By Josh Weiner
Entering the rap game by means of a successful TV show has certainly worked out in the past (see Drake and Childish Gambino, among others). Can Yazz the Greatest make his way down this path as well?
No matter the outcome, Yazz has always been known to set the bar high for himself (“it’s just about keeping my hands in everything,” as he puts it). Born Bryshere Y. Gray, he grew up in Philadelphia and was an active performer across town throughout his adolescence. “I started hitting the streets of downtown Philly… with two back-up dancers,” he explains, “and we started performing like it was Madison Square Garden.” By age 20, he had graduated to the big stage, appearing at Philadelphia-area events such as Jay-Z’s Made in America Festival and The Roots’ Picnic Festival.
After years of cruising towards stardom in such a manner, Yazz finally shifted into the fast lane when he moved to Chicago– without any prior acting experience — in order to join the cast of TV musical drama Empire. In the show, Yazz plays Hakeem Lyon, the “reckless rapper and loudmouthed youngest” son of Lucious Lyon, CEO of Empire Entertainment. The show proved to be a smash hit, becoming one of the most-watched new shows of the decade, and Yazz garnered much acclaim for his performance: he received a nomination at the BET Awards for Best Actor and Forbes magazine included him in its 30 Under 30 Class of 2016 in the year following Empire’s initial release.
Portraying a fictional rapper seems to have gone well for Mr. Gray, who also has also starred in the popular miniseries The New Edition Story. But can he succeed as a real-life MC, as well? Yazz has flirted with this possibility before; he did some impressive freestyling during production of Empire, and he contributed a number of tracks to the soundtracks of both seasons of the show. “Drip Drop” was one of his personal favorites of these recordings: “it’s very sexy… ladies are going to get hot flashes when they hear it,” he says of the song.
Yazz once claimed he would wait to put out a full album worth of material until his 25th birthday– but since that’s coming up in two months’ time, such an LP may in fact not be too far down the road. No matter when we finally get to hear a substantial release from the Philadelphia star, there’s no doubt we’ll get some terrific further insight into the already-compelling pop culture figure when it finally drops.
“I plan to put music out and have y’all come into my life—you know, feel me out and understand who I am as a person,” he explains. “Every day is a progression.” On the strength of such a positive career outlook, the payoffs can’t be too far off for Yazz the Greatest.