Timothy Bright on Success, Military Bases, and Why College is Bad
At just 18 years old, Timothy Bright sits on the cusp of everything he’s worked for and more.
For the 18-year-old rapper Timothy Bright, blocking one’s own blessings is repulsive enough for there to be no shots untakeable. On a Zoom call with me, he recounts the story as if it happened yesterday: “Me and my friends – we were just chilling in my room, thinking about what to do,” he starts. It was the summer of 2020 – his last full day of living in Virginia before moving to a military base near LA – and earlier on, he had been directed to an Instagram story by the founding BROCKHAMPTON member Kevin Abstract. The story announced that he was looking for young rappers to share their sounds via direct message.
“I was like Ayo, Imma DM Kevin,” he recounts, excited. “They’re like ‘Ok!” They didn’t know who he was, so they didn’t really care, because they were like who is this nigga talking about.”
It took no more than five minutes for the tone to change:
“I was like Holy shit! Holy shit! And then my sister told me to stop cursing, and I was like ‘my fault.’ But Kevin Abstract just answered my DM! Everybody just started freaking out at that point. It was such a great feeling to have that happen with friends around, because it wasn’t just happening for me – it was happening for them, too.”
Bright spent the majority of that day shooting a music video for Quicksand, the 2020 single of his that has, as of now, garnered over 300,000 listens across streaming services. Since then – on top of Quicksand being quoted by Kevin Abstract in an Instagram caption – his exposure has landed him in close quarters with the elite: Romil Hemmani worked extensively with him on a few loosies, Nick Holiday helped design cover art for Knock Knock, and in the coming months, he’s set to be featured on an upcoming project by Kevin Abstract himself.
It’s one of many foreseeable peaks in a journey that started with Boy Scouts. As a teen in the program years ago, he began playfully mocking Soundcloud rappers with friends by spitting satirical ad-libs into recording software. Soon, satirical ad-libs turned into satirical verses – not too long after which satirical verses turned into satirical songs. Today, an energy once-sarcastic has been channeled into self-reflective aggression that, paired with DIY production and gritty flows, resonates with a growing fanbase more and more immersed in his climb with each song he puts out.
The most consistent element of Bright’s discography is his devotion to being vulnerable. In his latest single Dismay, he tells me, “you can really hear the pain in my voice, because I was genuinely hurting. A lot of times, what happens is (that) I can’t put my emotions into words, and I can’t talk to people about them – but then I’d write a song about it and I’d be like Holy shit, I am not okay right now.” Over a free-flowing beat that evolves into various stages of focused blitzkrieg, he raps on topics ranging from faked happiness, to narrowly-avoided death, to paranoia about wasting time. Although the track clocks in at only a minute and 45 seconds, it seems to cover years of frustration bottled-in.
Quicksand, the single that directed thousands to his music this past Spring, explores a myriad of similar themes behind a completely different musical makeup. Opening with a sample from Tommy Wright III’s Meet Yo Maker (1994), Bright delves into, among various other common roadblocks en route to success, insomnia and isolation.
Listeners often expressed support for the song via social media.
“ight tim this shit is assault in 50 states,” one SoundCloud user commented.
I don’t even listen to rap and I just love that song,” a podcaster on the Broc and Dawson Podcast additionally told him via phone in a June interview.
From any external point of view, Timothy Bright is at the mark in his career where years of hard work begin to venture further away from bedroom confines, creeping undoubtedly closer into the vast public eye. Like Michael Jackson between departing from the Jackson Five and releasing Off the Wall, or Nas in the few months spanning The Halftime EP and Illmatic, all indicators are of a young creative who has put in the time, and now sits on the cusp of reaping all benefits hustled for. Mainstream success for Bright is more of a “when” than an “if.”
Yet, despite leading a career that many would consider early-stages stardom, he is adamant that he’s just like anyone else. “When it comes to music shit, bro, I know niggas that are like 14 – 15 years old that are way better than anybody out right now,” he says. “They’re not gonna get the attention they need, because they don’t have the money, you know what I’m talking about?” He’s quick to stress a similar point when I use the word “fame” in one of my questions: “I don’t really feel like I’m a ‘famous person,’ or huge at all. People will hit me up – I answer all of my DMs. They’d be like ‘Whoa, you answer??” I’m like I’m just a nigga, bro. I’m gonna answer. I like talking to people.”
When contextualized, it’s easy to see the roots of Bright’s humility. Born in Hampton, VA, he spent a vast majority of his childhood living in Montgomery, where he gained a once-elusive sense of racial pride. Then, with his mother deployed in Iraq, he traveled overseas to attend school on a military base in England. The comforting quality there, he remembers, was that there were no individual friend groups or posses – each student was on speaking terms with the next. “Everybody sat with everybody at lunch,” he says. “There were no real cliques, because everybody cliqued together. Everybody was cool.”
But when the time came for Bright to attend public school in Vegas as a young teenager, he found that he was ostracized. “I remember on the first day of school, I sat somewhere random because I didn’t know where to sit – and somebody kicked me out of the table. I was just like What the fuck? It was such a weird feeling. I realized that in public school, nobody gives a fuck about you.”
Amidst a lifestyle defined by constantly moving parts, isolation has been one unfortunate through-line. Over time, genuine friendships have been few and far between, with already-limited company being hard to hold onto across constantly changing settings. Deep down, he tells me, he knows he’s not well mentally. And on the few occasions that he has met with therapists, nothing has worked. “One time I went to therapy in elementary school, and I went again recently,” he says, “but I’m really shy and I suck at talking to people. I did not talk to that nigga at all.”
One of the most hurtful occurences of such isolation came as a result of his decision to forgo college – a decision that, in itself, received a considerable amount of backlash on its own. The way he explains it, there are two different types of smart people: the kinds that are only intelligent within the four walls of a school building, and the kinds that exhibit their mental capacities elsewhere, in fields where they matter most. Bright cites that his smarts come in the form of emotional intelligence. In spite of friends and family alike trying hard to persuade him into enrollment (his Grandma wrote him a four-page letter on the importance of education and connections a few months ago), the sensitive approach that has already landed him connections with BROCKHAMPTON is the out-of-school genius of his that makes college more of an accessory than a need.
One day, though, an old friend spoke with him in the midst of an emotional low point. “It seemed like they genuinely cared about what I was talking about, and it was a good conversation because I don’t talk to them that much,” he recounts. “But then they looped it back to going to college. I was like Oh, you don’t care about me. You were just trying to find a way to get me to go to college.”
As Bright earns himself new levels of recognition, shedding non-beneficial relationships has become one more obstacle on a steep learning curve. On Dismay, he raps, over heavy drums and a sense of impending doom: “cutting some niggas off, bro that shit hurted / I had to cut them off because they were burdens / Them niggas high maintenance, hop off my balls / I wonder if my niggas miss me at all.”
When I ask him about these lyrics, he reflects about the role friendship has played over his still-young artistic journey. “I’m down bad when I make all of my songs- I’m not the happiest person. But I always remember We Wear the Mask, it’s this poem my mom showed me when I was younger,” he says. “I used to not smile in pictures, and she’d be like ‘You gotta at least pretend you’re happy. Come on dawg.’ In Dismay, you really hear that pain. It hurts to cut people off that you’ve confided in and been cool with, when you have to cut them off because they were just being an asshole. You’re just like Damn, bro. If you weren’t an asshole, we would still be cool right now.”
On top of struggling to prune old relationships, as newfound popularity forces him to interact in a greater capacity than ever before, balancing worlds of consumer and producer poses its own set of unique challenges. This year, Bright removed an original version of Quicksand from all digital platforms. The decision incited a firestorm of confused listeners all bearing the same question: “Can you bring back the old version?”
A month ago on SoundCloud, following a series of comments including “what the fuck happened to the old verison,” “i miss the old version 🙁 ,” and “where can I find the old version?”, Bright angrily responded in all caps: “STOP COMMENTING AB THE OLD VERSION I THINK ITS ON AUDIOMACK CUZ I FORGOT TO CHANGE IT. THAT HOE AINT SEEING THE LIGHT OF DAY EVER STOP ASKING.”
“I literally said stop asking. And then people kept being like Bro, can I get it?” he tells me today. “Like, bro. Stop asking. I was getting genuinely pissed off at some points.”
A name that this anecdote leads us to is Denzel Curry. Over Twitter, in days leading up to our conversation, the rapper lashed out at fans who undervalued his influence in a series of angry, pointed, mini-paragraphs, some of which included:
“Niggas talkin bout I fell off cause they CHOOSE not to listen(.) It’s like TA13OO all over again(.) You’re Gonna Apologize for sleeping.”
“Niggas say I ain’t no legend(,) but your favorite rappers copy my flows.”
And, the lengthiest one yet: “Nobody want(s) to co-sign me fine(.) Fuck em I don’t need em(.) I’m going (to) make myself hot(.) I’m going (to) have even greater albums(.) I’m going (to) have bigger songs(,) And the craziest shows(.) Then I’m going (to) settle down and raise a family.”
Denzel Curry inspired Bright to take rapping seriously. “I remember being in eighth grade, ninth grade, like this nigga is so cool,” he states. “Seeing that it’s like this for him sucks – and then in some of the replies to that tweet, they were being assholes. They were like Oh, Clout Cobain is gonna be your only good song. Like, dude. No it’s not.”
An upsetting line that must be drawn is the one connecting Bright to the RICKY rapper. The same way Bright looks up to Curry, Curry once looked up to Tupac. Tupac – though invincible to the child – was a victim of his own incredible popularity, dying at its hands in both the poetic and the physical. Similarly, Curry – though invincible to an eighth grade Bright – finds himself at the center of a public meltdown fueled by his reputation amongst the masses. It becomes hard for one not to picture the ordeal as a conveyor belt: a young artist is driven into a dark tunnel made appealing by his/her influences, only to be made aware of its monsters when it’s too late to climb out. The struggle that ensues is publicized on all fronts.
Asked about whether this scares him, Bright responds to me with a quote he posted to his Instagram story a night ago: “As soon as you let doubt creep in, you’re done.”
At this early stage in the game, Timothy Bright’s career has not come without the self-doubt mentioned. “If Quick (Quicksand) didn’t blow I would be dead nigga,” he raps in Dismay. Prior to the success of Quicksand, there were several points at which he considered quitting music – and even after witnessing its explosion, he recently had to be talked out of plans to quit after his first EP by close friends.
But if there’s anything Timothy Bright has, it’s the overarching sense of humble gratitude – one often forgone by artists young and old – that guarantees his anchoring in what creation means for him, no matter how far under the artistic tunnel he may end up. Our interview takes place a day after Thanksgiving. When I ask him what he’s thankful for on a whim, I have several expectations of what the answer might be: he’s got new stuff coming out with Kevin Abstract; his first EP is on pace to be turned in by December 6th; without spending a day in college, he’s climbed further up the musical ladder than many have managed to in half-centuries.
His response does not cover these things.
“There was one person that was like Hey, I really like your music,” he tells me, as we wrap up. “I was like Thanks man, I appreciate it. But then they’re like, But are you doing okay? I was like Huh? Then they said I was listening to your music, and you don’t sound like you’re doing okay – Are you okay? I was like Oh… nah. Thank you for asking. And I was able to talk about it with them. I’m thankful for that, man.”
Timothy Bright lives with a humble character that has, over the years, been subconsciously deemed contrary to all forms of celebrity. It’s the kind of purified mindset infamously taken advantage of in stories like those of Michael Jackson and New Edition. Bright, though, has internalized the tools to succeed whilst faced with challenges – an element his life has not come without. Going forward, whether admittedly successful or not, he knows that his fuel comes from validation found in the people he surrounds himself with, and he’s not afraid to keep that circle open to whoever he may encounter along the way.