Halfway to a show in Washington D.C., Cleveland hip-hop artist Tae Miles was set to play for the largest crowd he'd seen yet when his car broke down. The alternator was blown and the battery drained, and his girlfriend who accompanied him on the trip was freaking out, in part because she was the one loaning him the $450 that would get them to the show which was only paying $100. Yet he says this was one of the best trips in his life.
Miles had never traveled that extensively before and getting in front of that crowd gave him the validation he needed to continue. Before this show at Howard University, he'd just stare in awe at the 21,000 views next to his most popular song "iLoveJesusBarrets" and wonder who exactly was listening to his music.
Miles' ambitions stretch far beyond the tens of thousands of views already accumulated. In a year, he's released a full-length, 18-track rock-opera album Throedie, a three-song short story EP titled One2Many and a handful of other remixes. He's now prepping to release a 10-track concept album in early 2015. Called The Adventure of the Wahoo Village Warrior, it will be accompanied by a short video series documenting the whole process.
He's a busy guy and one of the city's most aspiring rappers.
It'd be one thing if all these songs were about new developments in his life or about partying in the club, but Miles chooses to craft a character and a story for each project he releases. The most ambitious so far has been the tale of Throedie, a complex character whose life unfolds into a cautionary tale like something out of Greek mythology. Police beat Throedie's father while his mother was pregnant with Throedie. She prayed to give her child a "stress-free, positive life" but the only angel that would answer her call was really a devil that granted her wish.
Throedie grew up without any responsibility until the ripe age of 18 when the angel's spell was lifted. Suddenly faced with the weight of the world, Throedie goes insane, killing people and committing various crimes but not understanding why others face the consequences of their actions. He's an anarchist that can't grasp the rules of society and is baffled by the people he meets along the way who follow or at least understand these rules. Eventually he meets his demise by his own hand, jumping off a building following a police chase.
Understandably, some of the nuance of the story might have gone over people's heads.
"Nobody understood the story, but I don't care and I didn't care only because I plan on creating a film around the story in two years or something," Miles says. "That will better explain everything and make the music better, that way the music will never ever die."
Until then, Miles is sticking with the idea of crafting a character around his music but aims to make the themes and plot more understandable. He's started that with the R&B-infused One2Many EP, which offers a look at the thoughts and people we revisit when intoxicated; the music features a sound reminiscent of Kid Cudi. Miles' 2015 project, The Adventure of the Wahoo Village Warrior, aims to further that progress, this time centering on a lost Cleveland kid.
"[He's] not really liking or understanding his surroundings but ends up appreciating it and taking the good with the bad," Miles explains. "This character is Cleveland, every aspect of Cleveland, not just the hood or the suburbs."
It's shaping up to be Miles' most personal album yet as he's able to put more of himself into the character than ever before. The facade of the character allows Miles to be open in ways he can't be in his music otherwise, he said. The concept album has become a major tool for him to craft innovative and complex storytelling, and he says he wants to go even farther with it.
Despite the thought and process that goes into all his work, Miles says he's constantly worried his work isn't original enough.
"I'm starting to think it's impossible to create a new sound ... everything is recycled," he says.
It's a reality most have come to accept, but the fact that he may never create a new sound seems to truly occupy him. He says his biggest influence is Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and no matter what he does, he finds that influence in his music and can't seem to escape it. He says he'd like to experiment more with his music in the future, but after he failed to convey the full message of Throedie to his fans, he's looking to gain that Cleveland base and branch out from there.
Miles is an experimentalist when it comes to photography and film as well. When he was young, he started playing around with a Nikon Coolpix and would shoot himself performing funny sketches or rambling on in his bedroom as the camera's strap hung from the door and stuttered along for a quick panning shot. It's always been for personal use. Even when he was starting out he'd always just show friends his clips from the camera screen, never posting to YouTube or social media. Now, he's beginning to branch out and show his personality on a very active Instagram account and working with other videographers to make his vision come to life. Once he began posting his music to YouTube, things really took off as thousands started taking notice and he was soon being named among the best in Cleveland.
He started hitting all the major performance spots in the city, gaining one fan at a time. But now, he's had to retreat and work on the album.
"Every show I see someone new ... I don't really care who's performing at this show," he says. "I don't care if they're big or not big at all — we gonna show out at this show because we got something good here. But I would perform so much it wouldn't be raw anymore for some people, I did that from the beginning but I love performing, and to see that we're gaining one more fan every show that's enough. ... But at the same time it's oversaturated with the same songs."
So Miles will stay dormant for the next few months until the record is ready to be released, and when that happens sometime this year he's hoping to make a big splash in Cleveland.