“I don’t think Kanye West is better than me.”

The 26-year-old Tai Verdes has more than a billion streams and was discovered on TikTok. Affable, entertaining and hypnotic, the singer who raps, or rapper who sings, blew up seemingly overnight and was working at a Verizon store during the pandemic and sleeping on a friend’s couch when, in August 2020, he released Stuck in the Middle, and enjoyed his first viral success. “I just have taste and try to impress myself,” he says, downplaying his success as if it was a foregone conclusion. “I don’t make songs for other people and for my next album, I don’t care if anyone listens to it because I know it’s really fucking cool.”
Verdes is really fucking cool and his words, which can sound arrogant, and indeed are arrogant, are also backed up by his own pristine production and unmistakable earworms all underlined by the performer’s unmistakable swag. He’s the first to tell you that he’s an entertainer and his use of every available platform—Instagram reels, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok—has taken his music to where his fans are. Without a record label and without radio play, Tai Verdes has become one of pop music’s brightest stars.
“I’m a child of the internet,” he says from a hotel room in London, where his girlfriend lies asleep in his bed and the singer talks to KIND in the dead of the night. “I saw Justin Bieber go from a kid on YouTube to JUSTIN BIEBER. I saw Shawn Mendes go from Vine to SHAWN MENDES. I saw DJ Khaled go from Snapchat to DJ KHALED. I’m not a TikTok artist, it’s how society works.”
The singer behind Last Day on Earth and Drugs says that gatekeepers tend to put labels on artists who find their fanbase online before record company intervention. There’s a tendency to make these musicians seem disposable. Tai Verdes says he’s part of the generation of musicians who are bucking this trend. “There’s this weird notion that if you hear a song on TikTok, that it’s going away. But Doja Cat isn’t going away. She’s a number one artist. Megan Tha Stallion isn’t going away,” he says. “Lizzo, with About Damn Time, that’s all TikTok. It’s the beautiful production and her personality and skill, but that’s just half the story. The other half is marketing, and if you give me an inch, I’m going to take a mile.”
The mile Tai Verdes has taken is evident on HDTV, his second album, which came out September 16. Like his debut record, TV, which featured A-OK, which went platinum—unheard of in today’s music world—the new disc tells a front-to-back story. If the first album introduced the artist, the second one goes deeper into his personal life. While his girlfriend sleeps in his hotel room, Verdes says the record’s big theme is love.
“I think I’m going from the physical side of love that’s not meant to last to finding someone you can be life partners with,” he says, and describes the record’s first single, How Deep, in love’s mystifying terms: “It’s about not knowing anything and I hope that when people hear it, they feel lost, but also found, but also lost. Love has a tendency to make you feel like that.”
Verdes says the new disc, which plays for twenty songs, is patterned after The Life of Pablo by Kanye West and during our conversation, he mentions many popular artists, from Bruno Mars to Chance the Rapper to Andre 3000, Jay-Z, Tyler the Creator and Kanye West. He has an eye on history and wants to sit on the pantheon of music’s all-time greats. The thing is, and this is important, he’s not bragging about his supernatural skills. He’s highlighting his work ethic and dedication. He doesn’t want to work at a Verizon store again.
“I won $50,000 on a reality TV show. I wasn’t the only one to get that money, but I was the only one who made it last two years and lived in a living room in L.A. and paid $500,” he says of his experience on Are You the One, one of the multitudes of auditions the young singer pursued in his salad days. He also tried out for The Voice and American Idol, but when those doors wouldn’t open, he found a different thing. What remained consistent is the hustle. “Some people spend $1,000 on shoes, but I’ve been to the club less than twenty times in my life,” he says. “There’s a reason I’m here right now: I’m looking at longevity and investing in myself, that’s the whole goal.”
I hope that when people hear it, they feel lost, but also found, but also lost. Love has a tendency to make you feel like that.
The goal, which began on his first live stage at Lollapalooza in front of 30,000 people, is to win the Best New Artist Grammy and then release ten records. He admires the catalogue of Miles Davis and respects his peers, but is also gunning for them.
“I don’t think Kanye West is better than me. I don’t think Andre 3000 is better than me—they’re worth more because they know how to market themselves and set up a business,” he says. “I’m not scared of the business aspect of being an artist. I’m trying to emphasize my creativity and I’m definitely not scared to work, physically and mentally, at always improving. It’s a competition to me.”
The competition, of course, is 24/7, but Verdes, as followers of his social media accounts or fans of his records already know, also includes the finer things.
Tai Verdes likes to smoke weed.
“Sometimes I do drugs
Not hard ones, just ones that change my mind up
Drugs, can't find us?
If you think I'm gone, I'm just doing drugs
Not hard ones, just ones that change my mind up
Don't mind me if I light up
Only need it sorta kinda.”
“I’m not even the biggest weedhead, I know people that smoke way more weed than me,” he says, with the kind of laugh a cannabis user knows generally comes from someone that’s stoned. After all, it’s the middle of the night in England and he’s got his girlfriend in his hotel room and he’s gone from nowhere to become one of pop music’s biggest stars. He just said he was better than Kanye West.
“My whole thing is telling stories,” he says. “The sweetest part of my story, honestly? It’s that I found something that worked.”
Tai Verdes is currently on tour through November. For dates, see taiverdes.com.