Artist of The Week: TOBi
At only eight years old, musical artist TOBi immigrated from Nigeria to Canada. Assimilation and isolation within a new, unfamiliar culture is a challenge millions have experienced. As TOBi experienced this same cultural shift in his surroundings, making music became his coping strategy.
While his childhood home championed distinct musical genres, TOBi developed a natural interest in not only R&B and soul, but also in the New York rap scene– a genre erupting just below his residence in Toronto. With dynamic life experiences and exposure to countless cultures, TOBi’s current musical identity is a culmination of his diversity.
TOBi’s dedication to pursuing a musical career goes beyond wanting superficial success. His work ethic, dedication, and honesty are undeniable. TOBi ultimately works to connect with people through his greater vision of fusing music, culture, and humankind’s natural emotions. We caught up with the emerging artist to discuss the Canadian music scene, how he sees himself, and the messaging behind his new album, STILL.
Can you tell us where you are from?
I’m from Nigeria, but I’m currently in Toronto, Canada.
Can you tell us about one of your first experiences with music?
My first experience with music definitely came from my household. My parents always had music playing from West African music, Afrobeat, and Afropop to Soul music and Michael Jackson. I’ve always been drawn to it from an early age.
How did you begin experimenting with music?
When I moved to Canada at the age of 8 or 9, I really started creating my own music— just as a form of coping with the change in my life. It was a bit isolating moving to this new space. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I gravitated towards creating as a means of coping. It was self-soothing.
Why do you feel you were drawn to your genre?
Right now, I am enamored by Neo soul and R&B soul. But, my primary influence growing up was East Coast hip-hop. You know, like New York hip-hop, people who were rapping their asses off! That’s what I naturally gravitated towards and that’s even what I was creating. Now, I’m tapping into the more melodic and soulful styles I used to love, but never thought I could or would be a creator of that music. You know? My job right now is bridging those two worlds together.
Where was your first performance?
So my first school performance we were doing Jackson 5 in the 5th grade. It was riveting and I was doing all the Jackson moves and things like that! But my first real performance? It was at the Constellation Room in April 2017— I did a show with Zakari. That was my first legitimate performance.
At one point did you realize you wanted to pursue this as a career?
It was about 2015 when I started working full time. I enjoyed the job— it was a cool job. I just didn’t feel fulfilled, I didn’t feel fulfilled as I wanted to…I felt like something was lacking. I was going through this existential crisis at the time and I was doing a lot of self-work. In that self-work, I decided there was no point in waiting. I was always waiting, you know? “I’ll do this later, I’ll do this later,” to the point where I was like no…I need to do this today. I was fortunate to have my manager, who was one of my closest friends tell me, “There’s no better time than now.” He just said, “Let’s do it, full steam ahead.”
Do you write your own music? When you’re creating a song, what goes into the process?
I write the majority of the lyrics and the melodies to my songs because it’s so personal to me. I like to see it through from start to finish. My process is that I usually have a concept first. I think of a song concept and the idea first— what emotions that I’m tapping into for a particular song. Then, I start writing. I almost write it like a poem before I even put a beat to it. That’s how most of my songs start out! Like little poems.
So you said you’re living in Canada right now. What is the music scene like there? Do you feel integrated into that community?
Yeah, the music scene right now is better than ever, I feel like it’s in the best state that it has ever been. You ask anybody 10 years ago who is your favorite Canadian artist and there would probably be like two names. The kids probably wouldn’t have even said Drake at the time because 10 years ago Drake wasn’t really poppin.’ Now we got options! We have styles, we have identities— it’s a beautiful place. I feel like I fit in, but I also stand out.
How do you feel like you fit in vs stand out?
I feel like I fit in because I can work with any artist and make a song that feels authentic to the both of us. I think that’s just me being comfortable with many genres and artistic styles. But, I feel like I’m different because I can’t think of anybody who is making music like me.
What about your sound do you think is different?
When I think of the artists I look up to and who influenced me, they are so diverse and wide ranging— it’s hard for me to say that there is another artist that is tapping into these worlds that I’m tapping into musically. It’s so eclectic, I don’t know…I haven’t heard anybody doing it.
No yeah, that’s awesome! Ultimately, what is your main goal– what do you have your sight set on?
Currently, my main goal right now is definitely to connect with people all over the world. I want people who are listening to also become engaged in my mission.
Nice! You talked about how you really want to connect with people and the importance of the messaging– how you really want the messaging to speak more than just music. Will you talk about some of the major themes of the upcoming album you are releasing?
Yeah, for sure thing. There’s a few major themes that are very important to me. First of all, the masculinity theme is something really thought about in this project. I want to turn that concept on its head and show a vulnerable side of masculinity on the project. That’s something I admire in my favorite artists like Drake. So, that’s one. Secondly, I touched on immigration— what does it look like to be a newcomer? Or a first generation anything in North America? That’s an experience millions of people can empathize with because they live it every day. That was very important to me to get through. And of course, what’s a good album without some heartbreak and romance in there? You know what I mean (laughs)? I sprinkled that in there!
What’s your advice to someone who wants to get into this industry and become an artist? Something you wish you would’ve know.
Stick to your vision and don’t compromise your integrity. That’s all I would say. Anybody has a shot. Just make sure that your vision is true to yourself— I think that’s the most important thing.
Stay tuned to Milk for more artists on the rise.