Anchorage-raised hip-hop artist finds inspiration in Alaska

SPONSORED: Tayy Tarantino has grown as an artist during the pandemic, and now he’s ready to light up Anchorage’s Snap Back concert event.

Presented by My Alaska Tix

In an extraordinary year, Alaska hip-hop artist Tayy Tarantino made a choice. As the global pandemic forced a shutdown of venues and live shows, much of the music industry came to a grinding halt.

“You really had to contemplate life this year,” Tarantino said. “But I said I was built for that moment.”

Tarantino chose to work. As the pandemic raged through 2020, he spent endless hours in the studio. He shot a music video in a helicopter atop a massive Alaska glacier, and released a full length album, “XRoads” (Crossroads), about overcoming life’s obstacles. While the world slowed down, Tarantino sped up.

At 28, Tarantino is blazing his own path in the music industry, bringing a unique voice to music that invites fans to experience Alaska and hip-hop in a new way. On Saturday, Sept. 11, he’ll appear on the same bill as Dem Franchise Boyz, DJ Unk and the Ying Yang Twins at Snap Back - End of Summer in downtown Anchorage. And he has advice for aspiring artists who are chasing their own dreams.

‘I’m grateful for every little thing’

Tarantino grew up between Anchorage and Baltimore, Maryland.

“Alaska is kind of like our own little world, our own little island,” he said. “It was important for my dad to bring me up (in both places).”

As a child, Tarantino sang in the New Hope Baptist Church choir in Anchorage’s Mountain View neighborhood, where his mother was choir director.

“I didn’t want to sing,” Tarantino laughed. But now, “like all musical experiences, I’m grateful for every little thing like that.”

Tarantino’s father encouraged him to learn about artists he admired, so he dove into the biographies of Nas, the Notorious B.I.G., Lil Wayne, and Jay-Z.

“I would write raps all day, every day,” Tarantino said. “I would lock myself in the bathroom, my room, the studio, wherever.”

He was inspired by the Anchorage music scene, including veteran artists Sean Sullivan, aka Joker the Bailbondsman, producer Raw Beatzz, and rapper Josh Boots.

“I remember seeing videos of (Boots) skydiving off into the crowd,” Tarantino said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is lit.’”

‘I was finagling the law’

As a teenager, Tarantino performed regularly in 21+ clubs in Anchorage.

“My mom was my manager, so I was finagling the law,” Tarantino said, “I could be in establishments that were 21-and-up if I was with a guardian.”

“So I was like, ‘mom, I gotta do a show, come on,’” Tarantino said.

Vasco Vea first saw Tarantino perform at one of those shows. Vea is the founder of Bad Agenda, a platform he uses to promote Alaska artists and urban culture, and a co-owner of 49th Supply Co., a clothing design company, and he’s also a graphic designer.

“He was holding his own with a bunch of older guys,” Vea said of Tarantino. Vea reached out to him on social media. The two have been collaborating since.

Tarantino was just 15 when he opened for legendary Atlanta rapper Ludacris, one of his musical influences. He remembers being nervous as he walked onto the stage in front of a packed audience at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.

“It was crazy,” Tarantino said. “And this is how I do every show from here on out: I tell people, I don’t see anything. I look out there and it’s like, nobody. You just see the lights.”

“It turned out to be a big stepping stone,” he said of the performance.

Since then Tarantino has opened for Nas, Wu-Tang Clan (twice), 2Chainz, August Alsina, Ludacris, and Nelly.

‘Build a team and take off with it’

In 2013, Tarantino moved to Washington, D.C. While there he had a son, whose birth only reaffirmed Tarantino’s drive for success.

“It’s not just for me,” Tarantino said. “Imagine how much more I want it now.”

While on the East Coast Tarantino stayed in touch with Vea and other Alaska collaborators, and eventually they planned his return to Alaska. His 2016 album “Homecoming” is a celebration of his touchdown in the state.

Tarantino’s advice for artists trying to make it? Don’t do it alone. “Build a team and take off with it,” he said.

Together Tarantino and his team have put out four studio-length albums, two EPs, and more than a dozen music videos.

After Anchorage experienced a record-breaking number of homicides in 2018, he released “To Live and Die in AK,” an album in tribute to the city’s murder victims. His latest full length album, “XRoads,” was released on Dec. 21, 2020.

Vea, who met Tarantino so many years ago, now handles the branding and creative for Tarantino.

“He puts everything he has into his music and his craft,” Vea said of Tarantino.

Tarantino’s videos feature epic Alaska scenery, which both Vea and Taratino agreed is essential to his brand and music.

“It’s kind of like a postcard for people outside of Alaska,” Vea said.

The video “2 AM in Anchorage” features sweeping views of the coastline, spruce trees and dewy morning light. In 2021 video for “Out The Way,” Tarantino flies in a helicopter to a glacier, where he walks along a fresh layer of snow in an icy landscape.

Tarantino’s songs speak to his lived experience.

“I’ve cried in the studio, I’ve been my happiest in the studio,” he said.

Tarantino sees opportunities for artists during the pandemic, despite its challenges.

“People are online and glued to the TV, and they want to see and hear stuff,” Tarantino said. “If you’ve got anything, now is the time to turn up.”

For all those artists looking to level up their careers: “Take yourself seriously. Do your research. Understand your business,” he said.

“Give the people what they want: Good music and good vibes.”

Tayy Tarantino will appear at Snap Back - End of Summer on Saturday, Sept. 11, at Anchorage’s Chinook parking lot. Featured performers include DJ Unk, Dem Franchise Boyz, and the Ying Yang Twins. Tickets and information available at Presented by Peak 2 Peak Events & My Alaska Tix.

This story was produced by the sponsored content department of the Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with My Alaska Tix. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.