John Tyler grew up in Hoes Heights, a five-block, all-Black neighborhood between Hampden and Roland Park on the west side of Baltimore. To his neighborhood peers, Tyler was a self-described “weird Black kid” due to his preference for vibrant clothes over a mundane assortment of white tees, blue jeans and pairs of New Balance 992s.
That kid is now 22 years old and may hold the title of Baltimore’s busiest man of 2022. Tyler is an artist, a director at NoMüNoMü, an art center and cultural platform in Baltimore City, and the founder of the Love Groove Festival.
With a single titled “inToxicated” releasing early 2023, which will be immediately followed by his “Men Do Cry” EP, Tyler wants to maintain his momentum. He will have a little more time to develop new ideas and incorporate them into his music and Love Groove Festival while NoMüNoMü shuts down for a few months to fundraise for 2023.
Tyler dedicated much of 2022 to organizing the sixth Love Groove Festival, which occurred in August at Baltimore Center Stage, the largest professional-producing theater in the city. Once he wrapped up the festival, he started recording his music for the first time since mid-2021.
“My brain gets overwhelmed when I’m working on Love Groove, NoMü, my music and other people’s projects, so I mainly just try to focus on one thing at a time,” Tyler said.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to those who grew up with Tyler that he has a career in music. When he was growing up in Hoes Heights, the common ground he found with his peers was the neighborhood’s collective love for the Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock video game.
“When I was in fourth grade, everybody in my neighborhood was playing Guitar Hero III and I was the worst one. So I begged my mom because we didn’t have a TV at the time. ‘Can I just have a TV, an Xbox and Guitar Hero III and I’ll be the happiest kid for life,’ ” he joked.
Several months later, the video game was purchased for Tyler, and he said he “played that game religiously.” While playing the game on the highest difficulties, Tyler decided he was versed enough to pick up an actual guitar, which almost immediately became second nature to him thanks to Guitar Hero III already teaching him how to stretch his fingers and strum. In turn, that’s how Tyler found his passion for music.
As Tyler became a student of music, he was inspired the summer of 2015 when rap artist Future and producer Metro Boomin both ascended to a new level of popularity and released one of the better albums of all-time with “DS2.” Inspired by them, Tyler performed a song of his own for the first time at a school assembly in ninth grade while attending Baltimore Design School. The crowd’s reaction motivated Tyler to not only perform a whole set but produce an entire show.
Tyler turned his motivation into a proposal to produce a small showcase at his school. His principal signed off, but the final product left him disappointed. “I performed and it went terrible. The sound system we had was fully distorted. You couldn’t hear my voice, and the bass pretty much destroyed the songs and everyone stopped paying attention. The whole time I was just thinking, ‘Wow, this sucks.’ ”
Tyler used that disappointment to network in Baltimore and organize more shows as a teenager. Branching out in the music scene helped him hone his skills as a musician and organizer.
“I was going everywhere! From jazz shows on the west side on like stoops and going to the rock shows at the skate parks, going to the house shows at the Copycat and underground hip-hop shows at somebody’s grandma’s basement,” he laughed. “I’m at all these events, and I’m like, ‘Wow, there’s so many fire artists just from here. Why is everything so underground?’ And that’s when I came up with the idea of Love Groove.”
Founded in 2017 to address the lack of platforms for local artists to showcase their talent, Love Groove Festival seemed nearly impossible to Tyler and all of his supporters early on. “Once I started telling people about this idea, it already started to appear unrealistic. We have no money and there’s nowhere really to start. And no one really has done it at that time for there to be a blueprint for us to figure it out,” he remembers. “My only option was to do some research and just kind of trial and error it, then see where it goes.”
The first Love Groove, in 2018, started out as just a music concert, but has since grown into a showcase festival for Baltimore’s small business owners, visual artists and film producers. “The reason I called it festival when it was just a concert is because I wanted to manifest it into a festival later on down the line. I wanted us to have a Something in the Water or a Made in America.”
The 2022 Love Groove Festival was set on the fourth floor of Baltimore Center Stage, where attendees were greeted by aromas from vendors Ruben’s Mexican Food and Sporty Dog Creations. Ayanna Scents, a brand that handcrafts candles, set up shop, too. Hawaiian Hibiscus was their biggest seller.
The festival’s art gallery featured works from artists like Calisma Asafor and Destiny Lewis, who both use oil painting to highlight joy and empower the Black community over focusing on trauma. Along with an art gallery, the festival also featured a film gallery that played short films like Mecca Lewis’ “Florence’s Flowers” and Kofo Folo’s “Letters.”
Love Groove Festival’s staple, though, is the live music. Before any acts took the stage, Amber August, the event’s host, reiterated the importance of support and camaraderie to the audience, stating, “We all cousins tonight!” The house DJ, DJ-Sun, kept the audience engaged by mixing and scratching classic records like Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down” and Q-Tip’s “Vivrant Thing.”
Baltimore and DMV artists of all genres had stellar performances. Baltimore flugelhornist Clarence Ward III and his band, Dat Feel Good, performed a 25-minute set that provoked audience members to groove and clap for the whole duration. Other performers like Baltimore-bred rap artist Miss Kam and Washington, D.C.’s multitalented Samwyse ensured Love Groove delivered a memorable show to all the spectators.
Adrienne Randall, 24, the co-director of Love Groove, is who Tyler considers his “imperative conscious.” Randall is the sister of Tyler’s best friend from high school. After Randall graduated with a degree in communications, Tyler approached her with the proposal to be the social media manager for Love Groove. “That snowballed into John’s world of chaos, creativity, imagination and big ideas, which led to me becoming the co-director, a title we both believe I deserve,” she laughed.
As a supporter for all of Tyler’s ideas, Randall takes it upon herself to rein him in at times. Randall sees Tyler’s imagination as a positive asset for Love Groove and all of his other ventures. Detailing her working experience with Tyler, Adrienne said “He’s somebody who is motivated and isn’t afraid to ask anybody anything, which I think is his biggest strength.”
Tahir Juba, 24, is a videographer works closely with Tyler. In 2018, the two met through mutuals on Instagram. Juba posted a video of some test shots using a new camera on Instagram, which led Tyler to ask about doing the music for it. After saying yes, Juba was amazed at the atmosphere that Tyler created with the music. Ever since then, they’ve been working together on music videos and some of his other projects.
Juba believes working with Tyler fuels his own creativity due to how challenging and fun it is to bring Tyler’s ideas to life. “It’s definitely inspiring as a creative being able to work with John or just witness him on his creative endeavors because he’s always surpassing his past self and you never really know what he’s going to do next, you just know it’s gonna be something great,” Juba said.