When St. Louis rapper Thi'sl wants to know how his fans are reacting to his music, all he has to do is look at a computer screen.
For instance, Thi'sl released a video last week for his uplifting anthem "Hold On." He says he knew the tune was getting a positive response from monitoring social media conduits such as Facebook and Twitter.
"People have just been going crazy over the video," says Thi'sl in a telephone interview with RFT Music. "St. Louis is one of those cities where people either are going to love you or they're going to hate you. And they usually hate you for no reason, just because. ... St. Louis is just one of those places where it's like 'I don't care what you're doing - that don't mean nothing to me.'"
"[But people also] just rally behind you in St. Louis," he adds, noting that a number of people posted the video for 'Hold On' on Twitter and Facebook. "The response to it has just been amazing."
Utilizing the power of the Internet isn't a foreign concept for Thi'sl, whose real name is Travis Tyler. As RFT staffer Albert Samaha reported last year, Thi'sl's album Beautiful Monster managed to experience notable commercial success without the luxury of a major label. The rapper - a Christian who often infuses his spirituality in his music - points to a stout touring schedule and Internet presence with his burgeoning popularity.
Some inspiration for 'Hold On' - one of the last songs recorded for Beautiful Monster - stemmed from a conversation with his cousin. He told Thi'sl that his music motivated him "to do something different."
"He said 'when I'm going through crazy stuff with my baby mama and it's 2 a.m. and I'm mad at her and I'm leaving the house, I don't want to get in my car and put something on that's going to make me even more upset,'" Thi'sl says. "I want to put something on that's going to make me think about something different."
"At that point, it just clicked in my head - 'oh man, just hold on,'" he adds.
Thi'sl also says "Slippin'" by DMX played a major role in the song's development. The track hit home personally for the rapper, who as Samaha explained went through some rough periods of time in his life
"I remember when my life was rock bottom and everything was falling apart," he says. "And that song came on the radio and it was so relatable to my life that it literally brought me to tears. I'm like 'man, I'm slipping. I'm falling.' But then the last verse came on and he was like 'man, but I'm better now. It's going to get better.' And I remember being encouraged by that and saying, 'man, life's messed up right now. But I'm going to get back up on my feet."
"And that's what I wanted to communicate with 'Hold On,'" he adds. "I know especially for single mothers, they are single mothers out there working hard. They're going to school. They're working a job. And they're struggling because they're sacrificing time to go to school and have kids. And the same thing with the dudes. They're a lot of dudes that made mistakes in their life that have babies and dropped out of school. But now they're working hard to try to fix their life. And it's a struggle."
One of the most striking parts of the video is the introduction, which features a fairly convincing-looking argument between a man and a woman. The actor in the video is Young Dip, a former disc jockey for Hot 104.1. And the actress is Nonna, a local musician.
"When we put them together in a room man, everybody who sees the video is like 'that argument is so believable,'" Thi'sl says. "I directed the video, and when we were filming it, I was behind the camera. And literally - most of the shots they did in one time."
"I'm like 'I believe ya'll," he adds. "I believe ya'll and I know you're not really arguing."
Thi'sl - who was nominated for Best Hip-Hop Artist for the 2012 RFT Music Awards - is currently working on a compilation album with the artists from his Full Ride Music Group. He says he hopes 'Hold On' reaches as wide of an audience as possible - including, perhaps, fans he connects with on the web.
"I grew up in St. Louis on the west side," he says. "I grew up in the streets, in the hood. And one of the things I always do with my music - I want to reach whoever hears my music and love it. I don't care if you live in the suburbs, Australia, London, Florida, Mars - wherever you live."
"If you like it, I want you to get with it," he says.