Singer, actor, fashion model, business executive
Tyrese Gibson, best known simply as Tyrese, first caught public attention for his smiling face in a Coca-Cola commercial when he was just 16. From that ad, Tyrese steadily built himself into a multimedia giant, amassing multi-million dollar modeling contracts, selling multi-platinum albums, nabbing principal roles in films, and creating a multimedia company called Headquarter Entertainment. Tyrese developed into a brand unto himself. His striking physique, mature-beyond-his-years vocal style, keen acting sense, and positive public message and attitude enabled him to appeal to a broad swath of the entertainment market.
Possessed Stunning Good Looks, Smooth Singing Style
Tyrese Gibson was born on December 30, 1978, and grew up in the tough south-central Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. He was the youngest of four children raised by his single mother, Priscilla Murray. The scene of civil unrest both in the 1960s and after the Rodney King verdict in the 1990s, Watts was a neighborhood beset by drugs and gang warfare, but Tyrese was determined to avoid falling into the way of life they represented. He threw himself into one school activity after another, playing football and basketball and joining the track team. "Everything I could do to stay out of harm's way, I did," he told People.
A popular and naturally outgoing student, Tyrese was voted most talented in his class and also class clown. "I've always been the in-your-face, nothing-to-hide kind of guy," he recalled in People. But one school activity above all others kept him centered: music. Tyrese found encouragement and guidance from Locke High School music teacher Reggie Andrews, who commented to People that his young student "turned a negative energy around to a positive." When Tyrese was 14, he began to enter, and to win, local talent contests around Los Angeles.
Two years later, Coca-Cola advertising directors looking for fresh talent came to Locke High School. Tyrese's career got off to an unpromising start when he almost missed his audition, but he turned the situation around with his rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky." It didn't take Coke's executives long to sign him for an upcoming television commercial. That advertisement went on to become one of the most distinctive and memorable in the company's long history of media campaigns. It featured Tyrese boarding a city bus with an earphone radio over his head, singing quietly to himself. Though the song merely extolled the virtues of Coke as a soft drink, viewers reacted positively to the smooth stylings and natural good looks of the spot's young lead actor.
The commercial did not escape the notice of talent watchers in the Los Angeles music industry, just then in the early stages of planning a massive effort to appeal to teenage consumers by signing artists of that same age group. Pop artists such as Britney Spears, country singers such as LeAnn Rimes, and urban contemporary artists such as Brandy and Monica had demonstrated the potential appeal of teenage vocalists, and a bidding war erupted among several labels vying for the services of the hot new phenomenon. Tyrese finally signed with the RCA/BMG conglomerate in 1998. He kept a hand in the modeling arena as well, appearing in advertisements for the Tommy Hilfiger clothing firm and others.
Asserted Own Ideas Early in Career
Far from being simply a pretty face that served as the vehicle for the musical and marketing ideas of others, Tyrese had considerable creative input into his debut album release, entitled simply Tyrese, which appeared in the fall of 1998. He co-wrote the album's first single, "Nobody Else," and, despite the common practice of incorporating guest appearances by big-name rappers into the releases of new artists, performed the song's rap himself. The album won critical praise, and "Nobody Else" cracked the top 15 on Billboard magazine's R&B singles chart and even crossed over to the Pop Top 40.
Various top creative talents in the R&B field were brought in to work on Tyrese, but Tyrese himself proved to have the versatility to succeed in several different musical styles. The follow-up to "Nobody Else," the harmony-laden "Sweet Lady," became the album's biggest hit, reaching the top spot on the R&B chart in 1999. The song earned Tyrese a Grammy Award nomination for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance at the awards ceremony held the following year. Tyrese also gained strong airplay for a third single from the album, "Lately." His efforts were rewarded with platinum level sales and an American Music Award for Favorite New Artist in 2000.
Tyrese immediately set about building upon the success of the album. He contributed a song, "Criminal Mind," to the soundtrack of the hit Martin Lawrence film Blue Streak, and landed a host slot on the hip-hop oriented MTV Jams program on cable television. Guest slots on television series flowed his way: he appeared on Martin, Sister Sister, Moesha, and Hangin' with Mr. Cooper. He appealed to audiences of many different backgrounds; though firmly rooted in the R&B and hip-hop genres, he expressed a desire to collaborate musically with country superstar Garth Brooks. The pursuit of sheer exposure was the smartest move Tyrese could have made, for his physical appearance was remarkable.
Sporting a bald head shaved since age 16, a pierced lower lip (the ring he wore was dropped in the year 2000), and nine tattoos, Tyrese was best known for his bodybuilder physique. MTV veejay Ananda Lewis, quoted in People, spoke admiringly of his "12-pack abs." But few knew of the concentrated stretch of weightlifting that the entertainer had put into forging his new physical image, which had not come naturally to him at all. "I had to get in shape for my first video," he told Ebony. "I wasn't in shape at all. My trainer, Sandy Alexander Cochran, got me in shape in three months. What you see in that video is just three months of work." The work paid off: in Ebony's words, "[H]e has one of those bodies that might as well be made of neon for all the attention it attracts." In late 1999, Tyrese became the first male model under exclusive contract to the successful Guess jeans line, signing a multi-million dollar deal.
At a Glance …
Born Tyrese Darnell Gibson on December 30, 1978; grew up in Los Angeles, CA, in Watts neighborhood; youngest of four children; mother's name: Priscilla Murray Gibson. Education: Locke High School, Los Angeles, 1996.
Career : Coca-Cola television commercial, actor and singer, 1995; RCA label, recording artist, 1998-2001; Guess brand, model, 1999; actor, 2001-; Headquarter Entertainment, founder, 2001-; J Records, recording artist, 2002-.
Awards : Grammy award nomination, Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, for "Sweet Lady," 2000; American Music Award, for Favorite New Artist, 2000;
Addresses: Office—Headquarter Entertainment, 1635 N. Cahuenga Blvd., 2nd Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Web—www.headquarterentertainment.com.
The success of his debut album enabled Tyrese to attract the talents of such producers as Babyface, Jermaine Dupri, Rodney Jenkins, and Diane Warren, for his sophomore CD release, 2000 Watts. Tyrese co-wrote many of the songs on the album and hoped that the sound would tap into the quality works of R&B classics, explaining to Jet that "there's something about R&B oldies that you can play 'em today and they still sound good and make you feel good. That's what I'm trying to get back in touch with on this album, and I just hope people are going to enjoy it not just for the moment, but for many years from now." The album ultimately went platinum. He followed it with another R&B album in 2002, I Wanna Go There.
Scored Silver Screen Roles
More than a toned physique and smooth voice, Tyrese had other talents to offer. Director John Singleton picked Tyrese to play a principal role in his first movie to revisit social dilemmas in South Central Los Angeles since Boyz N the Hood. In Baby Boy, Tyrese played Jody, a young man drifting through his life without a strong sense of responsibility for his future path. Chicago Defender movie critic Earl Calloway found the movie "seriously compelling" and Tyrese's performance "truly profound." Singleton picked Tyrese again for subsequent projects, including 2 Fast 2 Furious in 2003 and Four Brothers in 2005.
Tyrese did not have to rely on Singleton to build his acting career, however. Tyrese filmed on location in Africa for Flight of the Phoenix, a 2004 remake of a 1965 film about surviving a plane crash in the desert, and followed that with a turn as a strict Naval officer in Annapolis. By his sixth film, Waist Deep, Tyrese secured his first starring role. He played O2, a recently released convict who struggles to retrieve his kidnapped son without landing himself back in prison. Evidence of Tyrese's time in the limelight came when he landed a role in the Steven Spielberg blockbuster Transformers. The live-action film was released in 2007 at a time when 1980s style had once again become fashionable. Adults who remembered the action figure toys, animated television series, and popular film about the characters from their childhood in the 1980s were as enthralled with the live-action film as legions of young adults being introduced to the characters by Spielberg. Tyrese spoke about the popularity of the film with Sandy Cohen of the Seattle Times, saying "You feel good talking about the Transformers as a grown man. It doesn't make you feel like you're talking about the Care Bears or something."
Introduced Alter Ego
As Tyrese worked on films, he did not abandon his music. In Africa, he came up with the notion for an original concept for an R&B crooner. He decided to make a double album, Alter Ego, with two distinct parts: one hip-hop raps and another R&B songs. After multi-platinum sales of his earlier R&B albums, Tyrese's experimentation with his "alter ego," Black-Ty the rapper, seemed fresh. No other singer had recorded such a project. Rapping was not new to Tyrese; during his teenage years he had rapped as a part of a group called Triple Impact, as he told Allison Kugel of PR.com. While Tyrese thrilled to the idea of introducing another facet of his personality to his fans, he acknowledged that his two identities might not appeal to the same crowd. He planned to keep his musical styles separate and identifiable to his fans by continuing to use the moniker Black-Ty for his emcee work. "Because Tyrese is an R&B singer and Black-Ty is an emcee. I didn't want my fans to show up to buy a Tyrese CD and hear me rapping on it. It's two different experiences, two different worlds," he told Kugel. Tyrese described his hip-hop music as a "man's man album" to Audrey J. Bernard of the New York Beacon and added that "The R&B side is for the ladies." The album quickly went multi-platinum.
Tyrese had plans to cultivate his female fan base in the fall of 2007. Joining with Ginuwine and Tank as a musical super group, Tyrese scheduled "The Shirts Off Tour," which promised to highlight the attractive, chiseled physiques of the men, as well as their smooth, soulful voices. "It's going to be the ultimate female experience," Tyrese told August Brown of the Los Angeles Times.
Laid Foundations of Media Empire
As Tyrese's fame grew, he did not cut off one portion of his career to pursue another. Instead he maintained a well-rounded approach that enabled him to lay the foundations of what would become a multimedia empire. Tyrese explained his business approach to Bernard: "My mom taught me when I was young, you're blessed with so many talents, so many capabilities that you have to expose things one at a time. You don't want to overwhelm people."
His empire rested firmly on his roots. At the onset of his commercial success, Tyrese did something quite unusual: he generously acknowledged and thanked those who had helped him when he had nothing. With his first flush of success, he purchased a plush suburban home for his mother. As his star rose, he maintained an interest in helping others. He returned frequently to his Watts neighborhood, appearing at community festivals, working with inner-city young people, visiting schools, and consistently speaking out against the scourge of drugs. Through his 2000 Watts Foundation, he raised and donated millions of dollars to give back to his community. "I don't want the children's dreams," he explained to People, "to be as small as the houses they live in." As his star has continued to rise, Tyrese's reputation as a kind and generous community member remained intact, only adding to his commercial appeal.
Cultivating so many facets of his career required more than Tyrese's personal drive. He needed an organization. After returning from filming in Africa, Tyrese set up Headquarter Entertainment in 2001 as a multimedia company, with film, graphic arts, management, recording, publishing, and travel among its many divisions. Tyrese developed the company to grow whether or not his star continued to rise. "At the end of the day, I love fame and popularity, but the day that it all stops I will still be able to run something that's successful," Tyrese told Kugel.
Tyrese, RCA, 1998.
2000 Watts, RCA, 2001.
I Wanna Go There, J Records, 2002.
Alter Ego, J Records, 2006.
Baby Boy, 2001.
2 Fast 2 Furious, 2003.
Four Brothers, 2005.
Flight of Phoenix, 2004.
Waist Deep, 2006.
Chicago Defender, June 27, 2001, p. 19; June 23-25, 2006, p. 5.
Ebony, October 1999, p. 62.
Jet, June 5, 2000, p. 41; June 25, 2001, p. 60.
Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2007, p. F14.
New York Beacon, January 4-10, 2007, p. 18.
People, November 13, 2000, p. 111; July 30, 2001, p. 83.
PR Newswire, May 30, 2000, p. 0233.
Seattle Times, July 11, 2007, p. F6.
Star Interviews, July 9, 2001, p. 1.
WWD, November 11, 1999, p. 13.
Tyrese/Black-Ty,www.tyrese.com (July 24, 2007).
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