TOBi
Anthony Gebrehiwot of Xvxy Photo

Meet TOBi: The Nigerian Artist Who Picked His Passion Over Family Expectations

When thinking of soul music, it’s easy to resort to the legends of the genre first, like Marvin Gaye and Four Tops, just to name a couple. However, one should also think of a towering, yet soft-spoken artist by the name of TOBi. During a New York visit, the 6’3” Toronto resident explains how he isn't like the traditional soul music that many people are familiar with, citing the aforementioned artists. In fact, TOBi, dressed street style fly with a Kappa sweatsuit and black fedora, creates what he calls "unapologetic soul music." The 26-year-old speaks thoroughly and candidly when explaining exactly what that means. It all comes down to undeniably being himself, he says, and doing as much as he can and as much as he wants with his music.

"[It] is not restricted to a genre," he says of his self-described art form. "Unapologetic soul music, to me, is music that explores your deepest feelings, your fears, your joys, the things that make you tick."

This definition of his craft has been a main component of TOBi's musicality since he discovered music was his passion around the cusp of double digits. Even at that young age, 10-year-old TOBi associated the creation of music with how it made him feel, which was nothing but "good inside." TOBi was figuring out all that he could do with music, whether it was writing it or singing and rapping to it, all three skills that he employs today, and each discovery was fundamental in helping him get through a difficult period in his life: immigrating from Nigeria to Toronto. Music not only brought him joy at that time but also served as coping mechanism, because the move wasn't all sunshine and daisies for him.

When he and his family moved to Toronto, the six of them stayed in a two-bedroom home, with the children in one room and his parents in the other. They lived in a low-income neighborhood at the time and although the move wasn't entirely pleasant, there's a reason why TOBi discovering his love for music occurred around the same time his move to North America did.

"I think it coincides during that time because I utilized creating poetry and rap music as a coping mechanism for change," he explains. "For me to be able to have an outlet and not to go talk to people all the time about how this was going—because my natural predisposition was introversion. So, as an introvert, having that outlet to still be able to express how I was feeling inside was almost like stumbling upon the greatest thing ever."

Here, the buzzing talent shares exactly who he is as an artist and what his recently released Still album reveals about TOBi, the human being.

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VIBE: You sing and you rap. Would you describe yourself as an artist that's a rapper singer like Drake, or do you veer towards one more than the other?
TOBi: Yeah, it's interesting when people describe me online in different groups. Some will say rapper, some will say singer. I would consider myself an artist that utilizes both to create a song that means something. Whatever method I'm using at the time, it's just what it is. Sometimes I rap more, sometimes I'll sing more.

How did you get started in the music industry? How was your journey to where you are today?
I would say it's been an ongoing process. I started really recording music when I was a teenager in high school and putting stuff online. You know, MySpace, all those different platforms. But for real I would say my first real project that I put out was in 2016, it was called FYI. That's an EP that I created with a producer from Toronto, Nate Smith. I would say that's my first real foray into the music industry as TOBi.

As TOBi.... So, before TOBi the artist, who were you? What were you doing?
I had hella names, hella pseudonyms that I was going by. I think it was just music that I thought sounded cool rather than music that felt really personal and genuine to who I am.

Did you have other career paths, or other passions that maybe clashed with music?
I mean even though I wanted to be an artist, my family was not down for that. A big part of that move to Canada was like, "okay, we're about to move here because you're about to go this school and this school, get this education and become a doctor or a lawyer." It's the typical story you ask anybody from where they come from. Any first generation or newcomer family that's usually the path, right? So, there's a lot of friction externally with my family on that. But also internally, there was a lot of turmoil choosing which path to go on.

 

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Seeing this in my city in support of my new album means everything. STILL is out now! Much love to @spotifycanada @spotify

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Is there still that friction with your family or have they come to accept the fact that this is what you want to do and that you can actually be successful at it?
Yeah, they've come to accept it through many conflicts, for sure. We've had a number of conflicts about it. But you know, at the end of the day, they see that it's something that I've been doing for so long. It's something that I'm really passionate about and it's working. They just needed to see that. Also, they weren't gonna let me slide and not finish my undergrad. For me, completing that as well, that was to them like, "OK, he's old enough, he'll figure it out."

What did you study in undergrad?
Biology.

Once you graduated undergrad, was it like, "OK, this is like a Plan B for him, now he can go after what he wants?"
For them, absolutely. For them, it was that, "you got this." Now it's the trust factor. Can we trust this guy is able to make these kinds of decisions?

Would you say that being Nigerian influences your music?
[It] definitely does because my earliest, formidable memories are from me growing up in Nigeria. Living there for eight years, I remember so many stories. I remember the food, I remember the language, the culture.... I remember all these nuances that are still residual memories but they come up every so often into the forefront. I think on this album I tapped back into that consciously.

Are there specific Nigerian artists that influence you or even Canadian artists that influence you?
Yeah, so I'll start with the Nigerian side. Some artists that influence me are Fela Kuti, Majek Fashek, King Sunny Adé, those are more of the older artists that influence me. And then modern, probably Burna Boy, this dude named Brymo, he's from Nigeria, he's amazing. There's some influence of him actually in this project as well. Overall though, as far as contemporary hip-hop music, I would say Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Frank Ocean. I just like artists that truly delve into the different aspects of their emotionality.

Who do you see yourself collaborating with? Would you see those artists as well?
That's a good question. Definitely, Kendrick, definitely Frank Ocean for sure. Producers, Pharrell. I think Pharrell brings something special out of the artist that he collaborates with. He gets them to step out of their comfort zone. He can work with the Clipse, and then he can also work with some pop sounds and do Despicable Me soundtracks. So that's definitely someone I would love to collaborate with. I think we can do something amazing.

As an artist, what would you say are three goals that you would want to accomplish within the next five years?
I definitely want to go on tour in different continents. I want to go across the world and connect with as many humans as possible, that's one. Two, I want to be a songwriter for other artists as well. I want to be able to tap into other experiences and be able to create music that doesn't just reflect my life, but speaks to others as well. And lastly, I want to be involved in what I see as a movement. A movement of self-discovery, an awakening of self-awareness as well. I feel like in 2019, and going forward, we as global citizens are becoming more and more aware of the world around us and the world within us as well. That's personally from a psychological perspective and a mental health and well-being perspective. I want to be more aware of not just the literature but also what movements are occurring and how I can be involved in it as an artist to create a platform to put that out there.

 

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Still tryna paint Picasso's 📷 @jamilnotjamal

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Is there any movement now that you're passionate about, that you see yourself getting involved in?
Absolutely. One movement that I'm really passionate about is this kind of awakening of self-healing. I don't know if you see this but even on social media, on Twitter or Instagram, there's a lot of people who promote healthy consumption of food, drinks, music, media, books. So like a healthy consumption of taking things into your body, right. Because that essentially becomes who you are. That's something I've been very passionate about on a personal level. I'm still working on that, because I don't want to come out and be an ambassador for something I'm not applying to myself. That's my major thing right now and I love it. That's why I love a lot of these new artists coming out. I love Solange, I think she's a huge proponent for that. Not just through her music but through what she says, through what she does, and her actions. I like to align myself with those kinds of groups.

Now let's get into your album. Why the name Still?
I remember the name was so many different things before Still. Still was the perfect word to encompass what was going on in there. There's different layers to it. First one that I'll speak on is the persistence and the dedication. When I was creating this project, I've been making it for two years but the stories on there are from when I was eight years old. It almost feels like I've been writing this project for 15 years, that's what it feels like to me. Just that ongoing process of change and growth as an individual and persistence, it's still. It's ongoing, it keeps on going even after the project. It keeps on going, it doesn't stop. And then secondly, one thing that's always been very important to me is presence and being grounded in the present moment. To be still is to be centered and almost fixated in the current experience. So that word is perfect.

 

For Still, can you speak on specific experiences in your life that you pulled inspiration from?
There's a number of experiences. Some of the songs were a bit difficult to write because of the experiences. But, I remember clearly, vividly when I first moved to Canada and having my family come with me afterwards and where we lived. We lived in this apartment in a kind of low-income area. It was a two-bedroom apartment and there was six of us in there and all the kids were in one room and I just remember it was small. It was very small but it was fine. I was just happy that we were all together. And I drew on that a bit on some of the songs on there and what those times were like, right and seeing the growth of not just me but my family as well. Like my mom for sure.

That's another experience that I drew from. Her coming into the country, working manual labor overnight and then she transitioned into the role that she's currently in where she runs the whole company and watching her grow from that, that was motivating for me as well. Still, you know, the story's for her, too. And then there's pieces in the album that speak about my more rebellious teenager years, getting up to no good.

What can fans and new listeners expect from Still?
They should expect to be moved. Not just physically, because some of the beats are slapping, but also on an emotional level. It's a bit of a trip listening to it from top to bottom. I've listened to it on some late nights before going to bed, and every time I listen to it, I'm even tapping into something new that I subconsciously put into the project that I wasn't consciously aware of that I did. So I would like listeners to be able to experience certain emotions and feel free with it. Not to try to repress anything, just let it go, just let it come free. You gotta let it go sometimes. And expect that flame, expect that sonic flame, now and forever.

What can fans and new listeners expect from Still?
They should expect to be moved. Not just physically, because some of the beats are slapping, but also on an emotional level. It's a bit of a trip listening to it from top to bottom. I've listened to it on some late nights before going to bed, and every time I listen to it, I'm even tapping into something new that I subconsciously put into the project that I wasn't consciously aware of that I did. So I would like listeners to be able to experience certain emotions and feel free with it. Not to try to repress anything, just let it go, just let it come free. You gotta let it go sometimes. And expect that flame, expect that sonic flame, now and forever.

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Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

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T.I.

Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

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Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

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