What a difference a year makes. In 2003, hip-hop star HighTyde signed with Warner Bros./Word Records, and in 2004 he returned to the independent market where he’d built his reputation. Did he lose anything following this departure? The apparent loss was the backing of a major recording imprint. The swift rhymer born Ryan Evans tells SoulTrain.com Warner Bros. never had his back to begin with. “I sat on the shelf for two years,” he says. “They didn’t know what to do with me.” A skilled writer with marketing experience, HighTyde’s promotion and graphic design background could have been as great an asset as his song making ability. He could have easily taken those attributes to another company in a brightly lit metropolis. Instead, he brought them home to his gritty native Battle Creek, MI because his city desperately needed what he has to offer.
In 2014 HighTyde won the inaugural Midwest Music Challenge, a spin-off of tournament-style music competition Urban Music Challenge designed to bring its indie competitors media exposure. HighTyde graced a number of print and online publications, including this one. With each article he advised how the victory was not just about him. On May 16, 2015, his live performance series Project Cypher, which emanates from The Warehouse in Battle Creek for the second time, will donate proceeds from the event and its related merchandise to benefit Carter Buffum, a 6-year-old suffering from Mitochondrial Disease. The media and his community have his back. What a difference a year makes.
SoulTrain.com: You have done a lot since we spoke with you last year. Are you still, figuratively, vibrating from the aftershocks of winning Midwest Music Challenge?
HighTyde: Oh, absolutely. To this day, I’m still living in the wake of that one moment when my name was announced. It’s been such a surreal experience, and I was lucky enough to take away so much knowledge and learn so much from the criticism. Even though it was a competition, I still don’t look at it like I am, or was, better than any other performer that night. I think part of being a winner in any circumstance is “connection.” Whether you have two cents to your name or two million dollars, people have to be able to connect with you as an artist. In fact, through personal experience, it really just boils down to the artist being themselves. I know it sounds cliché, but there’s a fine line that artists cross between being themselves and creating a fictional representation of themselves in their music.
SoulTrain.com: With the support you’re getting, it doesn’t appear you’re seen as a fictional representation all.
HighTyde: I think when you’re relatable people tend to get behind you. I’ve always considered myself to be somewhat of an underdog, the guy who’s fighting for the respect, the guy who wants to earn it, rather than believe he deserves it. One of the greatest aspects of hip-hop music, or any form of art for that matter, is that it’s subject to opinion. I don’t consider my win to be self-indulgent, but rather a win for all of the local artists who are out there grinding and trying to have their voice heard. It was really a win for the community, and a win for the culture that I love.
SoulTrain.com: Entertainers tend to ramp up on creative and personal self-indulgence following a major or significant career achievement. Tell us why you’ve done the opposite.
HighTyde: This seems to be a very typical practice, especially in the music industry. It really all boils down to ego and what I tend to call the “taste of fame.” It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the notion that once you reach certain levels of success in your career that you’re the man, you can’t be stopped, you’re on top of the game and everyone loves you. I think, as artists, we start off hungry. When success happens, then the fame and ego begin to set in. When the ego starts to outweigh the hunger and passion, I think artists begin to lose sight of why they became artists in the first place. Artists who give into inflated ego tend to forget about the team mentality and instead attempt to take on the world by themselves.
SoulTrain.com: So can you tell us specifically why you remain humble despite success?
HighTyde: The reason I continue to remain humble and gracious for the opportunities I’m given, the fans I have, and the connections I make, is simply because I’m still learning as I go. In fact, I never stop learning. The day I stop learning and taking in knowledge is the day I cease to improve and grow as an artist. I don’t ever want to become the one thing I firmly stand against.
SoulTrain.com: Imagine for a second your life and career if you were still with Warner Bros, and you’d released a multi-platinum-selling album. Would you have time to be so concerned with helping others?
HighTyde: It’s sort of an interesting question. Personally, yes, because that’s the kind of person I am, and that’s a big part of where my aim would be. As to whether the record company would be behind it is completely up in the air. The music industry is a very touchy subject with its contracts and legalese, that I suspect at times, artists get to a point where their hands are tied behind their back with no control over what they “want to do,” but rather what they’re contractually obligated to do. I love music. I got into music so I could express my creativity in the only way I knew how. And what some would call “success,” I simply call “respect.”
SoulTrain.com: Does that respect come easier because you’re in total control?
HighTyde: As an independent artist, I love having complete freedom and control over my path. I find it easier to be able to help and inspire people without contractual obligations.
SoulTrain.com: If you could have just one more career achievement, and never another thereafter, what would it be?
HighTyde: I think as far as a single career achievement, it’s really hard to say because each day is filled with so many new opportunities and directions to go. If anything, I would simply like to just be an inspiration to a whole new generation of artists and promoters. I know in my heart I’m living proof that no matter how much people put you down and tell you that you’ll never be successful, with hard work and dedication you can be successful and reach your goals. Be gracious, be humble, and most importantly, be respectful, because you’re always making an impression on someone. One of my mottos from the beginning is and always will be, “If you’re not inspiring, you’re irrelevant.”
SoulTrain.com: What you’re doing for Carter Buffum, his family, and for the benefit of others suffering from Mitochondrial Disease is inspiring. If you look at the basis of why Kool Herc created hip-hop, the reasons were charitable. HighTyde, under what circumstance would you not use your success and resources to give back?
HighTyde: Simply put, there is no set of circumstances that would cause me to not want to give back. I think that the majority of artists, myself included, have a tendency to begin their careers chasing after visions of grandeur. But that just wasn’t satisfying to me. It became less about the money and the fame, but rather, what can I truly do with the skills and the resources that I have, that so many artists choose not to do. Charities have always been a big deal to me. Through my journey of self-discovery, one thing I’ve found to be true is that it’s so much more self-satisfying knowing that I performed at a benefit for a good cause than headlining a show and making a profit. I believe when you help others, others want to help you. I can’t speak personally for other artists, because I’m the only one who has to walk in my shoes day to day. We all have our own agendas. But in the grand scheme of things, I think when artists come together they can really do some good for their communities and surrounding areas.
—Mr. Joe Walker