Tobi Lou is a lot of things: he is a unbelievably talented artist, a trend setter, a Chicagoan, a unique individual and a self proclaimed superhero. I don’t believe that’s far fetched either: the way that Tobi has built his career to this point, the positive + contagious energy he puts out, his extraordinary charisma, it’s something like a superhero. About a month or so ago I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to interview Tobi Lou after his sensational set at Governors Ball in New York, and after being a huge fan & rooting for Tobi over the past couple of years, I had a bunch of questions I wanted to ask him!
I have spoke to hundreds of artists in the past but this conversation that I had with Tobi Lou is one of my favorites for sure, he has a great energy & aura around him, he is undeniably himself and it’s only a matter of time before he is one of the biggest artists in the world. Take some time out of your day to learn about Tobi Lou below, and don’t forget to follow him on Twitter & Instagram!
Visit Tobi Lou’s website here!
EM: For our readers who may not be familiar with you yet, can you give a brief introduction of yourself.
Tobi: I always say “how do you do I’m Tobi Lou”. I am an artist, a rapper, a singer – lately I have been calling myself a wedding singer, it just fits what I do.
EM: I saw that on Twitter, it looked like you crashed a wedding?
Tobi: What happened was we were in Appleton, Wisconsin a really small town, we were coming back from doing a show at Lawerence University. The wedding reception had ended at the hotel, a group of folks were standing around and I was walking by one of the people said “You aren’t Tobi Lou are you?” and I responded “oh I get that a lot”.
They all knew who I was and got really excited, it was just funny people in Appleton knew me, plus the guy had just got married and he was so excited to see me.
EM: You are from Chicago, I’d like to know how Chicago has shaped you not only as a person, but as an artist as well?
Tobi: Everyone in Chicago man, it’s funny, we all got that soul. You can feel it whether you like drill shit, Chief Keef or you go all the way up to preaching with Chance, the spectrum to what you can feel our heart in is different. Not to say that you can’t feel that with other people (Atlanta, New York, Etc.), but it’s just different.
Something I get a lot is “Oh you’re from Chicago, I should have known”.
It may come from the days of Kanye infusing that soul shit, Common, No I.D.
We are just a very soulful city and if I was from somewhere else I don’t think I would be as I am on these tracks, if I were from somewhere else I would probably have a whole different style.
EM: What is your earliest memory of music?
Tobi: Probably riding in the back seat of my mom’s car while she drove and playing a Biggie song, I remember being cautiously afraid that she was going to change the song because of all the cussing haha.
EM: When did you first start recording music?
Tobi: The first time I recorded was 8th grade, some time in junior high. I was playing baseball for the longest though so that was my main focus for a while, I wanted to be that first athlete who was actually a professional athlete but didn’t drop whack music.
Damian Lillard is a good example of that, he doesn’t drop any bad music at all. But a lot of the time athletes drop whack music, sorry to say it. That was always my goal though, and when that didn’t pan out shit got real, and I had to really see how far I could take this. It was just a lot easier to know what to do when you say “imma be a baseball players”, but when you say you want to be an artist it’s harder to say that because it’s like “Then what”, there’s no blueprint.
EM: Who or what inspired you to start rapping?
Tobi: A mixture of Will Smith, Biggie, and anything associated with Timbaland, Missy Elliott. Seeing all of this one MTV early on inspired me, but when Kanye came i said “Oh here is someone who is not suppose to be here, yet he’s here”. It let me know you can be where people think you can’t be, there’s room for the “weird guy”, and I say weird but not in a bad weird. If you aren’t weird in some way you aren’t living you’re life right, you gotta have something that you do that makes you, you. He was the first one to be out there, and so was Andre 3000, but Ye was from Chicago and fit what I had to say, although I looked up to Andre too.
EM: How would you describe your music to someone has never listened before?
Tobi: I always feel like it’s what Tobi Lou are you getting. Some people say my music is very uplifting, I feel like that’s good but there’s more than just that, you know. It’s hard to describe it because there’s such a range, and that’s why I hope people get to see when I drop my project is the range of emotions.
I am always saying happy and extra said, that’s what I would use to describe it. We have heard a lot of the happy, and some sad stuff of happy sounding beats, but I feel like the extra sad stuff is what fully makes an artist to me. Like how Kid Cudi or Frank Ocean did it, you can listen to them when you’re down in the dumps sometimes. Songs that are relatable and can speak to whatever you’re going through.
EM: You mentioned the word uplifting, most of the music you have put out to date is very positive, is that something you purposely try to do?
Tobi: I remember a couple of years back I released a song called “Game Ova” and I remember I always liked Chance and the way it was like singy-songy, when I finally made that song I felt like that was my singy-songy shit, but a lot of people starting calling me an R&B artist and I was confused. It’s funny that whatever you set out to do, how the world receives it might be totally different. The uplifting part came from me being in a state of, having good friends, but when I moved to LA to start writing for people I was alone a lot. I wasn’t in Chicago anymore and I didn’t have my core with me, I needed to uplift myself constantly and the music came about that way.
EM: Do you remember the first album you ever purchased?
Tobi: Yeah, it was a Timbaland and Magoo album. It had the explicit content tag so you needed a parent to buy it, I was eyeing it for awhile and had to scheme around to get it haha.
EM: I wanted to ask about your relationship with Glassface, you guys make amazing music videos, what is that working relationship like between you two?
Tobi: Every video I do, it usually starts with an idea that I have and want to shoot. With Glassface it’s a very collaborative effort, with “TROOP” for example – I was just high on the ouch and I woke up and the smoke scene from that’s 70 show was on and how the camera was going around, and I said to myself “Yo this would be dope for a music video with all cartoon characters sitting around the table”. So I hit Glassface about it and he was like “No that will be very expensive, but maybe one cartoon character and a real person & maybe do it 3D”. It’s just very collaborative, I have a lot of ideas I think of and want to execute, I will pitch them and if he’s interested we will find out a way to shoot it.
EM: When did you first meet Glassface?
Tobi: Man it had to have been about ten years ago, he had reached out to me on a Kanye fan site that was called KanyeTalk, then it went to Kanye Live and now it’s KanyeToThe. A lot of creatives would post on that site, he would do artwork for me that turned into videos, we have always kept in touch. He always kept a tab on me and one of the first people who just believed in me out the gate, last year though is when we really started going in.
EM: You guys usually incorporate some anime in your videos and artwork, is that something you purposely try to do?
Tobi: That’s me just being a fan of cartoons, and the videos that aren’t with Glassface usually are with this guy named Ronald Grandprey, he’s an animator from France. He did the buff baby, just keep going, and the little cartoon version of me in Troop, he is working on another one right now. I just love anime, I’m the dude who never stopped loving cartoons.
EM: One of your last releases was “Like My Mom”, did you’re mom expect that?
Tobi: You know what, my mom is a business women. She comes to the table with ideas, throughout this whole process for five years, she has told me like “you need to make a breast cancer awareness song for mothers day” and always says stuff like that. Did she know “Like My Mom” was coming, no, I didn’t know it was coming until it happened.
EM: What was her reaction?
Tobi: I forgot the reaction, I think my sister showed it to her, but I know she was proud.
EM: I also wanted to ask about your sister, she is a famous author, what was that like having that influence in the crib?
Tobi: It was inspiring to the point where it was like, you know all of the shit you see or read about stuff happening to people, but you never so them so it’s like yeah I guess it could happen. But once I saw it happen to someone that you know, it’s like all that magic that gets beat up out of your as you grow up, when you experience the real world. So when she started going crazy with the books, I was just like, okay that’s what happen when you actually try. A lot of people do what they do but like, it takes a lot to be like willing to fail, that’s how hard you have to try. It’s like okay I am going to put this out there, meaning you can fail, because it can come out and no one can listen or pay attention. I was so afraid to fail for the longest, a part of that was me figuring out who I was and the music I wanted to create, a lot of that was being afraid to actually go. Last year was the first time that we hit the start button you know, and we saw what happened with it in just a year. So yeah, her whole situation just inspires me and that showed me what happens when you just try and put yourself out in the world.
EM: How did the track “Buff Baby” come about?
Tobi: Okay so my girl was trying to get me to watch Adventure Time with her for the longest, a lot of times when someone shows me a cartoon, if I don’t fully love the animation right away I am just like “ehh”. I just kinda saw it and was like, I don’t know if I am going to be into this. Finally she just said “fine just watch this clip” and she pulled up the Buff Baby clip on YouTube, and I was just looking at it like “This shits hard as fuck!”. So before I even watched the series, I made the song, and then it became one of my favorite series! It’s one of the most magical shows ever, the ideas that they have on that show go past the limitations of the human mind.
EM: Do you have a favorite song that you have created to date?
Tobi: uhhh no, I go through moods. It seems like every new song I am making becomes my favorite for a minute, then I get tired of it because I hear it so many times throughout recording and editing, etc.
EM: You mentioned earlier how you played baseball, can you speak about that?
Tobi: I played in the semi-pros. I went to Homewood-Floosmoor high school for three years and then I went to Hinsdale for a year, I played baseball from the time I was a kid until about five years ago. My last year in college I was #17 in the nation in batting, put up some really good numbers but I didn’t get drafted. So I just went on this circuit of tryouts, and eventually that led to semi-pro tryouts where you are getting paid about $600 per month. You can’t live off that, I was still living at home but I was getting paid to play baseball so it felt good. I got hurt and pulled my hammy toward the end, my last ever at bat I hit a home-run, I was hurt when I did it but I stayed in.
It was a cutthroat league because if you get hurt in the semi-pro’s, they don’t have enough time to just wait for you to heal, they got twenty more people that they can slide in, you know? Funny enough that home-run actually bought me a little time, the coach didn’t kick me off the team for about two more weeks, it was a nice ending to that part of my life.
EM: At you’re set here (Gov Ball) you gave away a handful of free new shoes to the fans in attendance, did you plan that?
Tobi: It wasn’t until this morning, Nike had sent me a bunch of shoes and I knew which ones I was going to where, but there was way too many shoes and I’m traveling so it was too much stuff to bring back to the crib. So I was just like, why not give some of these away? Shout out NJ! I always feel really good about giving shit away at shows, people go so wild for free shit.
EM: I wanted to ask how you met Jhene Aiko?
Tobi: I love Jhene, every time we have been together it’s beautiful. I went to her birthday party last year, we went to a skating ring before, and she has always been such a sweetheart.
I had met her through Taz with ArtClub so shout out to them!
EM: We already mentioned that you’re from Chicago, are there any other Chicago artists that you have been listening to?
Tobi: Yeah there’s a few for sure. I like Saba a lot, I like Chance, I like Femdot. Taylor Bennett just dropped some cool shit, that song he did with Femdot is hot. Noname for sure, damn near Sminio too because we adopted him. Ravyn Lenae, Calboy too! Interesting story about Calboy, I had never seen him but I knew the song, and we was at Rolling Loud and I heard “Tobi”. My homie was like “yo that’s Calboy” but I didn’t hear what he had said, I went over to him and I thought he was a fan or somebody, I knew it was an artist though. We chopped it up for a minute and then my homie was like “Yo that’s Calboy” and I have to reintroduce myself, I felt really dumb but it was funny. I fuck with lil Durk too, shout out Nate Fox & Nico Segal.
EM: When was the last time you performed in Chicago?
Tobi: It’s been a minute, it was the last tour so probably like October of last year. We are about to change that whole narrative though, I see people say stuff like that all of the time, “yo do a show in Chicago” type shit.
I have been working so hard on music I don’t go out unless someone tells me to come somewhere, so when I don’t do a ton of shows in the city it’s really like, no one’s booked me! I don’t do too many shows in LA either and I be out there, but as much as I be out there I just go where I am booked.
It’s about to be to the point though where it’s like I am just putting on shows and Chicago is the first stop, we are going to change that narrative, I can’t wait to come back home! I feel like I was sent out on a mission when I went to LA, just trying to figure out how to make it and become who I needed to be. I’m done being lost in space, I’ve gathered everything that I need to know.
(side note: since this interview, Tobi rocked the stage at Complexcon in Chicago this past weekend!)
EM: If you had to pick a few artists that you would like to collab with in the future, who would they be?
Tobi: Tyler… Tierra Whack, Frank.
One big thing I want to do is something with a bunch of Chicago artists, I want to work with Saba for sure. Taylor and Femdot are actually on a track that I was suppose to be on but I couldn’t get it done in time, I really fuck with that song, so they are on the list.
One thing I don’t do though is collab for no reason, it has to be someone I really fuck with and vice versa. Everyone has specific talents and I love putting people in situations where it’s like, alright now we are going to see their talent in this type of soundscape, that’s how I think about collabs.
EM: are there any producers you’d like to work with in the future?
Tobi: Producing is a little different, I do love Monte Booker though.
I found the special things in the most smallest of producers, if that makes sense. Though I would love to get with Tyler, Pharrell, all of these big names.
Producing is different, I produce too, but you don’t really have to have a big name to make something special. Not to say that you need a big name to create something dope as an artist, but there’s a lot more no name producers with the talent of the superstar producers, compared to artists. It always feels like, “I don’t know how this song came about, but thank god I checked my email”.
EM: What’s your favorite book?
Tobi: Tomi Adeyemi’s book titled Children Of Blood And Bone
EM: For your next upcoming project, what can the fans expect?
Tobi: It’s a lot of songs, it’s about twenty songs. It’s a mixtape or whatever people want it to be. I released three EP’s last year and I always hear people calling them my album, it’s whatever people want to call it. But yeah it’s a mixtape for me, it’s just like everything I had to get off my chest. There is a song off of it that’s six years old, produced by Cam O’bi, it’s one of those things where it’s like if some of these songs don’t come out now they are never going to. A lot of this stuff my mom be begging me to put down, she has my whole unreleased catalog, she be sending Lotto packages of tracks that I should release haha.
EM: Last question, where do you see yourself in five years?
Tobi: I decided that I don’t even want to be a rapper anymore, I want to be a superhero. It feels like we wanted until Black Panther until we saw black people be superheros, we just did this music video for “Waterboy” and I had on this wetsuit and I was like “Damn I feel like a superhero right now”. So, I decided I want to be a superhero. In five years I see a superhero of some sort, in between then a lot of music and cartoons. I am just trying to see how far I can take it.
Tobi Lou will be going on a nationwide tour this fall with Femdot & Lil Trxptendo, visit his website for more information!