Brandeis rapper Tré Warner ’22 is back with new work, a name change and a sharper, more mature sense of his artistic identity. The rapper made a quarantine comeback this year with several new singles––the latest of which, “Woah,” was just released in October. Fresh off of the success of “Woah” and its accompanying music video, Warner is hard at work in preparation for his upcoming album, tentatively set to be released this summer.
Some may be too early on in their Brandeis career to remember, but Warner opened Springfest in spring 2019. It was the biggest live crowd that he’s ever performed for––and unfortunately due to the coronavirus pandemic, that record likely won’t be surpassed any time soon. It’s quite an impressive accomplishment for a first-year, but where do you go from there?
“People liked [the Springfest performance], but I think you could probably tell I didn’t know exactly what I was doing just yet,” Warner said in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot. He jokes about the “braggadocious energy” of his old persona. Some may know Warner by that old persona, when he went by Trizzy Tré the Rapper, but he goes by Tyler Hustle now. The name change is just one of many transformations Warner has made to his musical identity over the past year or so.
What’s in the new name? Given to him by his father, Tyler is Warner’s middle name. “Hustle,” meanwhile, refers to his drive to work hard and succeed as a young Black man in college.
The “hustle” concept is “pretty much ingrained in hip hop,” Warner explained. “Originally, it was about hustling as about coming out from the projects, rapping because they hustled in selling drugs … it’s about like finding some type of way out of making it out of there.” While some rappers have used the term “hustle” to refer to selling drugs to escape those conditions, its meaning to Warner lies in his hard work and drive to succeed in college.
Warner’s new single “Woah” gives a nod to that hard work while questioning those who’ve dismissed it: “affirmative action get all of the credit / whenever I kill it or win it or shred it / like I ain’t been putting the work in.”
Warner has experienced this form of dismissal at Brandeis. “You can see that on Brandeis Confessions, like there’s a lot of people who don’t take Black students who come into this university seriously,” he explained. Luckily, the disrespect doesn’t give Warner pause: “I’m Black in America, and you know, I’m doing good …. I put in the work and the results showed,” he told The Hoot. “And if you don’t like it, too bad.”
Busy with school and other responsibilities, Warner hadn’t had time to fully focus on his music in the wake of Springfest. Quarantine presented him with an uninterrupted opportunity to focus on music-making––namely, his freestyle.
Warner has a mini-studio setup in the corner of his bedroom––complete with a microphone and pop filter––so music was just a few steps away while in quarantine. Aside from improving his improvisational skills, freestyling helps him find phrasings that later on become lyrics. Warner often re-records his free-styles for a sharper finish and they form a significant part of this new album. Freestyling is clearly important to Warner’s process: “When you first say it, it comes off more impactful, like you mean it the most, more so than when you write something down and then recite it,” he said.
Warner is still working on his first album, entitled “Good Grief,” which he hopes to release in summer 2021. He started the album in the wake of a close friend’s death in summer 2019. That friend “was actually the first person who wasn’t me to ever listen to my music. He was my first fan, essentially,” Warner told The Hoot. After his friend passed, Warner decided to dedicate his first album to him.
The album takes us through Warner’s grief process in the year that followed his friend’s death. Initially, Warner was focused on moving forward rather than sitting with that grief. He picked up some new vices, in full denial.
The beginning of the album parallels that denial: in the first song, Warner is in shock. But by the second, he raps about making money, signs of grief nonexistent. The listener begins to get the sense that this is merely bravado, and the tension comes to a head in the title track, where “it all comes crashing down” for Warner. In this song, he contends with what he’s realized is a nicotine addiction, and forces himself to take control of the addiction in favor of healthier ways of coping.
By the album’s close, Warner comes out a better person and a better artist. He knows how to face his emotions and he knows how to reach out for help. That same braggadocious energy still rears its head, but Warner believes it has more substance now. “That’s essential to hip hop, you have to brag, but when I brag [now], it’s more about … being a leader for the people around me,” Warner explained. “That’s something that I pride myself on, being able to make sure that the people around me are okay … now that is something you can brag about.”
It’s clear that Warner has become a more intentional artist and developed a more confident sense of his style in this process. I for one can’t wait for the upcoming album, but for now, it seems that the hustle is paying off.