By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
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By Julia Burch
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By Nathan Smith
"You ain't going to no dorm," the guard said.
"Where am I going?"
"You're going home."
The charges had been dropped.
When he got home, Tyler smoked a blunt and drank a bottle of Moët then threw it all up and fell asleep feeling like shit. Habits are tough to break. But over the next few weeks, he worked to break them, worked to keep the promise he made that night in the cell. He buried himself in books and regularly read the Bible. He'd go one day sober and straight, then another day high on the streets. Then two days straight. Then three days straight. Then a week. Then one morning he walked out of his house and saw the world through a different lens.
"For the first time in my life, I didn't see my neighborhood and my community as an opportunity to make money," he says. "I saw the damage that I had been doing. I saw all the trash. I saw the vacant buildings, the poverty that had come in because of the same drugs that we were selling to try to make money. I saw the crackheads, and I didn't see them as 'Here comes so-and-so; let's see how much money she got.' I looked at her and I was like, 'Damn.' And I said to myself, 'I'm a part of the problem.'"
That was the day he stopped hustling. He got his GED and took a job at Subway, where he made as much in a week as he used to make in a day on the streets. And he was happy.
He also realized that he had a story to tell. So he got back in the studio to convey the wisdom he had gained. At first, he struggled to find his voice. His verses were preachy and dense with biblical references. He remembers thinking, "This is not me right here."
"I thought about the people I want to reach, I thought about the people I run into on a daily basis, and they're not gonna understand any of this stuff I'm saying," he says.
Then he remembered how Jesus explained Heaven to his disciples through the parable of the mustard seed.
"They asked Jesus, 'Why are you explaining it like this?' and He said, 'If I explained it to you any other way, you wouldn't understand it,'" he says.
So Tyler turned his verses in to 'hood parables. His song "Lifeline," is a story about a dead gangster who wants to tell his homies on earth that the lifestyle isn't worth it. "First 48" describes a murder scene then backs up to explain that the dead man once thought he was invincible because he carried a gun. It would be a misnomer to call him a Christian rapper. Like many other rappers, he simply raps about his life, of which God happens to play a big part.
Travis Tyler became Thi'sl and released his first album, Chronicles of an X-Hustler, in 2009. It reached number four on the iTunes hip-hop album chart. His success stems from a devoted fan base that he has developed through tireless touring. Since the beginning of this year, he has done more than 40 shows across the country. In an era of file sharing and free downloads, album sales reflect a fan base's loyalty.
It's enough loyalty that he doesn't have to work at Subway or on the street corners anymore. In August he released Beautiful Monster, which reached the No.1 spot on the iTunes hip-hop chart within 24 hours.