Music

TOBi: A Caged Bird Set Free

The soulful musician is bursting onto the scene with an effortlessly cool sound and a desire to change the world.
Reading time 6 minutes

Photography by Justin Wu

Styling by Yael Quint

TOBi seems born for the 2019 listener, as knowledgeable about social issues as what makes a catchy track. When the musician breaks onto the scene with his soon-to-be-released debut studio album later this year, he’ll debut a sound that’s Kendrick Lamar meets Channel Orange-era Frank Ocean, but the release also promises an intimate introduction to his multicultural upbringing and determination to tell his own story.

Before even opening his mouth to drop some lyrics or discuss the meaning of his work, TOBi captivates with his aesthetic. Put-together yet casual with a look to match, the musician is a natural at emanating relaxed vibes while simultaneously displaying his focus. In a series of photos and videos for L’Officiel USA, Justin Wu captures this using a minimalist backdrop with added color play and edits evoking video from a past era, creating a vision both modern and timeless to complement TOBi’s essence as he begins his rise in music.

 

 

TOBi was born in Lagos, Nigeria, living there for about eight years before moving to Canada. One of his first loves was music, beginning with the soul and gospel records he heard at home and eventually leading to legends like Michael Jackson, who he now lists as an inspiration. The artist attended university in Waterloo, where he encountered Eastern philosophies that mingled with his primarily Western background, experience he says provided a new perspective during a time in which he needed direction. Together, these have allowed him to use his passion for music to explore his identity and experiences before taking a confident first step into the public eye.
 

From the album statement, it’s clear that the work draws from a range of meaningful influences. TOBi notes African American music, Yoruba culture, Western education, and Eastern philosophy as essential parts of his background, also discussing how these all help him to explore stereotypes surrounding his identity as well as find unprecedented playfulness and vulnerability. It’s a complex statement, but one the musician finds to be the best way to authentically introduce himself to the world.

“It’s about how all these different places have created things that have defined my personality and who I am right now,” TOBi says of his album’s eclectic inspiration. “As a result of getting into different environments, I was exposed to all different walks of life, which I think made me a better artist.”

Outside of his own experiences, TOBi also notes several artists as inspiration for his sound, which he describes as “spontaneous, eclectic, lyrical hip-hop filled with funk and soul.” Like anyone who truly loves their field, the rising musician has a long list, but he did narrow it down to a top five: Jackson’s multifaceted star power, Marvin Gaye for his soul and honesty, Imogen Heap’s harmonizing expertise, and ‘90s New York hip-hop icons Cam’ron and Jadakiss.

TOBi has a strong grasp on the complex honesty of his new project, but don’t underestimate the reflection it took to get there. It required him to tap into a more vulnerable side he had long disregarded, breaking from societal ideals that men should hold back emotions in hopes that his experiences will connect with listeners. As a black man, the musician feels frustrated with media representation of his demographic, so he hopes this approach will also reach those who don’t share the same experiences and foster a less presumptuous society.

“I want my music to get into the rooms where people are having discussions on how we make this country, this continent, a better place for all citizens,” TOBi says of his mission. “People need to know honest stories about particular groups. It can't be a single story. Otherwise, that's where stereotypes and preconceived judgments arise.”

In addition to carefully cultivating his music style, the artist has found a strong identity through fashion. Describing his look as sophisticated but sporty, he favors semi-formal pieces and relaxed fits for an effortlessly cool ensemble that lets him move. This can manifest as a tailored tracksuit paired with a button-down, a turtleneck under a more formal suit, or a fitted t-shirt with jeans, and usually finds its finishing touch with the fedora that’s quickly becoming TOBi’s signature. His clothing choices, much like his music, have a nostalgic feel and reference artists like Jackson and Ocean, but together they create an undeniably modern look that breaks the boundaries between formal and casual as much as the artist does with vulnerability and masculinity.

Given his strong sense of his own art and the inspirations that came before him, it’s not surprising that TOBi already has ideas for the future. Personally, he hopes his words and actions will have the power to impact the world, and also dreams of touring the world. Within the music industry, he would love to see more concept albums like Channel Orange and To Pimp a Butterfly, as well as collaborations.

“Back in the day, in the hip-hop music that I used to love, there could be a posse cut with seven artists on one song,” the musician says. “I would love for that to come back. People just flexing for eight to twelve bars.”

Collaboration is something that TOBi also wants to do within his own music. Lamar and Ocean are among those he’d love to work with, but he also lists Drake, A$AP Rocky, and in a final, less expected choice, Florence and the Machine. All seem to fit his interest in honoring those he admires while making original and personal work, and the sound of Florence Henderson’s voice alongside soulful hip-hop music is a truly magical concept.

While the recipe for a hit is unpredictable in today’s world of social media hype, TOBi is establishing a promising start in the most authentic way possible. With his effortlessly cool look and knack for bringing a range of artists together to craft an original yet familiar style, he just may make it big.

Credits

Direction: Justin Wu 

DOP: Ripu Daman Nayyar

Makeup: Mark Gonzales

Hair: Trevor Gallant 

Production: Yael Quint

Stylist Assistant: Nicola Hyslop 

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