On the third day of Rolling Loud California this past March, the Sunshine State turned out for the Golden State. Ski Mask the Slump God, Danny Towers and DJ Scheme—leading voices of the Soundcloud-powered Florida rap of the 2010s—had gathered on stage for Towers’ rousing track “Florida Water.” A skinny, grinning teen, one of hip-hop’s most talked-about new artists, bounced in to deliver a verse that starts, “Got these n-ggas mad, I took off and kicked the door in.” Many in the plugged-in crowd already knew the name, but just in case, Ski Mask did the honors: “Make some noise for our brother, Luh Tyler! ”
“When Ski Mask brought me out, it was turnt!” Tyler tells GQ over the phone in late March. The rapper, born Tyler Meeks in Tallahassee, had only turned 17 two weeks before Rolling Loud, where he also performed a five song afternoon set. Nine months ago, he released his first song. And just a couple weeks ago, he dropped his first mixtape, My Vision, on Atlantic Records. With an unmistakable Southern twang, raspy laid-back flow and charisma for days, Tyler is among the most likable talents to emerge in recent rap memory.
Fast fame is common in hip-hop today. But Tyler only got started in earnest last year, when he began recording onto his phone using BandLab. He posted his raw first tracks, “Planet Fitness” and “Jayda Wayda” (a slinky, thirsty nod to Instagram influencers), last June. But it was his third release, an interpolation of Detroit rapper Veeze’s “Law & Order” called “Law & Order Pt. 2” that really broke things open. Part ode to his hometown, with shout-outs to Florida State and Waffle House, part introduction to his young player persona, it was a step up sonically, thick with the swirly rhymes that have become his trademark.
Tyler’s reedy, chilled-out delivery is instantly recognizable once you’ve heard it—and in a jam-packed hip-hop world, standing out is essential. Many of rap’s hottest recent newcomers are angsty, dropping obscure imagery. But there’s nothing dark or mysterious Tyler, who has described his sound as “smooth, playa, groovy-type beats.” “We’ll get street sometimes,” he says. “But our songs, whoever I collaborate with, we mostly keep it mellow-type shit. I’m just a chill person!”
“Poppin’ Shit” is the only song on the new mixtape that could be described as menacing, (gritty Atlanta rapper Anti Da Menace makes the one reference to guns, in his guest verse.) “I mean, the street, it be around you,” Tyler says. “But a lot of people be trying to glorify it, and I ain’t gonna lie to you, that’s not what it is, for real. There’s more ways, better ways, to live—legal ways.” You also won’t hear molly, Xans, percs or any drugs referenced in his lyrics, unless you count his oft-repeated line about “kissing on Mary Jane.” “I don’t even consider weed a drug, that shit be legal!” he explains. “I don’t wanna mess with all that.” Instead, Tyler keeps an eye on his money, which is the advice he most often gets from older rappers. “I’m really a cheap ass!” he says with a laugh. “I’m not gonna be spending on women like that. I don’t wear designer, nothing like that.”
Good, clean fun is the common denominator in his videos, like the sunny clip for “Back Flippin” that finds him literally back flipping from a boat into the waters of Miami while flashing a gold grill and sporting a bucket hat. In “Law & Order Pt. 2,” he goofs with his friends in the Florida capital, a city that hasn’t produced a major artist since a certain progenitor of Auto-Tune put a “T” in his name to honorTallahassee. “I ain’t gonna lie, it ain’t been no big jits outta Tally since T-Pain,” says Tyler. The term “Florida Rap” has long been synonymous with South Florida, Dade and Broward Counties, which gave rise, when Tyler was just a young “jit”, to the crews Raider Klan and Members Only, and the solo careers of Ski Mask, Danny Towers, Robb Banks, Denzel Curry, Kodak Black, XXXTentacion, and more.
But with the recent rise of locals like Future protege Real Boston Richey, Wizz Havinn and Luh Tyler, Tallahassee is leading a new wave of North Florida rap with a dash of the Motor City flavor. “I feel like most Detroit beats be like, smooth,” Tyler says, explaining their appeal. “I mean, they got turnt beats too, but most of them have a groove to them.” He’s a fan of Detroit’s Babyface Ray and the influence of wobbly of Michigan hip-hop, which is flecked with horns, piano, strings and synth squiggles, are all over My Vision, including a particularly faded track, “Moncler On My Coat.”
It was, fittingly, the most laidback season that Tyler went all-in on rapping last year: Summer. “If I ever played around and freestyled, it would be just some weird funny stuff, playing around with my cousins,” he says. “But then the summertime came, and I started to take it serious.” School was out, which meant he wouldn’t have to face his classmates if his songs fell flat. “I thought, if I’m ever gonna try this, I gotta try it right now. I don’t got to be around nobody, so if they don’t fuck with it then they don’t fuck with it.”
At the encouragement of friends on a group chat, he mustered the confidence to drop “Planet Fitness.” Three singles, including the viral hit “Law & Order,” later, Tyler returned to Godby High School as a celebrity. It was his junior year. “They’d be walking through the halls, playing my stuff,” he says. Some teachers said Tyler was becoming a “distraction,” he remembers, and there was talk of him transferring. “I was like, well then, I should just leave.”
Only when “Law & Order Pt. 2” began putting up serious numbers and calls from record label A&Rs started coming in did Tyler tell his mom he was dropping out of school to pursue music. “Oh, these people think I really got a chance!” he remembers thinking. “I might have to tell my mom about this! And then labels started calling, and then she really got excited, telling me how proud of me she is.”
As he released a string of singles and videos through the fall (“Fat Racks,” “A Day in the Noya” with Pompano Beach’s LOE Shimmy, “Can’t Move Wrong” with Deerfield Beach’s Trapland Pat, “Back Flippin’” and “Dennis”) the shout-outs and DMs started pouring in from the likes of Rubi Rose, Trippie Redd and even Lil Uzi Vert, leading to the crucial guest feature on the cross-generational collab “Florida Water.”
It’s been a quick learning curve for Tyler, who confesses that he didn’t know basics like having to pay for beats or hire a manager. His cousin Var signed on for the role, despite never having managed a musician, and before long they were meeting with record companies. They settled on Atlantic, because Tyler liked the “chill” young staff. (Atlantic is also arguably the leading label in terms of breaking new rap talent.) This week, Tyler will tour Florida high schools to support the mixtape, “just to interact with the kids, and shit.” And perhaps to encourage them not to drop out. At least not until they have a record deal.