Model and vocalist
With a striking physique, a mature-beyond-his-years vocal style, and a positive message and attitude, the well-muscled singer and fashion model Tyrese was a rising star at the turn of the millennium. Coming to the public’s attention in a Coca-Cola commercial when he was just 16, Tyrese seemed destined to capture the spotlight with a charisma that knocked female observers, especially, off their feet. When musical talent was added into the mix, a star was born. Tyrese seemed ideally poised to exploit the close confluence between music and fashion that has recently marked the American entertainment world.
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 Le Ann 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
At a Glance…
Born Tyrese Gibson on December 30, 1978; grew up in Los Angeles, California, in Watts neighborhood; youngest of four children; mother’s name Priscilla Murray. Education: Locke High School, Los Angeles.
Career: Vocalist and model. Signed to appear in Coca-Cola television commercial, 1995; signed to RCA label; released debut album, Tyrese, 1998; album certified platinum; recorded song “Criminal Mind” for Blue Streak soundtrack, 1999; guest appearances on Martin, Sister Sister, Moesha, and Hangin’ with Mr, Cooper, late 1990s; album 2000 Watts slated for release, 2001.
Awards: Grammy award, Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, for “Sweet Lady,” 2000.
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.
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 fifteen on Billboard magazine’s R&B singles chart and even crossed over to the pop top forty.
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 for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance at the awards ceremony held the following year. Tyrese also gained strong air play for a third single from the album, “Lately.”
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. Despite his newfound success he stayed in touch with his Watts roots, appearing at a community festival there in the year 2000, working with inner-city young people, visiting schools, and consistently speaking out against the scourge of drugs. His purchase of a plush suburban home for his mother in the spring of that year only endeared him further to his legions of female fans. The year 2000 also saw Tyrese hard at work on his sophomore CD release, 2000 Watts, slated to appear in the spring of the following year.
Tyrese, RCA, 1998.
2000 Watts, RCA, 2001.
Ebony, October 1999, p. 62.
Jet, June 5, 2000, p. 41.
People, November 13, 2000, p. 111.
PR Newswire, May 30, 2000, p. 0233.
WWD, November 11, 1999, p. 13.
Additional information was obtained on-line at http://reaction.live.advance.net/entertainment/tyrese/, http://www.allmusic.com, http://www.guess.com/gspot/models/tyrese0/.
—James M. Manheim
Tyrese has touched the full entertainment spectrum, having modeled, released albums, acted in films and commercials, and hosted a television show, all before the age of 22. Despite his multiple interests and talents, singing is most important to the Los Angeles, California, native. “Singing was and still is my first love, and it opened the doors for me in all of the other show business-related things that I do,” he said in an RCA Records biography. Tyrese’s musical endeavors have led to popular success and recognition. Following the release of his self-titled debut album in 1998, Tyrese won an American Music Award for Favorite New Artist-Soul/R&B in 2000. He released his sophomore effort, 2000 Watts, to favorable reviews in 2001.
Tyrese Gibson grew up with his mother, Priscilla Murray, and three siblings in the impoverished Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. His father, Tyrone Gibson, left the family when Tyrese was six years old. Instead of succumbing to the ills of crime-infested streets, Tyrese decided to battle his way out of his neighborhood to improve the standard of living for himself and his family. “It wasn’t easy and I had to watch my back all of the time, but I always believed in myself, and that I could make it out of there,” he said in his RCA biography. The Gibson household was often filled with the sounds of Stevie Wonder, Jodeci, Donny Hathaway, and Marvin Gaye. Those vocalists and groups inspired Tyrese to sing, something that at first he considered a hobby.
In 1995, however, that hobby turned into a career. Tyrese answered an advertisement that was posted at his high school, Los Angeles’ Locke High School, stating that an advertising firm was looking for an African American male, age 16 to 18, for a Coca-Cola commercial. Unable to get a ride to the audition, Tyrese was forced to take the bus, which caused him to be two-and-a-half hours late for his appointment. Luckily, the director was held up in the same traffic. Despite the delay, the budding entertainer got the part.
Tyrese’s brief appearance as a headphone-clad singer in the commercial led to a bidding war among 20 major record labels. He eventually signed to RCA and released his self-titled debut in 1998. Tyrese spawned the hits “Sweet Lady” and “Lately” and hit the platinum sales mark in 1999. In addition to earning an American Music Award for Favorite New Artist-Soul/R&B and a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male R&B Performance as a singer, Tyrese was tapped for acting roles and modeling jobs for big-name outfitters Guess? and Tommy Hilfiger. During a promotional appearance on MTV for Tyrese, he met the producers of MTV Jams, who hired him as the show’s host along with DJ Skribble. As host, Tyrese was responsible for interviewing guests, introducing videos, and entertaining the small audiences chosen to appear on the show. To celebrate the success of his singing, modeling, and television careers, Tyrese bought his mother a lake-front
Born Tyrese Gibson on December 30, 1978.
Model, actor, singer, 1990s–; released debut album for RCA, Tyrese, 1998; released follow-up, 2000 Watts, 2001.
Awards: American Music Award, Favorite New Artist-Soul/R&B, 2000.
home east of Los Angeles as a Mother’s Day gift in 1998.
Tyrese’s career possibilities continued to broaden. He made special appearances on the television shows Martin, Moesha, and Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, as well as the MTV movie Love Song. In 1999, Tyrese auditioned for the part of the lead character Jody in director John Singleton’s then-forthcoming film Baby Boy, a movie originally set to star Tupac Shakur. When the rapper was killed in 1996 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Singleton temporarily shelved the project. Singleton told the Associated Press that Tyrese was a natural for the lead in the film. “He hadn’t had them (the scripts) in advance and he just started doing the character. I was so excited. I saw the character right there. Here I am writing about the streets of Los Angeles and he just read it off the page. He just got it.” To prepare for the film, Tyrese left the music business for six months to study full time with an acting coach.
After beating out rapper Eve and rap/soul trio 702 to win the American Music Award for Favorite New Artist Soul/R&B, Tyrese returned to the studio to record what would become his sophomore album, 2000 Watts. Although Tyrese co-wrote most of the songs, he recruited top-notch producers and writers to help him hone his skills, including Damon Thomas (whose credits include work with Babyface and Dru Hill), Harvey Mason Jr., Babyface himself, Diane Warren, Rodney Jerkins, and Jermaine Dupri. “When you want the best songs, you get the best producers to work with you,” Tyrese said in an RCA biography. In recording the album, it was Tyrese’s goal to strive for longevity. He did not want a flash-in-the-pan, one-hit album. “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,” he said in the biography.
On 2000 Watts, Tyrese offers seductive lyrics (“I Like Them Girls”), dance grooves (“Off The Heazy” and “I Ain’t the One”) and a smooth ballad that the singer wrote in response to a woman who broke up with him after he admittedly cheated on her (“I’m Sorry”). Billboard said that the album “knocks the sophomore-jinx concept on its ear” with a collection “chock-full of strong, radio-friendly tracks.” The album reached number four on the magazine’s R&B charts. The same year, Tyrese formed the 2000 Watts Foundation, an organization he created to allow inner city children to better themselves. A portion of the proceeds from the album 2000 Watts are designated to fund the building of a state-of-the-art community center in Watts, Tyrese’s former Los Angeles neighborhood.
The year 2001 proved to be a busy one for Tyrese. In addition to the release of 2000 Watts on May 22, 2001, the soundtrack to the film Baby Boy, released the same year, included the single “Just a Baby Boy,” which featured Tyrese, rapper Snoop Dogg, and newcomer Mr. Tan. The record marked the first hip-hop/R&B soundtrack released by Universal Records. In July of 2001, Tyrese appeared as a contestant on a celebrity version of ABC’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire television game show.
To Tyrese, his career has been a blessing. “Reaching this point in my career is something I’m really grateful about,” he said in his record company biography. “I also know that I couldn’t be where I am without the help, support and love of my family, friends, fans, and most of all, God.”
Tyrese, RCA, 1998.
2000 Watts, RCA, 2001.
(Contributor) Baby Boy (soundtrack), UNI/Varese, 2001.
Boston Herald, June 29, 2001.
Essence, July 2001.
Jet, June 25, 2001.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 27, 2001.
Naples Daily News, June 29, 2001.
New York Post, July 1, 2001.
Pacific News (San Francisco, CA), May 26, 1999.
People, November 13, 2000; June 30, 2001; July 2, 2001.
Us, July 16, 2001.
Associated Press, http://elections.excite.com/news/ap/010627/12/wkd-tyrese (July 25, 2001).
Billboard, http://www.billboard.com (July 25, 2001).
VH1, http://www.vh1.com/thewire/content/reviews/1444280.jhtml (July 25, 2001).
Vibe, http://www.vibe.com/new/vibewire/20010501/news02.html (July 25, 2001).
Additional information was provided by publicity materials from RCA Records, 2001.