On a chilly November night, we headed over to Rockwood Music Hall to check out some new music. After two sets and a couple of hours, it came time for the 9 p. m. artist to set up. At that moment, a man walked through the crowd, immediately drawing attention. Someone in the audience leaned over and made the comment “Look at him, he must be someone.” It turned out to be Tru Osborne – and anyone that stuck around for his set knows he is in fact “someone.”
A Harlem native, Tru Osborne began singing at a very young age. His introduction to live music came through the church he attended with family. There, he decided at 3 years old he wanted to participate in the choir. Osborne was asked to audition for a solo and ended up getting it. He continued to sing in the church, where he was trained in technique and form. At the same time, his father introduced him to a wide array of music genres – chief among them being funk. By seven years old, the ambitious Osborne began writing his own lyrics as well. He eventually went on to study music at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania before returning to New York stages.
A skilled singer, strong dancer, captivating performer and highly artistic being; our January Spotlight Artist blends technique with undeniable soul to great effect. We are very excited to introduce Tru Osborne. The artist took some time to sit with The Celebrity Cafe’s Erin Huestis to talk about growing up with a strong musical focus, how he approaches his art and the philosophies that guide him.
Tru Osborne on discovering himself
The Celebrity Cafe: Knowing what your trajectory inherently changes the way that you move through the world. Do you ever feel like you missed out, or do you feel like it was worth it, having that focus so young?
Tru Osborne: I absolutely feel like it was worth it, but that's only after I got clear about who I was [laughter]. For a long time, I felt like I missed out. I felt like I didn't have anybody. I felt like nobody understood what it meant to be me specifically. I felt alone in my thoughts a lot of times. I felt like I was living another existence like I was a prophet sent to the earth to see things in a way that no one else could see it.
It wasn't until I started to make the decision about who I wanted to be first, and then learning who I've always been, that I was able to maybe even acknowledge the fact that I had a choice in the matter of whether or not I was missing out - or if I had everything I needed all along. I think that a lot of young artists get lost in trying to be what other people want them to be, as it relates to their artistry, instead of discovering who they were always intended to be. So I've learned that throughout my life that, "Who do you want to be today? What do you choose to be and what are you willing to do to make sure everyone else experiences that choice?" And for me, that's the essence of my musicality.
Conflict and creativity
TCC: There's this theme that keeps coming up of self-editing. But, it's not editing, right? It's self-embracing.
TO: Oh, my God, I love that. Self-embracing. Get really clear about what we're learning about right now. This is not self-editing. This is self-embracing. I love that [laughter]. I love that, legit. But that is proof, that moment just now, is proof of exactly what I just said because we're both here willing to be present to whatever's going to come up in this conversation, we both just reach revelation. We both just had that Alvin Ailey moment, where everything comes together in beautiful harmony and revelations is born. This story of togetherness and of beginning and of ending and boom [laughter]. It's that human experience. But the one you can't have alone you cannot have a - contribution is not contribution if you're the only one receiving it. It's not possible…
Everywhere you turn, there's something attempting to stop you from being the best version of yourself. So my artistry, my creativity, my songs, my swag, my thoughts, they all communicate everything I've been living since I was 3 years old. I want to be a creative, but it seems as though everything is trying to prevent me from being a creative until I recognize that creativity is born out of the overcoming of all of these things. And I'm like, "Oh, okay, so I've always been creative then.”
And that's mind-blowing. When you awaken to that level of self, that's mind-blowing because you begin to interact with people on a different wavelength because you're like, "Oh, yeah, you challenged every fiber of my being. Thank you so much [laughter]."
Love and music
TCC: How do you balance those things so that you're not just constantly diving into conflict or into those things that challenge you - that you are also celebrating?
TO: I mean, let's talk about where it all began. I started as a church kid. So a lot of people would say that, to them, Christianity was the place of resolution to those questions. But to me, it was the birthplace of those questions. My mom took me to church and for a long time, it was where I could hear the good singing [laughter]. And as a kid, my pastor sang, so that was like, "That's a guy and he's singing and I love that." And you hear about the Bible. You hear about the Christian movement. You hear about the religion. And people have so many opinions about it. But for me, I'm like, "I love the sound. The sound that's created from these people who call themselves Christians. But who are they creating the sound about? What is all this hoopla about?"
And then, I recognized that church is the response that you get to the transformation you experience when you encounter Jesus. Jesus, in fact, was an individual who was willing to experience a bunch of thought, a bunch of people, a bunch of different types of people so that he could impact or influence the way they experience community. Not church. The way that they experience community.
So now, my artistry is on display like, "All right, cool. I call myself a Christian, right? So that doesn't mean I'm faultless." I don't believe in religion. I believe in a relationship with transformation. I have a personal, passionate relationship with Jesus Christ. And I get to experience Jesus Christ in the community at the local church, with other people who are developing their relationship with Jesus Christ. It does not mean I cannot learn from Buddha, who says that "Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence." I can learn from him, but I'm not in a relationship with him.
So I feel like this is not a religion conversation, but it's the source of my creativity. If I can be open to having a conversation with an atheist about Jesus Christ and be able to learn from their conversation of atheism, I can learn from it. I don't have to be in a relationship with their relationship with atheism. And they don't have to be in a relationship with my relationship with Jesus Christ. But because we're willing to be in creative community with each other, we get to learn from both sides of the spectrum and then be influenced by that information. For me, that creates balance. Balance is not something that you search for. It's something you experience. And it comes through vulnerability. It comes through authenticity and it comes through openness. And if you're not willing to - and it comes through community. It comes through creative contribution.
It's love. It's the universal language. It goes so far beyond religion. So far beyond government. So far beyond politics and sociology. It is the most unchanged stimuli in the entire universe. Love. And from it, all things generative are born. Fear, which started our conversation, is the absence of all things generative, and from it, all things scarcity related are born. Doubt. Worry. Insecurity. Pain. Judgement. Unwillingness. Un-commitment. You know? All those things are born from fear. Whereas contribution. Faith. Hope. Generosity. Hope. I said hope, but you know, double hope [laughter]. Creativity. Impact. Influence. They're all born out of love.
The human connection
TCC: One of the things that stood out to us seeing you perform was that you made eye contact with every single person in the room. The fourth wall is a safety zone that so many people like to hide behind. You're actively reaching out to people knowing that some people might not look back.
TO: I'm aligned with my vision. So if my vision is to sell out nations at some point, then I have to be willing to sell out a room. And if my vision is to impact nations, to impact governmental systems with my sound, I have to be willing to impact stage two [of Rockwood Music Hall]. And I can't do that if I don't know who's there. You spend $10 and I won't even look at you. I'm not a performer. I'm not. I'm just a backwards consumer. And I'm consuming your time. That's not generative. That's scarce. That's scarcity and that's fear at play. So then I'm not an artist because artists don't operate in fear. We operate in creation. So that means I'm lying to myself.
This is a domino effect. Don't you dare call yourself an artist and you're not willing to contribute to the human beings you create artistry for. You're only an artist because you want to pour into yourself, then you're selfish. Sorry, not sorry. Not sorry [laughter]. You're not an artist. You're not. And you're surely not a performer. You're surely not an entertainer. That's a whole other interview. But you haven't even reached the level of space to know that you were designed for the sole purpose of impacting every single life you come into contact with.
Shaping the next generation
TCC: Along those lines, how did you start teaching? Where did that come from or how did you come to it?
TO: I never wanted to be a teacher. And my wife is a teacher and her entire family is filled with educators. And my mom, she works in social services. But she's always encouraged me to teach and I've just never seen it as something I wanted to do. And a lot of it had to do with the fact that I don't like organized education. Up until now, I didn't like organized education. I felt like it was more adults trying to fit students into societal norms and molds that furthered their idea of what the world should look like, as opposed to educating children on how to develop a love of learning. So I decided that if the opportunity presented itself, that I would be that individual, that educator.
For me, it's that essence of human connection that really fuels my artistry, so I'm learning that “teacher” is more of a mantle I have than it is a responsibility to make money. And I'm learning to be a teacher in every aspect of my life, which can be very difficult and challenging at times because sometimes I want to be a student. And it's hard to teach and learn at the same time unless you recognize that a teacher is equally impacted by the students as much as the students are impacted by the teacher. And that's the phase of my life I am in now, about what it means to be a part of education. They teach me more than I could ever know.
I really want to teach them what it means to be intentional and how to allow intentionality to filter into the way they move through life and their relationships. Last week we did a lesson called Tell them why you mad, son. And they got to just come into class and sit on the table with me and just talk about why they were mad about any area of their life. And some amazing things came out…
The majority of them, they appreciate me. But what they hate is the challenge of having to see themselves, which goes back to what we've been speaking about this whole night. That's hard. And it's intimidating. It's one thing to see yourself, especially when you're a teenager. That's work in and of itself. It's another thing to accept what you see. And I'm trying to teach them how to do both at the same time.
TCC: So we have to ask - talking about your students sounds a whole lot like fatherhood, which you're about to foray into.
TO: I'm really excited about fatherhood, but I am so scared [laughter]. I'm so scared for real. Who signs up for this thing [laughter]? I only have one thing to say about this. I don't know how long or short it's going to be, but you have no idea who you are until you're willing to give it all up for someone else. That's it. Until you go through that process, you have no clue of the potentiality that exists in you as a human soul until you really start to evaluate. Am I willing to die for someone I've never met?
TCC: It sounds like you're ready for this next adventure.
TO: I am willing to embrace everything that comes with what I have no clue about because I want to be a better student and I want to be a better teacher. So right now I'm just preparing as best I can, and most of my preparation is just in me. Like I need to be more focused on how I organize financial decisions. I need to love my wife more. I need to be more sensitive to what she's experiencing. I need to be more creative.
Lately, I've been thinking about how I want to teach my son or daughter about the world, you know? Like how do I explain love? How do I explain taxes? How do I explain Trump being president and still teach him or her compassion? How do I teach him or her empathy in the face of ignorance? It is so necessary. How do I do that? Like why would you give me that much responsibility? And the truth is because I'm built for it. I just haven't accepted it yet. So every day I accept it a little bit more. I embrace it a little bit more. Let's do this again post-baby. Let's see how empowered I sound. Yeah, but I'm so excited.
Next up for Tru Osborne
TCC: So what's next for you? Putting together an EP?
TO: The Mandate. You want to know what The Mandate is? God wants me to teach you how to love yourself and others. That's it. That's all I'm going to do. Hashtag The Mandate [laughter]. Yeah. My vision is for it to be dropped this summer. I'm determined. New baby and all. Got to get done. I don't have music on Soundcloud. I don't have music on Spotify. And some people would say, "You're limiting yourself as an artist because of it." Or I'm making sure what I release is exactly what I want people to hear…
You won't stop me from being generous. Your hatred, your anger, your ignorance, your pain, your suffering is not going to stop me from being generous. If anything, you give me more reason to pour into you…I started my last show saying:
"Brothers and Sisters!
Don’t get worried ‘bout twisters!
Willing and Able those Misters!
Makes me wanna holler!
The way they do my life.
This ain’t Living, This ain’t living!"
So I'm blending together "Inner-city Blues," which is this mind-bending, time-warping conversation about society, right? And I had a conversation to the people listening to "Inner-city Blues" like, "Translation ladies and gentlemen, this is what he's saying: 'Stop worrying about who's not doing what you expect them to do.' If you're a leader. If you're going to begin the revolution. If you're going to start a resistance, stop worrying about twisters. Connect with the brothers and the sisters who are willing and able to do all the things that resistance requires."
Oh my God, make me want to holla, that's the smartest thing I've ever heard in my life because it means that I'm connected to the experience of what I'm a part of. This ain't living. If I'm worrying, I'm not living. I'm wasting time. I'm thinking about living. I'm not really present to it.
Jump in the river, just don't drown [laughter]. I'll write that down when we leave. Jump in the river, just don't drown.