has declared that Black Rose is his last solo album, ever. He’s well aware that 36 is a little bit shy of retiring age, but he’s quite serious about calling it quits on a recording career, and using Black Rose to go out on a high.
“It’s definitely not a PR stunt,” Tyrese emphasizes. “When I say it’s my last, that’s exactly what I mean. I’ll still jump on a song. I’ll do a collaboration. I might do another album with TGT, with Ginuwine and Tank. But as far as solo records, this is it for me.”
You don’t know Tyrese if you don’t expect him to make his exit from music-making with a bang. To that end, he’s exhausting everything in his musical arsenal.
“I’m hoping to make history,” he declares. “I’m hoping to be the first person ever to have unleashed this level of content all at one time in the history of show business.” By that he means not just his presence on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, which is already unfiltered, daily, and robust, but other multi-media releases that will be attendant with the new album.
“I’m giving ‘em a double album: one side with me rapping, the other side with me singing. I’m giving them a book” (his follow-up to his previous two New York Times bestsellers, How to Get Out of Your Own Way and Manology). “And I’m giving them an audio version of the book, which I’m going to put music underneath, using instrumentals from my double album along some original music that we’re going to score.”
If that’s not enough, throw in a sure-to-be-buzzed-about short film: “Shame,” a 22-minute Paul Hunter-directed mini-movie built around the intensely emotional ballad of the same name. Playing a troubled R&B bandleader from a bygone era, Tyrese co-stars with Jennifer Hudson, who portrays his long-suffering wife and backup singer. In “Shame,” the fictional Tyrese abuses substances and women alike. It’s a self-generated role that takes Gibson back to his gritty origins as an actor, when he first made an impression as Jody in John Singleton’s 2001 drama Baby Boy.
“People who know me have been really shocked when they see ‘Shame’ — “Part of it is that I grew my hair in for the role. But the bigger part is that everyone who knows me knows I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and you’ll never catch me high, ever. So, to see me drunk, abusive, aggressive, high, smoking, drinking, doing cocaine—just a bunch of sh*t that’s not me — it’s a form of escapism that I really enjoyed doing as an actor. It’s a dark place to go to, but I started out doing dramatic movies.”
Tyrese doesn’t make any secret of his desire to get back to the kind of intensely dramatic roles he started out with. “Once you create the standard and you put this energy out there consistently, that’s a point of reference that everyone has: ‘Oh, you do box office big international multi-ethnic things. You’re that guy.’ But then these dramatic pieces just kind of go under the bridge. So I said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna do something about that.’ So I came up with the concept for ‘Shame.’ One of my favorite quotes is, ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it.’”
That’s something Tyrese has been doing in a succession of unexpected career turns ever since he was discovered in the early ‘90s. His initial break came when a casting call went out to his high school in 1994 for a 15- or 16-year-old to sing in a Coke commercial. Ever since then, he laughs, “there is always resistance. When I did my first album, people were like, ‘Aw, come on, he’s the dude from the Coke commercial!’” The debut in question, 1998’s Tyrese, went platinum and produced a single, “Sweet Lady,” that ultimately won him a Grammy for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance. Its breakout success also helped earn him a job as the host of MTV Jams.
“Then in transitioning from that to my first movie, I got resistance on that—my God, another singer trying to act!” But as Gibson stepped into Singleton’s Baby Boy in a role that had originally been written for the late Tupac Shakur, he found favor with critics, with TV Guide calling him “a star in the making.” Entertainment Weekly praised his “broodingly responsive performance as a young man who refuses to grow up because it would mean he’d have to stop fighting himself,” while the New York Times gushed over the role being “acted with such a winning combination of playfulness, vulnerability and sexual dynamism by Mr. Gibson.” For Tyrese and the world’s moviegoers, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
When Singleton was drafted to direct 2 Fast 2 Furious two years later, he brought Gibson along in his ensemble cast, and suddenly Tyrese became known as a different kind of movie star. He points to a huge group photo on his recording studio wall: “One of my proudest photo shoots ever was the 100th anniversary of Paramount Pictures. Every A-lister imaginable was here: Sean Penn, Scorsese, Brad Pitt, Leonardo, Jack Nicholson, Harrison Ford, Spielberg—all of the folks that contributed to the history of the studio.” A good place for a relative newcomer to potentially feel insecure, and yet: “Me and Shia were over here together, and we had a little joke that we cracked, which was, ‘We’re the only people here that starred in a movie that did over a billion dollars in the 100-year history of Paramount’.” Tyrese appeared in 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, still the seventh highest-grossing film of all time.
With Black Rose, which is only his second album in nine years, “I had a musical vision of bringing the world of R&B and hip-hop together,” Tyrese says. But by dividing the double album between genres, he’s reinforcing that neither side is mandatory for fans that may tilt one way or the other. “I just think I have an R&B responsibility, because I have a certain pedigree in R&B,” he explains. “The R&B fans have expectations of what they’re going to get, and there’s no need to force hip-hop down their throats. It’s okay, because it’s a double album, and if you love me as a singer, then that side of the album is for you.” Even on the hip-hop disc, “I’m not trying to be the aggressive rapper. It’s musical, it’s melodic, and it’s not ‘west coast’ — it’s for everybody.”
The creative origins of the album have an unusual genesis in a month-long “boot camp” that Tyrese oversaw in a rented compound in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Was it “an open call for music” or “a long-ass sleepover”? Why not both? For 30 days, literally scores of producers and writers moved in to spend their days and nights working on new tunes for the project. Among the boot-camp participants: Focus, Eric Hudson , Rockwilder, Kendrick Dean, Little Ronnie, Focus, Tim Kelley, Aaron Sledge, Big Mike, C-Lacey, Cuzzo, B.A.M., Eric Dawkins, Marcia Ambrosius, , Asaleana Elliot , Seige Monstracity & more. It didn’t matter whether they were established Grammy winners or up-and-comers: Tyrese wanted collaborators who could play well with others. “Some of the most classic and successful albums ever came out of that process,” he says, noting a history of R&B group collaborations that encompasses everything from old Motown to DeVante and Timbaland, in “a formula that’s been proven to create magic.” But 30 days of bearing down? That’s taking it to another level. In the end, “we ended up with 152 original pieces of music from that boot camp, so that was mission accomplished.”
By the standards of what was generated in those early stages, the amount of songs that ended up on Black Rose seems almost minimalist. But you’ll rarely catch Tyrese thinking small or limiting himself, even as he draws a curtain on one of his many careers. After he completes the promotion and touring cycle for the new album, it’s not just movies or books he’ll be focusing on at the creative compound he’s expanding Voltron Entertainment into a dominating world company.
Gibson’s upcoming movie credits include costarring with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube in Ride Along 2 and with Jake Gyllenhaal in Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw. But he’s also taken the critical step to develop his own material. In February, the Hollywood trades broke the news that Universal had optioned a screenplay called Desert Eagle that Tyrese conceived and co-wrote himself. He came up with the idea while filming Legion some years back in Albuquerque, New Mexico; the film will have Tyrese starring as one of two border patrol agents who infiltrate an international drug cartel that’s taken cover in a Native American reservation to avoid detection.
On top of that, his Voltron Entertainment company has interests in a massive film studio complex that’s being built in one of Tyrese’s favorite spots, Dubai. He’s also involved in developing a clothing line for men. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.
“I’m a Capricorn and I have visions,” he says. “If you have gifts and talents and ideas, and you hold your breath on those too long, something is gonna die.” For Tyrese, then, expanding his field of vision is a matter of life and breath. But in the meantime, there’s the life that he breathed into this final album, a farewell opus to end all farewell opuses. It might leave ‘em wanting more, but all’s well that ends up smelling like a rose.