Tyler ICU

Authored by

If you ask Tyler ICU about a moment that has stood out in this career so far, there will be no doubt that 2023 will be a time that stands out to him. Mnike has undoubtedly been the song of the summer. Since its release in April, it has travelled worldwide, from TikTok and Instagram, raking up views and videos among the masses to streaming everywhere. 

When speaking with Tyler, following a sold-out performance at Piano People's Carnival Warm Up show, which saw him sell out Canva Manchester and London's Ministry of Sound before hitting the Piano People stage at Notting Hill Carnival. He is at the peak of his career and is one of the artists flying the Amapiano flag high across the seas. The growth and reach of Amapiano has been something to see as it has continued to soar from its earliest infancy.

Tyler released his debut album, Money Heist, back in 2020. He had experience producing for some of South Africa's most prominent hip-hop artists and having hits like Dr Peppa's "What it Is "and Chang Cello and Cassper Nyovest's "Good For That", which achieved Gold status. His shift to Amapiano came from DJ Maphorisha, one half of the Scorpion Kings, with Kabza De Small, who introduced Tyler to Kabza. From there, he saw an opportunity to explore and delve into a sound he hadn't been in tune with before. The results have led to 2 albums, a joint project with Freddy K, and songs he has had under his belt, including Suka, Izolo, Bella Ciao and Banyana, to name a few, not to mention countless collaborations which have cemented him in his current position. 

Photographed by Ahmed Idries

However, his musical journey is one that started long before then. No surprise, Kwaito was the link that brought him into this space by way of his cousin, a producer in the genre. However, even before then, his earliest memory came from his dad. "My dad was a DJ and loved playing music from when I was a baby. The story he tells is if there was  no music, I wouldn't go to sleep. Even when I was in school, I would wear my casual clothes under my school uniform so that as soon as I finished I would go straight to where my dad was. I was always right by his side at the shows he was playing at, taking in everything.."

Apart from his father's influence, his environment of growing up in the township of Tembisa Johannesburg also had a part to play in his musical journey, where he met different people and other kids who like him had an interest for music and played around in different styles  whether it be R&B, Hip-Hop, Boom Bap and Kwaito as was the case of his cousin. He got his first computer at age 10, and it wasn't until the age of 15 that he started embarking on music professionally after his cousin gave him software, and he started making his own beats. 

From that moment, Tyler put in his 100 hours, whether that consisted of going to the local library where he would get access to the Wi-Fi where he would download videos and watch YouTube videos on producing, as well as looking at international artists and places he wanted to reach. He also read up on the music business, learning things he wanted to know, like how to put music out and all of the things he had been able to put into his reality, which helped him get his knowledge. He was also able to apply that knowledge and use it to build his own name as a producer. "As I was getting the information, I was also applying it to a point where many artists in my township already knew that there was a guy called Tyler ICU. You can get what you need if you go to that guy. Because I was still at school, every day after school, we would go to the studio still in uniform and just be there doing music. I was working with 14 artists daily, so doing all this helped me put in my 100 hours."

Photographed by Ahmed Idries

Tyler's style of Amapiano has always been one that is not necessarily based on a sound but more so a feeling. By incorporating and bringing in the various elements of different genres, he has captured the feelings.” My signature sound doesn't focus more on the actual music you hear; it's mostly how it makes you feel. All my songs so far have a familiarity in the feelings that they capture and that’s how you know it's Tyler. Unlike just hearing instruments, I want people to just feel that I’m in the song." His tagline of uTyler, uTyler also lets you know that you are in for an adventure as his music is not just one note but different elements to a song. 

No more has this been evident than with Mnike. The release of his single Mnike earlier this year, which undoubtedly was the Amapiano song of the summer, saw milestones such as peaking as the #1 single on Spotify and Apple Music in South Africa. The fastest African single to reach 10 million streams on Spotify. Receive over 300K creations and 1 billion views on TikTok and over 27 million global streams. 

The story of its conception feels like all the pieces of the puzzle are coming together with everybody involved on the track, which started with Nandipha808 and Ceeka RSA. "I was working with these two guys, Nandipha and Ceeka, and we were working on a few things. They kept sending me projects, and we exchanged things back and forth. So, they sent me the song's project, and I worked on it some more." Wanting to get some feelings out, he played the track at a gig and found that something was missing: vocals provided by his previous collaborator Thumelo_za. "I called Tumelo and said yo, come in, let's record vocals and then he came in, and we recorded the vocals. By the way, he didn't even want to record the song. I kept forcing it, and I told him not to sleep on this beat. This is the one. Eventually, he recorded it. Immediately when he was done recording, I told him; I said this is a hit. We kept listening to see things. I said this is a thing. We had six to five people in the studio, all of them like, this is a hit." At this point, one would've thought it was done, but no, there were still tweaks to be made, and before the track would be completed, he decided to send it to Maphorisa to see if there was anything more. "I sent it to Phori, and I said, listen to this and tell me what you think; there's a few stuff I need to do on it. So, he did his thing and sent back the mp3." At this point, the song felt complete, so once he decided to play it at another gig, the crowd reacted positively. The following day, he uploaded the song to TikTok; they say the rest is history. 

Photographed by Ahmed Idries

Since then,  success has seen Tyler quite literally take over the world as he has touched stages across the USA, Asia and Europe over the summer festival season, busking in crowds singing the words back to him repeatedly anywhere he goes. "It's always goosebumps, even when you are just playing the song and then you are just hearing this crowd sing back over the song. And you're like, you guys know the lyrics? Like, it's always intriguing to just look at all these different types of people; it's always just like…amazing to see, you know…like you be in places. Like you hear people saying it."

There is something to be said about the state of Amapiano in 2023. As a reflection upon this summer, there is no doubt that Mnike has been one of the songs this year to spread its reach, and this is just one example of what that continues to look like year after year. Artists like Kamo Mphela, Major League DJ, and Dr Pepper were all amongst a group who were coming up at the same time as Tyler, and we have all been able to achieve successes that have seen the new wave of Amapiano artists take off. To this effect, and what Tyler aims to achieve with all his success, it is all about going to the next level, and Mnike is just one part of that; while there is no specific plan, it's all about hard work. "I don't plan, with everything that I have done and even with Mnike, I just look at the things that I want to do and be like… okay, okay, this is where I see myself, and this is where I want to be and how do I get there." There is also trust in his faith and God in surrendering and letting him control whatever happens. "I just let the rest be in God's hands. And he takes me from one place to another, one place to another for me, it's just… it's just been so amazing. And no, those are practically my plans to let everything be in God's hands so that I'm not in control. He's in control. I've been seeing that he's been doing great work towards my life and towards the people also in my life."

Photographed by Ahmed Idries

With everything that he has been able to achieve and do thus far, there has always been an element of going for what's next and striving for the next, whether it's going from playing certain stages and seeing the impact of certain songs, it's something of constant growth and the next steps on the ladder. And in this, there has been a lot that has taught him. From being that young boy in Tembisa to everything he has done with Mnike, the one thing that has stuck true to him is always trusting your gut and believing in yourself. "The one thing I've learned is that I trust my gut over everything. Whatever the next person can say, It won't matter if my gut is saying no, or if my gut is saying, I'll trust it and believe in myself more than anything else. If I believe in something that much, I'm just going to do it and see what the outcome is".

In a musical landscape that is changing and constantly evolving, the state of Amapiano at this moment is not lost in its impact. For the young kids in South Africa, it has opened another possibility of freedom to create without requiring much. Tyler's interest and dream of being a producer and eventually doing so in the biggest way possible is within reach for people. His name has two meanings: "It can be, Intensive care unit as well as you see me because it, either you see me or feel my music." 

At the time of writing, Tyler ICU has been nominated for an MTV European Music Award and will compete against Burna Boy, Asake, Libianca and Diamond Platnumz. He is amongst previous South African artists who have also been nominated for the category, including the likes of  AKA, Black Coffee, Cassper Nyovest, Nasty C, Distruction Boyz, Shekhinah, Kabza de Small, DJ Maphorisa, Focalistic and Mafikizolo to name a few. It's clear that Tyler is at his peak and that, as stated at the beginning, this will be a time in his career which will stand out for time to come as he continues to take over the world one song at a time.


Creative Producer: @zek.snaps - Zekaria Al-Bostani

Photographer: @haruki.design - Ahmed Idries

Stylist: @quinicki_  - Nikolina Tomic

Stylist Assistant: @charmer_charmzz - Charmer Watkins

Make up: @facesbyhawa - Hawa Abdallah