Bobby Tillman is one of Little Rock’s better known rappers. He often records and performs with his brother, Adrian, better known as 607, under the name Ear Fear. In the last decade, the Tillman brothers have probably played more shows than anyone in town. Along the way, they’ve developed a strong following that rewards them not just by dancing to their music, but often by rapping and pantomiming along to their lyrics.
One of Bobby’s lines, from his latest album, “LOL (Live Out Loud),” goes “There’s a lot of ass, baby, you might need to share.”
When a female fan hears that and proffers hers in response, a lot of women might not approve if they were Bobby’s significant other. But Destiny Duenas takes it in stride. “We have an understanding,” she said. “I know that he’s not going to let them disrespect me. When women hear [the ass lyric], they’re not thinking, ‘That’s about his girlfriend.’ I know sometimes, but they don’t know. Because they don’t know, I can’t take it personal.”
Destiny wasn’t a girl in the crowd who fell in love with Bobby, the rapper. Their first meeting was inauspicious. They were coworkers at Buffalo Wild Wings. She was in a relationship. The first time she saw Bobby, Destiny said she thought he looked like “the donkey from ‘Shrek.’ ” But they became friends, and before long Bobby told Destiny he was ready to be with her. “I wasn’t sure,” she said. “I left [after he told me], but after five minutes, I came back and said, ‘Yeah, let’s be together.’ “
More than three years later, they’re sure that they’re right for each other, but wary of forcing anything before they’re ready. They readily admit their relationship has been turbulent. They’ve been on and off. They lost an unborn child in a car accident where Destiny was injured (“We just cried on the couch together for two days,” Bobby said. “It was terrible.”) Bobby lived with Destiny and her 7-year-old daughter for two years, but he moved out last November. Now Destiny is pregnant, due in late July.
Though on the day Bobby and Destiny spoke to a reporter, Bobby said he was working on a column on maturity for Ms. Lady magazine, where he is a contributor (“Not just about being mature in age, but like appreciating flatware and stuff like that,” he explained), both Bobby, 29, and Destiny, 24, admit that they’re immature.
“We’re both still learning a lot of stuff, when it comes to ourselves and being in a relationship,” Destiny said. “We’re working out kinks in ourselves still. You have to be content with yourself entirely before you can make someone else content. As far as compatibility, you can’t deny it. Once we get the general maturity thing knocked out, then everything else will mesh perfectly.”
Meanwhile, they get looks. “When people see you’re pregnant and look down at your finger and don’t see a wedding band, you’re automatically judged,” said Destiny. Even in 2014, their skin color provokes reaction. Bobby is black. Destiny calls herself a “mutt,” as she has Latino, Indian, black and white forebears, but is often profiled as white.
One time at liquor store, a black female clerk, seeing Bobby outside with Destiny, asked him, “What are you doing out there with that white woman?” Bobby told her Destiny is Latina. “So she’s a white woman who eats burritos,” the clerk said.
“It’s just like the roaches; racism isn’t going anywhere, obviously,” Bobby said. “There’s always going to be one person who wants to keep the party going. We just gotta learn how to deal with it. Sitting around complaining isn’t going to do anything but cause more negativity.”
Somewhere on the horizon, Bobby and Destiny see changes coming. Down the road, they expect to get married. Bobby said that he knows that’s the only way Destiny will know for sure that he wants to be with her forever. For her part, Destiny said, “I want to get married, but I know now, that me personally, I’m not ready for it yet.” She wants to make sure they’re both ready, because she said she doesn’t consider “divorce an option.”
More immediately, Bobby said he’ll get a serious nine-to-five job and push music to the background to better provide for their coming child. (Destiny is a hairdresser.) Leaving music behind altogether isn’t an option, both say. “Music is a necessity for Bobby,” said Destiny. “The look on his face, the joy, the comfort, he gets from it, I wouldn’t ever want him to quit.”
But money matters. Bobby said it was a source of tension when they lived together, because he thought he needed to work all the time to provide, while Destiny often encouraged him to take time off for them to spend time together. But now, Bobby said, he knows “time is the most precious commodity. It’s the best thing I can give to her and [her daughter].”
“Love is a full-time job that you don’t get paid for … where nobody’s qualified,” Bobby said.