“The thing that shocked me the most about being nominated for the Stellar Award is that my music is so hard – it’s so ‘hood and so raw,” said Travis Tyler, known in the music industry as Thi’sl.
“I’m always shocked when something like the Stellars – which is known for celebrating traditionally Christian music – sees something in what I do and appreciates it.”
Last week, nominations were announced for one of faith-based music’s most coveted awards. Among the icons and household names sat a son of St. Louis’ gritty West Side. It was his second Stellar Award nomination; in 2009 he was nominated for Rap Hip Hop Gospel CD of the Year.
“It’s been a beautiful journey,” said Thi’sl.
“The Lord took a young dude from the city of St. Louis – in the part where some of the worst stuff in the world happens – and gave me a voice and a platform to give people hope about God’s grace through my testimony.”
As he expresses through his latest album Free From The Trap, Thi’sl’s story is not nice. He speaks of his former self like an antagonist in some straight-to-DVD ‘hood drama.
“I want people to hear my music and feel like, ‘If God can change this dude, then he can change anybody,’” Thi’sl said. “I used to be a horrible person. I didn’t set out to change myself. I was having fun. I had girls, I had cars and I had respect. I was rapping. But the Lord changed my life.”
The transformation was incited by tragedy.
In 1999 one of his friends murdered his cousin. Thi’sl’s cousin and his friend were also friends. The cousin’s sister was his friend’s girlfriend and so he ultimately murdered his child’s uncle.
“It kind of destroyed my whole belief system and foundation,” Thi’sl said. “It had me looking for answers – and the only person that could give me answers was God.”
That’s when the real work began.
“When I came out of the streets, I thought it was going to like magic, all of my problems are over,” Thi’sl said.
“But I had to work jobs I didn’t want to work. I never took orders from nobody, and here I am working this job and people fussing at me saying, ‘Clean this and do that.’ It was crazy having to go through those situations and go from making thousands of dollars a day to making a few hundred dollars every two weeks.”
The only thing that transferred from his old life to his new life was the music.
But that transfer came later.
“When I first came out of the street, I had no desire to rap at all,” Thi’sl said. “I felt the Lord put it on my heart to rap. And I was like, ‘Man, God, If I’m gonna rap and it’s going to be positive, then it’s gonna have to be something that people like from the street because that’s what I like.’”
So that grimy sound with hard-hitting beats he honed through rhymes about the West Side now back up his verses about Christianity as a way out.
It’s truly catching on.
He was among the Grammy Award-winning team that worked with LeCrae’s latest album, Gravity (which also featured St. Louis’ own JR). He and fellow faith-based St. Louis hip-hop artist Flame joined LeCrae on a tour of 36 cities in 42 days. Thi’sl said that 88 percent of the venues were sold out and that the smallest crowd had 1,300 people.
“It’s a straight movement at this point,” Thi’sl said. “It’s dudes like us in every city – that are not only going hard for the Lord, but they are putting numbers up.”
All three of his national releases have cracked the Top 10 on the iTunes hip-hop charts.
“I feel like I’m called to be light and hope to dark places,” he said. “I can’t hide amongst the light. I want to take it to people I see hurting and looking for answers.”
For more information on Thi’sl, visit www.facebook.com/iamthisl.