Harris makes music as T.Y.E., an acronym for The Young Enlightened. The depression Harris lives with is his darkness, and the music he creates is the light that combats it. It's the topic of his breakout song, “La La Land,” which generated buzz and caught the attention of a Los Angeles record label. P.O.W. Recordings released the 22-year-old's debut, 32, today.
“La La Land” opens with an ethereal beat, but the attraction is Harris’ voice. He sings in a beautiful baritone register that he developed while studying opera at Abilene Christian University. When Harris sings about contemplating suicide, the effect is haunting.
As the beat builds, Harris begins a rapid flow; his lyricism is sharp. But when the "ba-rump-bump-bum" comes, Harris transforms. He begins rapping with an exaggerated, aggressive growl, demonstrating a range of artistry rarely seen in hip-hop. This versatility has earned him features in The Fader, Pigeons & Planes and SPIN.
The nine other tracks on 32 are equally theatrical and intense. Harris produced all the songs on the album with his brother and lays out his views on depression and mental health wile touching on topics like heartbreak and his confidence, or lack thereof.
“We’re not supposed to think about our anxieties," Harris says of his peers in the neighborhood. "We’re supposed to be optimistic; we’re not supposed to be scared or feel fear. We’re supposed to be tough, but we go through so many bad experiences, and the people around me go through so much stuff, and I’m so close to them that it affects you.”
Harris occasionally feels pulled back into depression. Last year, after the release of "La La Land," he had a difficult time because of a run-in he'd had with a friend from middle school.
“I had just got my hair cut and I saw my homie JQ," Harris says. "The next week, he died. It’s like … am I that close to death?”
Harris' burgeoning music career won't let him give into temptation and isolate. Now that Harris is starting to get gigs and his name is generating a buzz, it's essential for him to go out, be a part of the scene and support other artists. Despite some of the behavior you might witness in his music videos, Harris isn't much of a partier.
But even as he tries to move on, reasons to be afraid and anxious keep presenting themselves. The morning after his first night out in years, he learned that a teenager from his neighborhood had been shot just hours after his high school graduation.
“That’s what this shit is about. He was trying to go to school and make something of himself,” Harris says. “The boy is dead now. It hurt me because the 'hood was hurting. That’s just a recurring thing, and that’s what we deal with.”
Harris intends to continue to use the push and pull of dark and light that he observes both around him and within him to carve out a path forward.
“It’s very much who I am. It’s a two-headed snake," he says. "You have to go through darkness in order to appreciate the sunlight. Everybody got through something, but how we come out of it is how we’re defined.”
T.Y.E.'s album release party for 32 is tonight, June 9 at Dada. Doors open at 9pm