After a long leg of work, Tyrese Gibson is riding up the side of a mountain and sees his house from a view. He stops the car, pulls out his iPhone, snaps a picture, and uploads it to Twitter. His message reads: “So glad to finally be home.” The car goes back into drive and continues home. It’s still relatively early in the night. And to my disbelief, the party scene is no longer his scene. “I’m 32,” he says with a chuckle. “I don’t want to go to clubs every night wildin out. You hit a club every now and then and dance a little bit and you get out of there. When you get older things start to slow down. Not for everybody but for most of us.”
I could understand his reasoning. He is fresh off of a blockbuster summer with ‘Transformers 3’ and ‘Fast and Furious Five’, promoting his first book, ‘How To Get Out of Your Own Way’ all while wrapping his new album ‘Open Invitation’. Who wouldn’t want to be in the comfort of their own home to finally relax? As I begin to tell him my reaction to reading his book (the first book I ever read in a single sitting) he confessed that he felt like he was about to cry. They wouldn’t have been tears of sorrow, but tears of accomplishment.
“I don’t consider myself an author,” He says slowly. “I more consider myself as a man with a message, a man with clarity. Everything that I put into that book, that’s what I live my life by every single day. I’m not some fly sexy dude that’s on TV caught up in celebrity and star power. I’m a thinking man. There are soo many people that can’t see but have eyes. Can’t see what’s right in front of you. They always say that if you want to keep something from Black Men, put it in a book. I wrote this book for you. It wasn’t easy getting through this. It’s a different level of playing field out here and I’m not even motivated by the money, I’m motivated by impact. If what I’m doing don’t impact people, I missed the mark.”
Tyrese has come a long way from the kid playing cops and robbers with his friend Daniel in his 113th and Grape neighborhood of Watts, California. His upbringing was enough to push him into the direction of failure, jail, or drugs. Instead, he took the values that he learned from his step-father Mr. Charlie along with the anti-role modeling influences that he received from the other men in his mother’s life after Mr. Charlie passed away and pushed for goals, and the life that he wanted and dreamed of…anything outside of Watts. The start of that goal was making it to school.
There were a few obstacles that stood in the way of Tyrese gaining an education. First, he was diagnosed ADHD because he was extremely hyper and the class clown. This lead to the second issue of him being placed in a behavioral private school. The third issue and probably the biggest was the gang activity in his neighborhood. Growing up in Crip hoods, he was becoming a casualty of peer-pressure. That’s until he met his match in an OG (Original Gangsta) named Dirtbike Fred. Fred did Tyrese one of the biggest favors of his childhood, he literally kicked him in his ass and told him to get off of the block and to stop trying to be a Crip.
“It takes a Dirtbike Fred to get off of the block,” Tyrese says laughing. “It takes them because that’s who we look up to. So if they’re telling you to get out of there, what are you going to do? ‘Nah I’m staying’. I wish you would stay. Everybody is scared of the big homies in the hood. Nobody wants to piss the big homies off. They push a button and it’s crackin.”
So Tyrese did what he was told. He got off of the block and relocated to the grocery store parking lot. He wasn’t there to be a thug, he was there to try to make enough money to eat and eventually to catch the bus to school. There was a system at the grocery store that you had to put a quarter in the cart mechanism for the lock to release. When you take the cart back and connect it back to the row of carts, your quarter popped back out. As any hungry, eager kid would realize “If I take these carts back for the quarter, I can have enough money to get something to eat.” Well, that’s not the way that the shoppers saw it. It was their quarter and they were going to keep it, even if they did have a cart full of groceries.
Tyrese, after six-seven hours of hustling carts, begging to pump gas for change, cutting grass, doing anything that he could, walked 5 miles back to his house many nights with no money or no food and would go to bed hungry. This would go on from the age of ten, through high school. The high school was 2 miles away through numerous different sets of gang territory. And the bus (which was $1.10) was more out of financial reach than within most of the time. He would have never thought that those people telling him “NO” would connect to the “NO” that he will receive as an adult.
“The thing is, I wasn’t afraid of no anymore,” he says sternly. “I just wasn’t afraid of it. If you’re asking someone for a quarter and they say ‘NO’, what are you going to do? I ask for a part in a movie, ‘NO’. Alright, that don’t feel good, but it’s not going to cut me nearly as much as that quarter did. All I asked for was the quarter that you get when you put your shopping cart back and they told me ‘NO’. You don’t have nothing on me, man. I used to wait in line for free cheese. I don’t have a problem calling and asking somebody for something. There’s no pride or ego here. If I need it, I’m going to call and get it. So many people come off like I don’t want to feel like I’m beggin, jockin , or whatever. You can’t be concerned with that. If I can’t figure something out, do you know how fast I will pick up the phone and call Will Smith. They’ll say ‘he’s in the middle of shooting Men In Black 3’ I’m like ‘aiight, that’s okay, I’ll hold on, just tell him to keep shooting. I’ll be here.’ The hood will rip all of the pride, ego, and self-inflated arrogance out of you, man. I had to get through the whole childhood thing. Everybody always focuses on the outcome. ‘Aw yeah, he’s a success story.’ Yeah, that’s happening now. You have no idea what I went through to get here.”
After his infamous Coca-Cola commercial that was filmed during his later years of high school, Tyrese hit a pivotal moment in his life. The realization of not being able to afford to ride the bus, he turned that the vehicle into the transformation of who he was becoming. He was gaining the attention that he worked hard for and dreamed of. His circle contained all of the right people professionally, but the wrong people were still looming in his corner personally. It’s hard to break away from the people that you grow up with. It’s even harder to break away from the people that you share DNA with. However, Tyrese asked himself a mature and serious question…“How much do I love myself?”
That question lead to the understanding that there’s only one Tyrese. For that matter, there is only one of anyone. There may be people with the same name spelled the same way, but no one can compare you, your life story, your legacy. No person has your parents, your brothers or sister, and no person has your upbringing or story. Tyrese is his own man, he’s not a Siamese twin, head is not connected, heart is not connected, chest cavity to anyone else. He is an individual. “I recognized that early on,” he explains. “I used to go out of my way to ‘keep it real’, whatever that means. ‘Keepin it real’ is expensive, man. It’s draining. I don’t have the energy for that, man.” With making this decision, Tyrese had to come to the reasoning that even the people that were not intentionally holding him back, they could still be a deterrence because of their comfort level with him. But it’s very important that this mentality is not considered “hating” on him. Tyrese has a completely different explanation.
“It’s more so, I see something that you don’t see,” he begins to rationalize. “I want to see this project go to another level. How much research are you doing? How much due diligence and research are you doing? It has nothing to do with being a black man. Your outreach can be a lot bigger than what it is. But what are you doing? Who are you aligning yourself up with? What type of resources and relationships are you taking advantage of to make sure that you leverage your brand and what you’re doing with the world? So when you are excited and your start explaining and going into details with your immediate circle and they’re like, ‘Man I don’t know, dog. I like what you’re doing right now. You ain’t even gotta do all that extra shit you’re talkin’ about doing’ That’s not hating, that’s more so, they don’t see what you see. And you have to be okay with that. And then later they’ll be like ‘Yo, I know you told me about that like 2 years ago, you wasn’t fuckin around son.’ ‘No, I was not.’ Only those that can see the invisible can achieve the impossible.”
Beating the odds of life will bring on the fans and the foes. We all know how to deal with both. Nonetheless, when you have a spotlight on you, the droves will pour in ten times heavier and 10 times faster. Celebrities, on the inside, are the same as all of us. The difference is that their passions and loves for what they do in life, places their exterior in the forefront of the public perception. With that said, we as the public sometimes forget that they are human. They have bad days, they want privacy, and above all, they want normalcy. When we don’t want to be bothered, we avoid stores where people may not know us or clubs where we are a different face. Imagine not having that place. Imagine not being able to go in public without being recognized. Imagine people following you home, through restaurants, sitting outside of every door you walk through. It’s a different playing field. People like Brad Pitt, Janet Jackson, Beyonce’, and the late Michael Jackson all have a super celebrity status that Tyrese isn’t really sure he wants. He doesn’t feel that it is for him. At some point, it becomes too much.
“When it comes to fans, you don’t own me,” Tyrese pleas. “I’m not yours. You supported my career and helped me grow but you don’t own me and I don’t own you. So if you feel like taking a picture and I don’t feel like taking a picture, that’s just what it is. I’m not here at your beckoning call and your absolute disposal because I’m a public figure that you supported. Some people be stealing and sneaking pictures with gadgets and filming you on their iPhones and when you get mad all of a sudden it’s on you. ‘He wasn’t supposed to snap on me because I was filming him on my iPhone’ I don’t want to be filmed. I’m having a private conversation that has nothing to do with that person. Yes, I’m a public figure but I’m human and you’re just doing too much.”
“So yeah I understand the excitement of the fans because I’m still a fan. I want to take pictures with people sometimes but people are not always in the mood. Do you wake up happy every day and ready to take pictures, and do everything that everybody wants you to do? You don’t know what that person could have been dealing with that day. You’re excited and that’s cool but my uncle just died. I’m not in a good mood. So I don’t have the energy to match the energy that you’re giving me. If I had it my way I wouldn’t be walking through this airport right now. I’d be at home mourning the loss of my uncle. But I have things to do that are scheduled that I cannot get out of. So I’m still mourning and my energy is not going to change because you just ran into me all excited. That’s just the truth. I’ve heard fans say ‘I’ve made you’ to people. ‘I can ask you to do whatever I want.’ They have it figured out in their head. ‘I bought the album’ and that’s great and I appreciate it. You supported me and I’m grateful, but you don’t own me. You don’t own one piece of me.”