Fast & Furious actor and R&B singer Tyrese Gibson reveals his ambitious plans for the future, his fight for recognition and why he feels at home in the UAE
Tyrese Gibson is a man of many talents. Not only is he part of the hugely successful Fast & Furious franchise, but he’s also a New York Times bestselling author (he published How to Get Out of Your Own Way in 2012 and co-authored Manology: Secrets of Your Man’s Mind Revealed in 2013). If that isn’t impressive enough, he’s also chairman and CEO of his own movie production company, Voltron Entertainment, which currently has more than 43 projects on the go. On top of that, Gibson’s sixth solo album, Black Rose, has gone to number one on the US Billboard 200 album chart.
When we catch up with the singer at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, where he’s promoting Universal Pictures Home Entertainment’s global DVD release of Furious 7, he’s in the middle of various photo ops. One such shot takes in an impressive view of Jumeirah Etihad Towers, the location of one of Furious 7’s most memorable scenes, where Brian O’Conner, played by the late Paul Walker, drives a Lykan HyperSport through three of the buildings.
When we meet in his hotel room – the royal suite, no less – Gibson speaks candidly about the loss of his friend of 14 years and Furious co-star. ‘When Paul died, it was completely shocking to everyone in the world. All of the moments of laughter, text messages and phone calls – boom, it’s over. That was a lot to process. It wasn’t about how we couldn’t figure out how we’d move forward with the movie or the box office receipts, it was a very dark and confusing time.’
Now back at the setting of the film, the actor explains that both Abu Dhabi and Dubai feel like home. ‘God sent me a vision to go to Dubai. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t know anybody, but I found my smile again in Dubai. This is home.’
The singer, who has been coming to Dubai for the past four years – often with celebrity pals in tow, including actor Will Smith – regularly documents his trips on social media. On previous occasions, he has even been in the company of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, at his private home in the Dubai desert. ‘For the Arab culture to embrace me the way they have is a reminder that when people love you, it doesn’t matter what your race or nationality is. I’m happy here,’ he says.
The American star, who spent most of his trip to the UAE dressed in a traditional kandura, says his real mission in the country is to spread his vision of building a movie studio in Abu Dhabi. ‘I want to build Voltron Studios, which will be the equivalent to Paramount and Universal Pictures in America. I want to do it with the locals – all of Bollywood, Hollywood and Europe will be here shooting. We can put this place on the map and do it on the biggest and highest level.’
Gibson says his mission to expand his entertainment and film company to the Middle East is also partly born out of a desire change perceptions of how the region is viewed internationally. ‘I want Hollywood directors, rappers and singers to see and experience the things I’ve experienced. When I come here, my mind is gravitating towards what doesn’t exist, so I figure out what I can do to contribute.’
Aside from his ambitious plans for Abu Dhabi, Gibson’s presence is still very much in Hollywood. The actor is set to star in season two of the popular TV series Empire, and has a part in Ride Along 2 alongside Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, due to be released in early 2016.
But despite his growing fame and recent chart success with Black Rose, the singer-songwriter feels that not all his achievements are recognised. The star published an open letter to American radio personalities Ryan Seacrest and Elvis Duran in June, calling them out for ‘a lack of diversity’ on the airwaves. Referencing artists such as Sam Smith, Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake – who he says are singing R&B and soul tracks just like him – he questions why they are being played on mainstream radio when he isn’t. ‘My singing is all I have that’s personal. I don’t create limits for myself, I’m not going to let anyone create them for me. If they change their approach, I may not be the one to reap the benefits from it. I’m being so aggressive about making my point that they don’t want to start playing Tyrese records. But I’m okay with that, it’s about change.’
When it comes to voicing his opinion, Gibson isn’t afraid to make his feelings known and rebuts anyone who says his social media antics are simply for album publicity. ‘I don’t wake up every day thinking, “How can I be more famous?” I think it’s corny. Things will continue to happen.
‘I don’t see fame the way I used to when I first got on. I’ve already been in every Lamborghini, private plane and helicopter,’ he says. ‘I’ve seen it all.’ Though given he’s set to spend a lot more time in the UAE, we’ve got a funny feeling he might have spoken just a little bit too soon. Black Rose is available now on iTunes.