With the soul of Chicago and the heart of a kid inside him, up and coming rapper/singer Tobi Lou is set to make significant moves this year. While his moves may be mysterious to the public’s eye, there’s no denying that he’s been working while out in L.A. You might even recognize him from Damian Lillard’s 4 Bar Friday series, as he was actually chosen as a featured producer for that last year. Tobi graciously gave us a look inside his colorful world and the music that represents it.
Get to know the artist with the Peter Pan mindset in our True Too Conversation below:
Isaac: So I just saw this online, and it said you were born in West Africa. Is that accurate?
Tobi:Yeah I was born in Nigeria. Lagos, Nigeria. Then I came over here – I wasn’t there very long – I came over here when I was like one.
Isaac: Then you moved to Chicago?
Tobi: Yeah, first I moved to London then to Chicago. But I’ve been basically raised in Chicago.
Isaac: What was your experience like then growing up in Chicago?
Tobi:In Chicago, my experience was like very the heart of the Midwest – it was like very – where are you from?
Isaac: I’m from Iowa actually.
Tobi:Okay so you know, you know how the Midwesterners are! (both laugh).
I mean it was cool. The greatest thing about Chicago is there’s literally a bit of everything. I mean we have four seasons. It could be hot as hell, it could be cold as Antarctica. The people in Chicago are cool. Like out of everywhere I’ve been, [they’re] some of the most down to Earth, natural people. It was good growing up there. I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t want to be from anywhere else.
Isaac: Do you think growing up in Chicago sparked your interest in music? Or when did that all start?
Tobi:I don’t think living in Chicago actually did. I just think like, riding in the car with my moms and listening to the radio – cause that’s all I really had access to, cause she didn’t have any cassettes or anything like that – we were immigrants basically. So I grew up on like a lot of pop music. Whether I was listening to Biggie or *NSYNC. I feel like that, and getting a TV, watching MTV. I just grew up off like what they showed me rather than like what my parents were listening to. Cause if they were listening to music it was some Nigerian music or something like that.
I got my interest from the media. How the media showed me music. And then when I found Kanye West, when he came to life, I was like “Yo he’s from Chicago! He’s doing things like how I want to do things,” Like he’s different. I feel different. I don’t feel like a drug dealer or like back then when you had to be hard to be a rapper. He was crazy with them vocals from R&B, he was just different. That’s what really made me want to do music, after I heard him.
Isaac: Nice. Did you do music while you were in school?
Tobi: The only thing I did was choir in like the 6th and 7th grade. And I still don’t know how choir works because I’m pretty sure I couldn’t sing, nor could half the people in there sing. I just remember singing “Stand By Me” and being like really in love with that song because it was very minimal. In my music, I feel like my music is very minimal. I just don’t like a lot of things going on. I just like that one main sound, that sounds nice, with some drums around it or whatever. That was like the only musical thing I did. I did play the cello ’till like 8th grade, but then I quit… because no one wants to lug around a cello during school (laughs).
Isaac: You said Kanye West was a big deal for you. Are you happy to see all these Chicago artists getting a lot of love now? Like Saba and Noname, etc.
Tobi: Yeah! You know the resurgence – Kanye came and put on for Chicago. But I feel like – So he came and put on for Chicago. He made you proud to be from that City. You know we had Common. And that was cool. I think the resurgence came back to Chicago with like Drill music and Chief Keef, and King Louie. But the real focus came back around with like Chance, Vic, the whole Save Money era. You know now the way Chance is doing things and putting on for Chicago he’s like the second coming of ‘Ye in that sense. He’s putting on in a bigger form. You should always try to do more than your predecessors do. I hate when people say “Chance is doing what Kanye was supposed to be doing” or something like that. I look at it like Kanye paved the way, showing that you could be from Chicago and make it. And now Chance is taking it to another level.
I feel like Chicago has so much soul. Whether it’s like Chance, Vic, Noname, Saba – I know Smino’s not from Chicago but he’s in that Midwest group. You just know it’s something soulful when artists are from Chicago. And that goes back to Kanye. He might be the foundation of that. For everyone that’s branching off today there’s some kind of soul in their music. You can feel that emotion in some way so it’s really dope.
Isaac: Yeah like I remember growing up and Houston was like the big place for hip-hop. And now Chicago has kind of been revitalized through the music.
Tobi: I feel like every city has their lane, per say. I mean I know Atlanta has always been what’s going on. Like the artists they pump out and their style of music. I feel like it’s however you’re feeling. If you’re looking for something with that soul you’re going Chicago, if you’re looking to trap out you’re going Atlanta. Everywhere just has their own lane. Everyone’s adding a piece to the puzzle.
Isaac: Right, for sure. So for those who haven’t heard your music, how would you describe your sound? Because I think it’s very unique. It almost sounds like an imaginative world.
Tobi: I have this thing, where like I haven’t grown up, I don’t know when I’m gonna grow up. Whether it’s me still watching cartoons or the way I think about life. I think about people working and their 9-5’s, and it’s like much of this world seems so uninspired. Where when we were all young and kids, we could do anything. We tried to do anything. At what point did we stop trying and just say, “okay, whatever, this is how life is.” My favorite artists have always been the ones that can bring you into a world. Whether it’s Kanye with the soul, or Frank Ocean painting pictures, Picasso, The Weeknd when he dropped House of Balloons; as an artist you should be able to bring somebody into a world.
My world is very imaginative. Anything is possible, yet I still throw real stuff into there. It’s just how I present it. Like how I present a breakup song. I’m talking about some sad shit over a fun loving beat. I always love when people do that. Like Outkast, and Andre 3000 with “Hey Ya.” A lot of people don’t know “Hey Ya” is a sad song. We all bounce around when it comes on because it sounds good, but it’s a sad song talking about divorce and how marriages don’t last, and love. But we just dance. The world I’m painting is that world where your eyes get big. That’s kind of the world I’m living in.
Isaac: Definitely, man. Coming off that, on your track artwork, is that representative of you as a kid? Is that what that means?
Tobi: We call him Little Lou. I think it’s representative of, not necessarily me as a little kid, it’s more so representative of the kid inside of me still. How I see things. When I look at it I kind of see a world, as if I’m watching a cartoon. I really like cartoons. I watch like anime cartoons, all that kind of stuff. Stuff like Hey! Arnold – a throwback one, Avatar the Last Airbender, all these different animations. I love the world that they paint. So it’s like me painting that world in music form. That’s kind of what it represents.
Isaac: Yeah that’s dope. Do you draw those?
Tobi: No, my girlfriend actually draws them!
Isaac: Oh damn, they’re good so – (both laugh)
Tobi: Well thank you.
I think about people working and their 9-5’s, and it’s like much of this world seems so uninspired.
Isaac: Now I want to talk about the “Game Ova” video. It’s super playful, and you have a lot of awesome colors in it. Are visuals an important aspect to your music? Because a lot of people think that music videos are dying out. Which, is sad for me to hear.
Tobi: Man, visuals are – they’re like the next most important thing. Other than the song itself, it’s really the most important thing. I actually have more fun imagining the video. These days, yeah music videos are “dying out” because maybe the record industry is not spending as much money on them, or thinking we could just shoot anything, but like, a music video is a part of that world. So like with “Game Ova,” the director of that, me and Glassface, we wanted to bring someone into the world. It starts outside, in the regular life – like everyone’s walking outside everyday right? Then slowly we just enter into our cave and we’re in a world. It’s so important to pair your music with a world, like I couldn’t even imagine not even thinking about videos. If I could have it my way, I’d shoot a video for every song. Of course I don’t have the resources for that, but I feel like it’s just the cherry on top. You get a song you like right? You listen to it, and then a little bit later a music video comes out. And that video can either disappoint you, or it can like enhance your whole experience or understanding of the song. It’s the final missing piece to some songs that really resonate with people.
Isaac: Definitely. I agree with you. I saw that it was shot at the same arcade that Kid Cudi was at for “Day n Nite.” Did you know that when you started shooting?
Tobi: No! I didn’t know when we were shooting it. One of the owners came out and said this arcade is pretty famous for some people that shot there. I forgot most of the names he said but when he said Kid Cudi, I was like “where?! what video?” Of course it was “Day n Nite.” It was only a couple scenes at the end where he’s like outside of the arcade. It was really cool to be like “Okay, I’m shooting where Kid Cudi shot at.” That’s the kind of thing you can do in L.A., that makes it L.A. We were able to do that video for so so cheap. We really didn’t have any budget. So we were happy with the way it came together. Looking like real and legit.
Isaac: Yeah the quality is really good. How long did it take you to shoot that?
Tobi: We shot it – two days, yeah. We did the arcade one day, then some scenes with the model Isabella, that was the end of that day. Then the park at the end of the video the next day.
Isaac: So at the end of the video – I follow you on Twitter and I see people are wondering about “Numbers” and if that’s ever coming? (laughter)
Tobi: “Numbers,” man. You know what? It’s funny. I just thought it would be cool to put a preview of another track. I never really hype up songs. I don’t like to talk about stuff. Either be quiet and release something or – I don’t like the whole thing that’s happening with “Numbers” right now. I don’t like to do that. It’s funny that like I didn’t have a plan to release it right now, but everyone kept asking about it, and then it was like “Okay, maybe I can release it…” but no, that’s not the plan. I want to stick to the plan I have. Like it’s coming. It just wasn’t meant to come right now. I’m just hoping it lives up to the expectations. Since I never hype up a track, and they’ve already started hyping it up, this might as well be the track we hype up ’til it drops. A lot of artists like to preview songs, and I never really do that. “Numbers” is like my first chance to do that. I’m enjoying it. (laughs)
Isaac: I think it’s interesting cause like, some artists choose to keep their plan totally private, but others are always on Snapchat sharing out snippets and stuff.
Tobi: Yeah, and I think that’s dope like, but my creative process is just so different. I have like 15 versions of a song called “Hopefully.” Like 10 of them have different verses on them. If I’m gonna Snapchat this song, then it’s not gonna be the final version. I really go up until I release ’em. That’s the cool thing about also producing and recording my own vocals. I literally wake up and can be like, “You know what? I’m gonna add this right now.” I do all these edits. I never wanna preview something and it not be it. I remember when I released “Hopefully,” somebody was really mad because they had an alternate version, and the day it came out they were like “What happened?!” Well, you know, I had to change a part. As long as I’m happy with the song, then I can be happy with how other people preceive it. I made it for me you know?
Isaac: Another thing that I saw you put up, you put out an image, I think it was called “Troop” with Smino on it. Is that something that’s gonna happen?
Tobi: It’s a track that’s happened, yeah. It’s a dope track. The funny thing about it is it’s actually the track I’m dropping next. When I release it people are gonna be like, “Wait, this isn’t numbers?” (laughs) But it’s a dope track that we did. I only posted it that day cause someone was like “Tobi and Smino should work together” and I just couldn’t miss that chance to post it. Let me just put this up for a few hours. People still thought it was coming right away, so like, let me take this down. I know I only have five songs out, and a video, but people ask me everyday. Like it’s coming. I’m not just sitting here doing nothing. I’m making sure I can deliver the most special product to people. When I first started I would drop more frequently, and it was cool because I was just trying to figure it out, but like now I feel like I have it figured out. Now it’s time to move with a plan in mind. It’s no dry period. When we drop “Troop,” it’s like go time. The video. Then “Numbers.” The video for that. Then the project. It’s better to take the time with it than to not be ready.
Isaac: For me I’d rather have an artist take their time and put something out they want, rather than rush something out.
Tobi: The thing about it today is that there’s so much music. The frequency to which people drop. It’s just trying to figure out a way to make it important again. If that makes sense? A song might come out and it might not be as important as it used to be. For the artists coming up, it’s pretty much a here today-gone tomorrow thing. If I’m here trying to last what’s it gonna be besides the music? What package am I gonna put this in? This is something we want to see through to the end of it.
Isaac: So is all of this stuff dropping this year?
Tobi: Oh everything is coming this year. I’m just finishing songs that I started a while ago. Making sure I like the verses all the way. You wanna like what you’re saying you know? The project, “Numbers,” “Troop.” Everything’s coming this year.
Isaac: That’s exciting. Is it a full length album?
Tobi: What’s full length in your eyes?
Isaac: Honestly man, I don’t know anymore (both laugh). People call things mixtapes when they’re albums, I don’t know.
Tobi: It’s not going to be an EP. At least 10 songs. Something to replay, but that keeps people wanting the next move. Know what I’m saying?
Isaac: Yeah I feel that. So do you have anything else you want to say to the people?
Tobi: I guess I’m just gonna say “Numbers” is coming, don’t worry about it. Thanks for everyone who’s rocking with me. Sending nice Tweets, DMs, even the weird ones.
Never growing up might be the smartest and most mature thing Tobi Lou can do. It’s what makes his music and world so special. If you were wise you’d keep an eye out for the rest of his unveilings for the year, as he has the makings for the next Chicago artist to blow. But don’t take our word for it, just let the music do the talking.