Tish Hyman Has Co-Signs From The Roots, Kanye & More For Good Reason. She Tells Her Story
Over the last 18 months, Tish Hyman has emerged as one of the most promising voices in years. The talented singer, songwriter and MC has earned the respect of Alicia Keys, The Roots, Kanye West, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, Fabolous and more, not to mention countless new fans. She also had the honor of becoming the first woman MC to take on, and deftly handle, Sway’s vaunted Five Fingers Of Death freestyle challenge.
Despite Tish’s recent ascent, her success is far from overnight. Her life journey has been one filled with facing and overcoming struggles, ranging from homelessness to drug abuse. Years of toiling fashioned her into a battle-tested MC and songstress whose lush voice is filled with joy and pain (much like a Hip-Hop legend to whom she is oft-compared). The lessons she learned along the way filled her with stories that she’s now able to share with the world, in the hopes that her experiences can help others who face similar life hurdles.
Tish recently spoke, at length, with Ambrosia For Heads, and, as with her music, she was exceedingly warm, candid and real.
Ambrosia For Heads (AFH): How long have you been writing and performing?
Tish: I started out writing first. I was probably about 12 when I started writing songs. I was already rapping by then. I started performing around 14-15. So it’s been a long time, I’ve just been kind of trying to get ready, I guess everybody has to wait for that moment, no matter how long.
AFH: A big turning point came when you started to get co-signs from Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Fabolous, and Diddy. That all happened pretty close together, a little over a year ago. What was it like to get recognition from major stars like that and how did things change for you afterwards?
Tish: It was really, really great. I was mad excited to go and work with Alicia. It was because they heard some of the cuts off of the album, and they thought it was really dope, and they just supported me off of that. So that was really awesome and I plan on doing more work [with her]. How that affected me was just, it solidified that I’m actually in the game. The people that I’ve looked up to for a long time respect what I’m doing, respect me and love what I’m doing, and show me nothing but love. So that only gave me more power to keep fueling ahead. More of a little boost to just know “Alright, I’m in the right position. I’m doing the right thing, because the people who have been doing it and that I looked up to agree.”
AFH: Part of what attracted them was your song, “Subway Art.” Your performance on it is so personal and sounds so emotional. Are there personal connections you have with that song, beyond just observing the anonymous faces in the crowd, and how we just overlook homeless people?
Tish: Yeah, I mean I grew up [in The Bronx] and I got to see a lot of people out of luck. I got to see a lot of people struggle. I got to see a lot of people not even live longer than 25. I just got to see a lot. “Subway Art” for me is just my take on how I felt about it. [That type of struggle is] like a painting on a wall. It’s there. It’s tragic when you look at, but you don’t do anything to change it. And, even if you give a dollar to [someone,] it doesn’t change it. I was actually riding the train yesterday and a guy got on. I was listening to my music, but for some reason I took my earphone out of my one ear to hear. I was like “oh shit, I gotta look at this because subway art is always happening.” He said “hey guys I’m just trying to put together some money for Enfamil for my two twins,” and I realized that I know Enfamil is like $20.00. So, I was like “yo, this dude is gonna take forever [getting that money]. It’s mad hot.” So, I was like “ride with me and I’ll get off with you and buy you the baby milk.” I spent like an hour with this guy. It was really interesting. I get him two cans of the Enfamil and I have to say to him “I got a whole song about this. It’s crazy.” And he said to me “I’ve been out here since early this morning and this is all I got,” and it was like $1.75. I said “thank god that we ran into each other and that you got this milk, because maybe you wouldn’t have been able to get it today. Go home. Be with your family and just figure out what you’re going to do next.” He told me he works at Dunkin’ Donuts. I said “Listen, man. If that’s what you’re qualified to do, then do it. Do it 150% and move up at Dunkin’ freaking Donuts, bro.” So, that’s a long story, but the point is that, yeah, subway art is there, and [the song is] based on my emotion for the situation. I wish that I could help people more than I actually do, but really it just takes a lot. Even though I got him this milk, if two weeks later he’s back in that spot, it didn’t really change anything. It’s just subway art. It doesn’t change.
AFH: Have you ever performed that song in the subway?
Tish: When I was shooting the video, I was singing it out loud in the subway, but I’ve never had a subway performance. Not yet. But, maybe one day. That would be kind of cool. I could get permission from the city. Do a little concert. I want to do one in my neighborhood. I was in my ‘hood yesterday and I just realized, I want to do so much. Just good things with this music. But, that’s why I did [new EP] Dedicated To:. I want people to see the process. I don’t want people to think that I just got on and I’m blowing up, and [people] respect me out of nowhere. No, this shit took forever [laughs], and it took a lot of no’s and disappointments, a lot of depression, a lot of growth, a lot of understanding of how life is and how I could change my life, and how no one else really could. For me to get to this place, I had to stay dedicated to whatever I was doing and that’s what I’ve been. Now, I’m dedicated to spreading the message to people.
AFH: The last song on Dedicated To:, “Lesbehonest,” is so incredibly powerful and personal. You addressed everything in that from growing up in foster homes, to physical and substance abuse, to your sexuality. What gave you the courage to share so much of yourself and your story?
Tish: “Lesbehonest” was the first song that I even wrote for the album. I was supposed to be doing a mixtape and I just decided to tell my story. When I was telling my story, I couldn’t skip over the things that changed my life or things that happened to me in my life that hurt. I just wanted to be honest. I’m a lesbian and I wanted to address that quickly without making it a big deal or focusing on it, and kind of explain it to people–my take on my own life and why I am the way I am. It was also my confession to people: “Look. All this crazy shit happened to me, but it made me a better person. I learned lessons about drugs, and that all young girls need their fathers. I cried on it because that’s just what happened. I was very emotional.
AFH: There’s also a lot of diversity on Dedicated To:. “All That I Can Do,” and “Subway Art” and “Lesbehonest” are slower and in a singer-songwriter style, but then you go up-tempo with “4 Letter Word” and “Absolutely,” which has hints of EDM. Did you purposefully set out to create such a diverse project, that shows the different sides of your style?
Tish: Absolutely. I got different things that make me who I am. It’s not all sad (laughs). Actually, when you meet me and chill with me, you probably would never even think that I’ve been through the stuff that I’ve been through based on how I behave because my natural spirit is just to be happy. I’ve grown into happiness and I understand that it’s free and it’s mine to have. So, when it came to “Absolutely” and “4 Letter Word,” I was just showing people how I am right now. Dedicated To: is about how I felt from the moment I was able to conceive thoughts about life to like [age] 25. I’m trying to catch up to myself right now, so I needed to express how I felt about waking up every day and getting it.
AFH: Over the last year you’ve built a relationship with The Roots, performing with them at their Grammy showcase, South By Southwest and The Roots Picnic. In April, we interviewed Black Thought about the Picnic and we asked him if they use those showcases to audition artists. When I asked him specifically about you, he said that you had already been booked, but after seeing how you handled being on stage with them, he thought “Hell yeah, she is gonna kill the Picnic.” What was it like for you to work for them, being some of the most respected musicians in the world, and seeing the mutual respect they have for you?
Tish: That shit was awesome, man. I was just jumping around. I was just trying to take it all in, like meeting a new friend even. We had jokes, we had a good time. They definitely were feeling my vibe and what I’m doing, and of course they will because they’re intelligent and they’re musicians. They understand Hip-Hop. Black Thought’s been in it forever, spitting crazy lyrics still. And, I aspire to make similar accomplishments. They are just amazing people so that just felt great. I feel great everyday even when I’m not around anybody. I just feel so good because I’m alive and I’m doing what I love.
AFH: Speaking of Black Thought’s incredible lyrics, your vocal tone when singing is phenomenal, but you’re also an incredible MC. You became the first woman MC to take on Sway’s Five Fingers of Death last year, and you smashed it, off the top. Did you realize you were the first woman to do it?
Tish: Nah, I didn’t even know that. I figured that everybody did it when they went on that show because that’s all I was waiting for. I was like “look, man, when are we gonna rap cause that’s what I wanna do!” I’ve been waiting for the longest. I love Sway.
AFH: Do you lean towards singing more or rapping, or are they both equal for you?
Tish: I lean towards writing and making stories ‘cause I write all genres of music and I love to do that. I love to express myself in different ways. I used to be a battle rapper. I was serious about that. If I had to battle somebody tomorrow I’d be serious about it. I’d be deadass. I don’t really care to have the title of a rapper because I know that as of this moment I ain’t putting in all the energy that I feel that I would need to put in to say “yo, I spit.” But I love Rap and I love female rappers. I’m excited about the new female rappers that are coming up. I consider myself to be more of a…I guess I’m not just an artist because I’m not just gonna do music. I’m gonna do film, television. I’m gonna create content. I’m a fucking boss lady and I really like that.
AFH: That’s awesome. Are you working on screenplays already?
Tish: I have a few ideas. Two or three TV show ideas and one movie idea. So far I haven’t really messed with too much because I like to dedicate my time to whatever I’m doing. So I did one movie with Spike Lee. That was Chi-Raq. That was a great experience. It was my first acting experience ever. I think it’s a great way to begin and now I’m just focusing on this album, promoting this album, and just getting as many connections to people as I can through this music. I will probably in a year or two put a lot of energy into creating films and television shows. I’m a creative person and I just like doing many things. I don’t call myself a jack of all trades but when I’m doing a trade I focus on it.
AFH: Given how talented you are at singing, rapping and acting, it does bring inevitable comparisons to Lauryn Hill, which can be a compliment, but also confining. How do you feel about that comparison?
Tish: I mean it’s a great compliment and I think I’m deserving of the comparison. Outside of that, that’s pretty much that. Lauryn Hill is alive and well and still performing and still inspiring, still being amazing. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was one of the most influential albums of my life, and between her Biggie and Jay, they all in some way have a part to play in my role as an artist and what I do, so I appreciate the compliment. I just want to do a song with Lauryn. That would be dope. That would be real shit right there. I mean if anyone can do it, I think it’s me. Real recognizes real. Stephen Marley loves me. Rohan Marley loves me. I love them. They’re amazing people. I don’t know Lauryn personally, but her music means the world to me. So you know it is what it is. Timing is everything and life is exactly what we need it to be, so I’m cool just doing Dedicated To: and it’d be nice to doing something in the future with her, if possible, one day.
AFH: Who are some of you bigger influences in terms of MCs and singers?
Tish: Singers: Janis Joplin, Tina Turner…I love Alanis Morissette as a writer, and a vocalist too, but her writing is just impeccable. I listen to so much stuff. I listen to a lot of 70’s rock music. On the Rap side, definitely Jay Z, definitely Biggie, Big Pun, Lauryn Hill, Missy, even like, I can’t remember the girl who sings “5 ‘o’clock in the morning.”
AFH: “Outside on the corner.” Nonchalant.
Tish: Yeah Nonchalant, all the ladies. There were just so many rappers that were great back in the day. It’s not like today. I’m 33 years old and I don’t pretend to be younger because I don’t think that’s really necessary. To tell the stories I’m telling you have to have lived for a little bit. Five, ten years ago I don’t think I could have written this album the way that I did.
AFH: What’s next for you?
Tish: Honestly, I really feel like getting back in the studio now and doing another record. I want to keep promoting this album, do maybe a couple more videos and start working on the next album. I got more to come and I’m not going to slow down.