“I’m in Newham right now but you can catch me over in Lagos.” Born and raised in Nigeria before moving to Plaistow (“bang in the middle of Newham”) aged nine, rapper TiZ EAST has been building an enviable catalogue over the past few years, finding a sweet spot between the street tales of Nines and Potter Payper and the party-ready Afroswing of NSG. After showcasing his range by dropping a trio of projects in 2020 — the third one giving us the lascivious ‘Bad Habits’ with Moelogo and Nadia Rose — he was named one of Complex’s top rappers to watch for in 2021.
While the drop rate has understandably levelled off a bit, listeners have since been treated to an increasingly strong run of singles. ‘Unsigned’ was a vibey declaration of independence, while ‘Hello’ found TiZ teaming up with Boj and Donae’o (and cheekily coining the aTRAPiano genre in the process). Earlier this month, he graced his friend Mayzee with a verse on ‘Kingdom Come’, and joined him in the video to celebrate Nigerian Independence Day.
It feels as though TiZ is reaching brand new levels. Recent single and should-have-been summer anthem ‘Yellow Buses’ is arguably his best tune yet. This is due in part to the presence of Berri-Tiga on hook duty: the talented Nigerian singer is still riding high off last year’s ‘Machala’ with Carter Efe, an ode to Afrobeats superstar and fellow countryman Wizkid that reached No.1 on streaming in their home country. Anyone tuned in to TiZ’s channels will have heard him freestyling over songs like Wizkid’s ‘Ojuelegba’ and Davido’s ‘Unavailable’, but his follower count exploded after a video of him chilling in his car and rapping over the ‘Machala’ beat was reposted by Berri-Tiga himself, and the two made plans to record when TiZ returned to Lagos earlier this year.
“Going from freestyling over his song, to being on one with him a couple of months later,” TiZ enthuses, “it was kinda mad! We put the tune out, and people loved it.”
It’s hardly surprising: an effortless fusion of rap and Afrobeats produced by regular collaborator Bayoz Muzik, the song finds TiZ floating over a vibrant guitar lick that echoes the Isaac Hayes song famously flipped for the Geto Boys’ ‘Mind Playing Tricks On Me’. The music channels the energy and the bustle of life in a coastal megalopolis on track to become the world’s most populous city, while TiZ’s lyrics draw a line from his Lagos youth to the elements that define him now: hard work and good vibes.
“They’re wild, nothing like a red bus in the UK,” TiZ explains of the city’s iconic yellow-coloured ‘Danfo’ public minibuses that he used to ride with his mother. “It’s really tight, and your mum’s luggage is probably on top of you. I used to hate them journeys, but that’s how you got around. I was happy over there, though. Obviously we wasn’t rich or nothing, but I wasn’t stressing about nothing — I was a kid, minding my own business!”
"I could be playing some loverboy Drake tune, then the next thing I’ll put on is Digga D. If I’m taking in so much different stuff, why would I only wanna put out one type of music myself? That doesn’t work for me.”
After TiZ moved to London, he was often to be found messing about and rapping with his friends, sometimes uploading music to the internet. If you go digging, there’s probably some early recordings still floating around on YouTube under his government name (“I don’t even wanna hear those songs!”), but it wasn’t until he was in college and started going to the studio regularly that he decided to take music more seriously.
“When I arrived in the UK, I was just listening to the basic music that my generation listened to — 50 Cent, Michael Jackson — but after being around other kids, I discovered artists like N-Dubz and Skepta. Then I started getting deep into it, and even started watching battle raps,” he laughs. “From then, I’ve just been locked into the UK scene, watching it shift from grime to Afroswing to drill to trap.”
Some MCs find success by zeroing in on a hyper-specific sound, and others by flexing their versatility. TiZ has both feet planted firmly in the latter camp, displaying a knack for finding the pocket whether he’s in the mood for drill, Afropop, or throwback 2000s rap. He’s even comfortable vocalling a bassbin detonator like ‘System’, a collab with Simkin who runs the All Centre label alongside founder DJ Pitch. (Side note to labels: more MCs hopping on weird club bits please!)
“I listen to so much different stuff. I’ll be [playing music] in the car with the mandem and they’ll say, how do you switch from this song to that song? I don’t even notice it. I could be playing some loverboy Drake tune, then the next thing I’ll put on is Digga D. If I’m taking in so much different stuff, why would I only wanna put out one type of music myself? That doesn’t work for me.”
In ‘Yellow Buses’, TiZ informs us, “For any bad vibes, I’ve got no reception”. While his lyrics often acknowledge the call of the streets in East London, the tone of the music is always light and fun, and his music videos are committed to good times only. Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of his first music memories is listening to the church choir. “Growing up, music gave me joy, even when the songs weren’t happy songs,” he says. “I want to uplift people, whether I’m telling them about the struggles or not. At the end of the day, you’re breathing, you’re free, you’re better off than someone else out there. I’m putting my music out there to make people vibe. Whatever I’m saying, it’s always gonna sound nice and slick.”
After performing at last year’s inaugural DLT Malta festival, and more recently opening for the likes of Omah Lay and Skiibii, you’d be forgiven for assuming a breakthrough moment was right around the corner. The talent and the grind are both in evidence. What about the strategy? “I’m happy independent, and I wanna see where the music can take me,” TiZ explains. “With the right deal, why not [sign to a label?]. But it’s not something I’m chasing. I’m waiting for it to come to me. Things don’t always go to plan, so I just go with the flow. In the music game, you can’t determine what’s going to happen, you just have to keep pushing. That’s what I’m doing now. I’ve got a good team around me, so we’ll deal with the business when it’s business time.”
For now, it seems TiZ is content with getting the music right, and enjoying seeing it connect with people. That doesn’t mean he’s lacking plans though.
“I need to get back to Naij. By the middle of next year, I should have an EP ready. Maybe before the end of this year I’ll drop another single. I’ve been tryna understand the industry and what direction I’m going in, but next year we’re ready to kick it off. Lagos to London! It’s time to make it happen.”