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Up-and-comer Tairey mixes art and hip hop

"I want this project to remind me that it is OK that I don't know who I am right now."

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Most teenagers are worried about prom, college applications or keeping up with trending topics on Twitter. In a basement on the North Side two years ago, though, Tairey Perez was already creating his own trends. Not concerned with being the most popular in school, Tairey (who goes only by his first name professionally) was instead sending out emails to publications and blogs for his Belly of the Beast mixtape-release party. He had put the event together himself with help from a few friends — far from the typical high schooler. "Nobody my age [was] putting together their own release parties," he recalls.

Now, at 19, Tairey is preparing for another release — Celestial, a new EP for which he's holding a listening party Nov. 22.

Tairey knew what he wanted to become at a very young age. When he was 3 years old, his mother made him a makeshift stage so he could perform for his teddy bears in the living room. The bug of being a performer stemmed from his father, Juan Perez, an aspiring hip-hop musician.

"He would perform in front of huge crowds and tour with huge artists," Tairey remembers. That's when Tairey knew he wanted to be a performer. "I just feel like seeing the performance part of it inspired me to rap." Juan didn't force his son into the family business. He's always been laid-back in his approach to Tairey's work — but does give his son opinions on his music. "He was like, ‘Yeah, I really like what you're doing,'" says Tairey. "He tells me his honest opinion, but he doesn't try to be a part of what I am doing."

Thick as thieves, Tairey and Sam Conturo
  • Photo by Heather Mull
  • Thick as thieves: Tairey (right) and Sam Conturo

At first glance it would be very easy to compare Tairey to Drake —in the content of the music and his vocal affectations. "I hate it," Tairey says, putting his hand over his face. "That's my biggest pet peeve ever. Wet socks and people saying ‘this sound like that' are the two things I hate the most."

While he acknowledges Drake, Lupe Fiasco and Kanye as his three favorite artists, Tairey would rather be compared to Boaz, Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller. "I can't relate to Drake," he says. "I can relate to Mac because we're from the same place." But ultimately, he'd rather not be part of a comparison at all. "It's like telling a ... painter that their work looks like someone else's," he says. "Just appreciate it for what it is."

The art world plays a lot into Tairey's background. "Growing up in Boston and being close to New York, my Mom used to always send me to museums," he says, smiling and seeming to drift back to that stage of his life. He brought that interest directly into his new project. "For this album, we have an artist [who] painted a piece for each of the songs," he explains. Tairey will showcase the artwork, by Delaware-based Dominique Johnson, at his listening party. Local artist Jake Martin is responsible for the album artwork itself.

Celestial has been in the works for a while now; at press time, Tairey had not made any of the tracks available for preview. While the EP has only seven tracks, "We're just perfecting it," he says. "Finishing songs and listening to them for a week. Seeing what we don't like and adding what we like. Making it the best song it could be."

"This album is as much rock and electro as it is hip hop," he continues, glancing at friend and business partner Sam Conturo, who produced the entire project. "Once you hear the album, you will see." Tairey and Conturo are thick as thieves, and are rarely seen without each other. Their interaction is fraternal, and funny: Tairey rips up paper napkins and throws bits into Sam's drink mid-interview. Conturo shakes his head at Tairey and laughs. "That's that little-brother, little-kid stuff."

Conturo, age 20, Tairey's friend from high school, believes that this project is one of the pair's best collaboration. "This one, I wanted it to be the one we've done right." Focusing on making a great album is something that every up-and-coming artist should value. These two just seem to get it, and to understand that it's not only about the music, but also about marketing their brand. "We wanted to take time to make sure every visual, artwork and trailer was done right," Tairey says with great emphasis. He really wants people to take time to listen to the project all the way through. As he looks off into space, Tairey solemnly says: "I want this project to remind me that it is OK that I don't know who I am right now."

While Tairey is still on the rise, his talent has been spotted by at least one heavyweight in the hip-hop scene. On a Saturday night this past May, Maybach Music Group recording artist Wale tweeted, "This is the best song I've heard all day," in response to Tairey's hottest single to date, "Zodiac." "It was a good look and it was a great feeling," Tairey says, recalling the astonishment he felt knowing an artist like Wale would take the time to tweet about his song. "After the retweet, people started to take us serious and [started] approaching us in a different way."

Tairey knows that his time is coming and that important people are paying attention to his movement. Jenesis Magazine co-owner Brian Tolbert says, "I listened to the Bridges mixtape from FaResh Clothing and I became a fan of Tairey."

It confirms Tairey's intuition that people are watching and catching on. "We don't look at it as, ‘Where were you before?'" he says. "We look at it like, ‘Thank you for coming,' and we appreciate all support at this time."

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