Get ready to be moved emotionally, physically, or politically by this eclectic mix. This playlist covers a spectrum of emotion, featuring tracks that encapsulate a“raw and honest sound, sonically born from Hip Hop, R&B, Soul, Jazz, Blues, and Afrobeats, which needs no permission to exist in the world.”
Vulnerability is at the core of Nigerian-Canadian artist TOBi‘s work. Over time, his music has become a creative outlet for his personal experiences and the stories of people in his community. As a storyteller and poet who connects with his audience through honesty, his lyricism is both, feisty and grounded, exploring the inner self and exterior society’s injustices.
TOBi’s unique sound is born from the different music genres that have surrounded him from his upbringing to his development as an artist. Back in 2015, Oluwatobi Feyisara Ajibolade started making music under the alias TOBi, and released his first independent EP, FYI. After a stream of singles, he launched his debut album, STILL, in 2019. This project was followed by ELEMENTS VOL.1, an album that fuses new and old Hip Hop, Afrobeats, and soothing Soul ballads. TOBi’s desire to follow his creative intuition has led him down an interesting path. Through his work, he demonstrates his fierce curiosity and commitment to being an authentic and original musician.
For FF Mixtape #189, TOBi has curated a playlist of tracks from his library that he listens on the daily, and that explore the vast range of emotions one can go through.
How has your upbringing, living in two disparate countries (Nigeria and Canada), influenced your work?
My dad always told me to take the best of both countries and make them my own. This is something that I try to do musically, incorporating the sounds of my upbringing with new music that I’ve found outside. The genres that have influenced me from home include Gospel, Fuji, Afrobeats, and Soul music, which I learned at home. Hip Hop stole my heart first with East coast MCs like LOX, Dipset, Jay-Z, Nas. Then the South with Outkast, Little Brother, UGK, Three 6 Mafia as a teenager. In university, I had a brief obsession with shoegaze, and I learned how to stack vocals from Imogen Heap and Florence Welsh.
Afrosoul and Afrobeats tracks from the likes of ENNY, The Cavemen, and Ayra Starr feature on your tracklist. Over the last decade, Afrobeats have filtered into mainstream media further rising in popularity through figures such as Burna Boy—how has Toronto been receptive to Afrobeats?
Toronto is a microcosm of the world because it’s so multicultural. Living there is fun because there are pockets for most cultural groups that you can think of. Afrobeats has taken the city by storm for many reasons, mainly because the diaspora has such a strong presence there.
You founded UNPACK community, a platform dedicated to constructive discussions on mental health. How do you creatively practice wellness?
My whole life is centered on creativity. I always try to find ways to weave it into my being. Whether it’s in my fashion, or the food I eat— I like to experience things that are rich and refill my vessel. So I practice creative wellness by exploring new forms of media via documentaries, art exhibits, fashion shows, and even food pop-ups! I live by the saying, ‘Don’t forget to live’. The value of an experience is not tied to how much it costs, but to the weight of the experience on the person involved.
Hip-hop has been stereotypically defined through a hyper-masculine narrative. Contemporary artists such as Kendrick Lamar have challenged this trope. How do you feel the perception and representation of masculinity in Hip-hop have changed over the years? What do you admire in a rapper’s flow?
I agree! I think artists like Kendrick, J Cole, Andre 3000, Phonte of Little Brother, Guru of Gang Starr, No Malice of Clipse and so many others have had a beautiful part to play in showing the vastness and multidimensions of the male experience. These artists have been role models for me and I hope to do the same for other artists coming up.
What does the future hold for TOBi?
Unapologetic Soul music to the world! I want to tour and share this music with people all around the world. I want to rock stages in cities I’ve never been to, and eat food I cannot pronounce. Lastly, I just want to share the art and craft with as many beautiful souls as possible.
Finally, how did you select the tracks for this mixtape?
I chose the songs I’d listen to for every mood I can experience in one day. Each song has the capacity to connect with a certain emotional experience and I wanted to share that with you all.
Emerging out of the scene in Toronto in 2015, TOBi has come a long way. His debut album STILL was released in 2019 followed by a continuation of the project encompassed through STILL+1, featuring additional tracks alongside the likes of Jazz Cartier, The Game, and VanJess. In 2020, Tobi released ELEMENTS Vol.1 resignifying his work as an explorative songwriter and MC. Check out his recent single, ‘Keep From Falling’.
You can follow TOBi to keep up to date with his new releases, events, and performances!
Photography: Patrick Duong
Interview and Text: Isabelle Moulding