The early 2010s witnessed the rise of the singing rapper, with Drake and J. Cole leading the charge. A decade on, newcomers like Nashville’s Bryant Taylorr continue to seek and find melodic sweet spots between the intensity of hip-hop and sensitivity of R&B.
Originally a drummer, the Antioch native stepped out from behind the kit during his senior year at Nashville School of the Arts. Taylorr was playing in the school’s pop ensemble, in which, as he tells the Scene, “people brought in songs that were popular at the time and a full band would learn and play them — background singers and everything.” When the group was looking for another male vocalist, Taylorr volunteered, took to it instantly, and began writing original material on the side.
While his NSA classmates were heading off to college, Taylorr joined Contagious. He describes the One Direction-style outfit as “an international boy band — an Asian dude, a white guy, a Dominican and me, the Black guy. … It ended up being something bigger than I thought it would be.”
When a label from the U.K. signed the group and sent them off on tour, Taylorr soaked up the experience, honing his vocal style and stage presence while seeing the world. At the same time, he considered Contagious something of a means to an end. “I always knew I wanted to leave the group one day and do a solo thing,” he says. “It was my ramp to jump off of.”
Back in Tennessee, Taylorr connected with Clarksville-raised rapper and songwriter Tim Gent at a show in Chattanooga, forging a partnership that has paid dividends for both artists. Soon after that meeting, the two got a place in Nashville together, started collaborating and in Taylorr’s words, “just kept pushing.”
“When Tim and I started,” Taylorr says, “we were sending things back and forth — he sends me a verse, I send him a hook. But once we got settled, we started making track after track after track, setting up sessions all over the place. That’s our nature — we can go into the studio anywhere and come up with a song in 10, 15 minutes. Maybe even seven.”
The duo’s work ethic and quality of output eventually caught the attention of Prescription Songs, a big-league publishing house with hits by Dua Lipa, Katy Perry and other Billboard Hot 100 regulars. Prescription called Gent and Taylorr in for meetings, and in 2017, signed them both.
“By the time that opportunity came, I knew what to do,” Taylorr says of the Prescription deal. “I wanted my job at that time to be the last job I ever had.” So far Gent and Taylorr have scored several song placements, or “syncs.” Last fall, the pair contributed music to a promo for the ESPN-owned college-football-focused ACC Network, and they landed a track in a Frito-Lay commercial that ran during the Super Bowl. Taylorr also had music featured in the Netflix film Uncorked. The song in question was the sleek, chilled-out “Strange Rooms.” If you like that track, you’ll love 2020’s Rare, the 27-year-old’s first proper release since his 2017 solo debut Juice.
With rich, atmospheric production from fellow NSA alum A.B. Eastwood, the hook-heavy seven-song mini-album showcases Taylorr’s ambidexterity. “Pretty Women,” about coming to terms with what you’ve lost in a breakup when it’s too late, disarms with its emotional depth. The same goes for “Brakes,” which Taylorr wrote “from the perspective of a girl telling me to stop thinking so hard and tensing up. She’s like, ‘I’ll take the driver’s seat for a sec. Just hold on.’ ”
Later on Rare, Taylorr follows the alluring, downtempo “Fan” with the rap jam “Hesitate,” spitting bars at a breakneck rate akin to André 3000 on OutKast’s classic “Bombs Over Baghdad.”
“That one’s different — shows off my rap skills a bit,” Taylorr notes of “Hesitate.” “It’s about never sitting still. We’re working for everything coming our way.”
Throughout the pandemic, Taylorr has continued “putting together a lot of music … recording a ton,” but his current focus is regaining his sea legs performance-wise. He’ll play Saturday at Exit/In, where you’ll also hear Eastwood on the wheels of steel and an opening set from East Side rapper-singer $avvy. The headlining show comes in the wake of an early-afternoon set at The Groove’s mid-June Record Store Day festivities that drew rave reviews.
“That was my first one back with a capacity audience — extremely hot out there, but great,” says Taylorr with a laugh, looking back on the Groove gig. “Playing live again felt different than how I remember. I’m an animated, hyped performer. I need space to jump around a bit. That one show tired me out. I was sweating so hard. Maybe I wasn’t truly ready yet. I’d been so focused on recording I forgot about performing. But I’ve been practicing in the mirror. Going over lyrics. Getting back at it.”