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Take a ride with Tyson Beckford

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Tyson Beckford Opens Up Like Never Before About His Beginnings As A Street Hustler, Becoming The First Male Supermodel, Hanging With Tupac and Biggie, The Death Of His Brother, Rumors About His Sexuality & More.

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Made Man
words: Brandon “Bova” Santiago | Photography: Joel Cordero

Tyson Beckford. When you think of his name you immediately think first male supermodel, brands like Ralph Lauren and POLO, and maybe the names of movies he’s done. However, when you hear him speak and watch the way he’s carried himself throughout the years, you just know there must be more to his story. So we decided to dig deeper.

The Riphort team met with Tyson during the last days of summer. We wanted to look past the glossy ads, movie roles, runway shows and industry bullshit to get his untold story. When we arrived at his home in New Jersey he was in his garage, bumping loud music and playing with his toys: numerous $30 – 45,000 rare Ducati motorcycles. Immediately we could see why the world and everybody he works with loves him. His personality shines brighter than his physique (crazy, but true!). He makes you feel super comfortable and welcome, but also demands your attention by naturally controlling the environment of every room he walks into. It was very refreshing to meet someone with his accolades who was so down to earth and well, normal.

Half CoverOur cover shoot coincided with Tyson’s 22-year anniversary as a professional in the fashion and entertainment industries and yet very few people truly know his story. Born in 1970 to a mother of Panamanian descent and a father of Chinese-Jamaican descent, things were rough for Tyson early on. Shortly after his birth in the Bronx, Beckford and his family moved to Jamaica. They would return to New York and settle in Harlem almost six years later. As a child, Tyson was constantly teased and picked on for his looks and heavy Jamaican accent. Undeterred, he continued to pursue his dream of becoming an actor and never paid much attention to those who wouldn’t accept him.

 

Unfortunately, Tyson found himself being led astray by the allure of the street life. He became involved in the drug game as a corner hustler and also began jacking cars. At one point he was even involved in the illegal selling of firearms. The untimely murder of his older brother would help him realize trouble was around every corner and his life could change in a split second. Tightening the proverbial belt, he decided to take into his own hands to ensure he achieved his dreams.

He’d soon climb the ranks and transform from a drug-slinging street kid to the face of Ralph Lauren, one of the most respected and quality driven brands in the world. The transformation wasn’t easy but Tyson never quit and pushed his career, and the industry as a whole, to new levels. Seeing a successful Black model at that time was very rare, and nowadays you’d be hard pressed to find a model of any race as successful as Tyson Beckford has become.

In a world where people like him never existed, Tyson shattered stereotypes and expectations. He was a streetwise ex-car thief with a hard-worked physique being fitted into suits no event he’d ever been present at would warrant. Making his mark as one of the world’s most recognized models, he’s now moved on to conquering television and the big screen.Tyson2

With a major film in theaters now (Addicted) and upcoming roles in potential box office smash Chocolate City and indie favorite No Black Girls, Please, Ty is revving up for the next 22 years of his career. While the world is focused on their rendition and idea of him, here’s the real story of Tyson Beckford.


 

Tell us a little bit about growing up and what life was like for you.

Well, my family is from Jamaica. I was actually born here in New York in 1970. I stayed here for about six months and then I went back to Jamaica. I’m actually the only one in my family with an American passport. I was there from six months old to pretty much six years old and then I came back here to the States. When I came back I had a thick Jamaican accent and kids would always make fun of me for it {laughs}. I had three older siblings so I was well protected by them, but it was tough on us living out here. My mother had three jobs and my stepdad had about six jobs, so as kids we spent a lot of time watching television. I would watch people on TV and wonder how those kids got to do that and I just loved the idea of young kids acting. I wanted to be one of them.

Talk about some of your first gigs, how did those work out for you?

I started doing some free shoots, free fashion shows and things like that to get my name out there. I started getting paid $150 a day then went to $250, then shot up to $3,500 then $10,000 then $50,000 and at one point I got up to $100,000 a day. It was cool because I was really making some serious money. I actually shot a commercial for Sprite and they paid me $100,000 up front plus residuals. So I went to my accountant and asked if I could buy a Ferrari (laughs); he said yes so we went to pick one out!

How old were you at that time?

I was 24 when I bought my first Ferrari. At 23 I bought my first Mercedes-Benz and at 22 I bought my first Rolex. Going through that stuff early on and buying those things, it got to a point that I just wasn’t impressed anymore. I stopped buying that stuff and just started being different and buying things that I really wanted.

Tyson3How did you officially get involved in the industry?

I actually started out first as an actor going to auditions and things of that nature. One day The Source magazine came up to me, this was about 1992, and I did a photo shoot for them. I remember Ice Cube was on the cover of that issue. Then I got sent to see a photographer by the name of Bruce Weber and he took these incredible Polaroids of me. He told me I should really start taking this modeling thing serious. I told him I would see what happens but I really wanted to be an actor.

He ended up sending the photos to Ralph Lauren’s office and they passed it around and invited me up for a casting. The casting was for suits and they didn’t think I was right for suits, so they asked me to come back for another casting the following week. So I came back not really thinking anything of it, and they had me try on a few different outfits. Then I left the casting and went shopping with some friends and then my booker called me and said, “You just landed the Ralph Lauren campaign!” I was really excited, I forgot how much they paid me, but that first gig was more than I had ever expected.


 

Just when it was getting good….

To read the full story and check out more photos order your copy of Riphort Magazine Issue #18 now by clicking here or visit the App Store on your mobile device and grab the digital version!

 

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