The past decade of rap and R&B has been marked by the hybridization of both genres: rappers who sing, singers who rap, and, in the case of T-Pain, a “Rappa Ternt Sanga.” If T-Pain and Kanye West opened the door for this type of crossover, and Drake knocked the door down, then newcomers such as Bryson Tiller are walking through the Kool-Aid-Man-size hole left in their wake.
So although Tiller is not the first to bring rap sonics to R&B songcraft, he has been one of the best at branding. His debut album, “Trapsoul,” is also a self-described genre: Southern street rap meets soul, with less time spent in the trap and more time spent in the bedroom. On Sunday night, Tiller brought the “Trapsoul” movement to the Fillmore Silver Spring, performing about an hour of material for a sold-out, grown-and-sexy crowd.
The 23-year-old Louisville native, dressed head to toe in black, performed while bathed in deep-hued light and a cloud of fog, as if emulating the cover of Future’s 2015 album, “DS2.” Tiller seamlessly moved from rapping to singing, mostly asking for second chances, making late-night advances and trying to best his competition, either in the music world or for a woman’s attention. A DJ laid down backing tracks, all hi-hat rolls, warm basslines and synth ambience, while a drummer added additional punctuation to the pneumatic percussion on record. Unfortunately, the trap instrumentals often suffocated the soul of Tiller’s vocals.
No matter: The crowd was transfixed, their iPhones in the air as they filmed their own music videos all night. Women shrieked at his racier come-ons — some threw their bras onstage — and everyone, regardless of gender, sang and rapped along.
Tiller dotted his set with a series of chat breaks, explaining how he started from the bottom (working at Papa John’s) and made it to a “here” that features working with Timbaland and hanging out with Drake. It was an earnest, personal touch, but the crowd didn’t seem particularly interested. They were there to hear their favorite songs, whether the K.P. & Envyi-sampling “Exchange,” the slow-motion “Overtime” or his breakthrough single “Don’t.”
Originally posted on his SoundCloud in late 2014, “Don’t” is a particularly Drake-ish ballad that Tiller recorded in his living room. The song slowly but surely became a hit in 2015, and the song’s success looms large on “Trapsoul,” both in how surprised Tiller is at his unexpected fame and how that fame has affected his relationships. That theme, more than anything, is what Tiller has borrowed from Drake. But he’s certainly onto something with trap-soul, as long as the former doesn’t drown out the latter.