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TOBi, a musical artist whose roots sprouted in Lagos, then raised in the mosaic of Toronto's cultural tapestry, and now basking in the LA sun — his journey encapsulates a blend of cultures, each influencing his unique musical style. This artist has evolved from a battle rapper into a Juno Award-winner, known for his poetic melodies and profound storytelling.

His full name, Oluwatobi, meaning "God is the greatest," is a testament to the brilliance that radiates from within him. TOBi's craft is more than mere performance; it's a spiritual act of reclaiming the narrative, of bearing the mantle of a "conscious rapper." His lyrics serve as a reflection of the world's intricacies, capturing both its shadows and its light. Woven into his soul-stirring melodies is his infectious, optimistic spirit.

Nestled in a Moroccan-inspired LA production studio, we delved into his background, his inspirations and TOBi's latest project, "PANIC" far more than an album; it's a vibrant voyage through the corridors of his memories. Each track is a revelation, a fearless exploration of truth, laying bare the questions of existence. "PANIC" functions as a map charting where we have been, who we are, and the infinite possibilities of our futures.

Catch the wave of TOBi's musical journey as he embarks on an international tour alongside the talented Mick Jenkins beginning in January 2024. But for now, delve deeper into his world below.

Were you born in Nigeria? How old were you when you came to Canada? Why did yourfamily move to the states?

When I was about 9 years old. A couple of reasons, my pops just wanted us to have better opportunities — straight up. There was just a lot of things going on, a string of violence events and he didn’t want us to deal with this so I just came with him to Canada.

So your full name is Oluwatobi, I am really big etymology, the meaning of names and I looked up your name and it means "God is great" So how do you walk in greatness in your own life?

I think every time I reflect on my name, I push it on everything I do — my art, well not just my art but also my mental well being, my physical well being. I try to have that be the center of everything I do. I have my own personal standards and I just want to keep increasing it.

How have your two cultures — being Nigerian and growing up in Toronto influenced your life and your music?

It’s interesting Yoruba culture, which is my tribe in Nigeria, there are a lot of differences than North American culture. For example, how we see older people, there is a deep reverence for older people. I like hanging out with older people because they give you knowledge and wisdom.

There’s a certain gap in information sometimes with previous generations and our generation and sometimes it feels like it’s antagonistic and you hear people be like “Millennials these days ’or “Gen Z’s these days” but the times are different, times have changed but we can all get the keys from one another. So that’s one of the pieces that I like to take with me — soaking up the game from older people and giving game to younger people.

What’s one piece of advice an older person has given you that’s really stuck with you?

I feel like every person I’ve ever spoken to has always said this one thing - don’t rush your life, wherever you are as you’re growing up, in your youth really soak it in and really like milk your teenage years, milk your 20s, milk your thirties, live that sh** to the fullest cause there ain't no going back!

So at Deeds Mag or ethos is “Culture Unwrapped” what does that phrase mean to you? How would you define that for yourself?

For me I think everybody has a unique cultural palette, whether that’s your ethnicity or you religion, or just your world view, or your music taste; everybody has a unique palette. Coming from Lagos, to Toronto, now living in LA I am picking up pieces here and there that makes me who I am. So unwrapping is peeling, like an onion, all the different layers and so I am just enjoying the depths of my cultures.

How have the creative spaces/ scenes of Toronto, Lagos and LA influenced your music &identity?

Lagos is very DIY, you have to make it work with what you have and I noticed that too when I was in Accra, Ghana last December. The creatives over there really make shit happen with next to nothing and it really looks and feels really authentic. That’s one thing I keep from there for me for my fashion, sometimes you can get a new piece or you can rework an older piece and breathe new life into it, re-vitalize it, that DIY approach is important to me. You know Toronto is made up of multicultural people from all over the world, so we’re all just sponges, influencing each other.

What other cultures have influenced you in Toronto?

Jamaica for sure! They’ve had such a big impact on me, even the way they speak, with the patois and pidgin English are like cousins.

You’ve described your project “Panic” as a deep love for humanity. When I hear the word PANIC , I don’t automatically think of that phrase. Can you unpack what you meant when you said that?

Absolutely, I think about the world we live in right now. I think that a lot of people are confused about the direction of a lot of things and it’s not a new thing. I think it’s been the last couple of years asking “what does this mean?” and for me when I say ‘a deep love for humanity”. I think we need to act urgently and come together as a human race, as a human species and breakdown those barriers of ethnicities, religion or social economic status — that’s the old world, I don’t think the future world is really going to pay attention to all of that. I don’t think we should to be honest with you.

The reason why I called it Panic is because it’s an urgent matter, that we should do it sooner than later.

You can’t ignore when someone is panicking

Exactly! Not tryna be cliche but we really gotta love one another and treat each other as human first before the labels. The labels are cool because it’s a part of who we are but I feel we gotta treat each other on a human level

How has your musical process between your project “Elements Vol. 1” to now “Panic”changed?

Elements vol 1. those were songs I really loved and I just put them together, with Panic I had like a mission statement before i started it and that mission statement was my compose towards finishing the project and I was working on it remotely in Toronto while my producer was in LA and we were doing the zoom thing and it wasn’t bitten, we needed that in person that connection, that’s why the reason why I came our here to finish it with him. Just seeing someone in person, having critique and feedback in person is so much better so that’s definitely a process that I want to continue to do with whoever I work with.

On “Panic” you worked with Phil Renelin, a jazz trombonist. How do you make connections with other artist? I know some connections happen organically but what are some connections you’ve made with other artists and how did those connections come about?

Honestly sometimes it’s just a DM! I did this track “Too hot” with Adekunle Gold I just hit him in the DMs and I was like what’s going on I have a track for you and he was like send it on, it did take him 6 months to send it back but we did that. Sometimes it’s just a cold email. TopazJones is on the album — for him I went to go watch him perform and then I saw him afterwards and i was like let’s get in the studio so sometimes you just gotta reach out

Where do you see yourself in the Afrobeats culture? Do you see yourself ever making a full Afrobeats album?

I definitely want to do it in a way where everything is organic and not like a force. So for me it just gotta feel natural. I want to say shout out to Show dem Camp, you know that palm wine music. I like the way they do it because it’s Afrobeats but they’re rapping and they’re singing and it doesn’t feel like it’s a mismatch and it feels very congruent. Those are people that I take inspiration from when it comes to doing that but I just gotta do it my own way but it’s going to happen.

Speaking of inspiration — you’ve stated in the past that Jill Scott Heron and Dub poetry inspired your lyrics and music. What were some inspirations for your latest project?

Poetry for sure and spoken word. Spoken word artists are some of the brilliant artists in the world, I think oftentimes we think of poetry we think of Williams Shakespeare and people of that genre. I think of breakbeat poets, modern day hip hop poets are brilliant. It's like people won’t know how dope it is for another twenty years — Aja Monet, brilliant contemporary poet that comes to mind. Someone like Amiri Baraka, paints life in such a beautiful way that the most mundane things that make it feel magical.

Who are some musical artists that have inspired you for this project?

Definitely NIna Simone, Kendrick, Fela Kuti, Beyoncé. People who are forces — they can speak on social issues, have social commentary but make music you can actually dance and vibe to.

I feel like all those people are so rooted in who they are just as you are so it makes sense that you’ve drawn inspiration from them! So in terms of all of your visuals, they’re very nuanced, specific and I feel like I’m watching a full short film or a narrative but you have pivoted and started doing these live performance experiences. How did that come about?

Those experiences came out of a conversation with my team and just after seeing my live shows and sometimes I do it with a full band. They show how much thought we really put into those songs. That’s why we really wanted to get the music director, the bassist and the keys player just because that’s what we did making the album and I just wanted people to experience the music in a live full setting. Even if they’re halfway across the world and they can’t see a live TOBi show, at least you get the live experience while watching it online.

In your song “Lest We Forget” you talk about conscious rap — lets delve into that. What does that mean to you? What does that look like for you? I know that’s such a taboo term but do you identify with that?

I remember four years ago somebody called me a conscious rapper and I was like “nahh bro” I am not a conscious rapper and I had shivers.I think I had a visceral reaction because there is a stigma that comes with that term that you gotta be perfect, or holier than thou and that’s not what it is. Everybody has faults, I am not infallible but I would rather be a conscious rapper than an unconscious rapper. To me it just means mans are alive and aware, or as aware as we can be. I am reclaiming that term and I would love for artists to reclaim it if they choose to.

A feel like a conscious artist is somebody who from the inside out rather than the outside in and is a reflection of the times. I think you’re doing just that. In the song “Someone I Knew” there's a lyric that says “an artist or an archive of the hard times”. Can you unpack what that means to you?

In that song I am talking a lot about memories and I think it was a very therapeutic process writing that song. The beautiful thing about therapy is you can access your old memories but you can re-contextualize them so that you can move on and you're not plagued by it. Sometimes you just remember all the bad things that have happened. It can stop you from moving forward and in that song I said nope this is where it stops, we’ve been through that, we are working through it and now this is the future. We’re changing the future and how we want it to look and I hope you if anybody feels that same way they can be inspired to actually address and work through those things.

You in therapy?

Not right now. Writing is therapy. I did this partnership with Talk Space though, we gave people six months of free therapy so basically my team recognized that was important to me, so I wanted to extend it to my community.

I know therapy and the African community can be shunned upon. Do you have those conversations with your family? How do you get to a place of healing with family and your community when it comes to getting? Do you have those conversations ? I know your music is pretty therapeutic but how do you go about having these conversations

I think we gotta demystify what therapy means. I think a lot of times when the parent hears their child wants to go therapy they look at it as a reflection of their parenting. I can’t speak for everybody, we all have a unique situation, if anybody feels like they need that. I think it’s important to know that that’s a normal valid feeling and they just gotta do it if they have the means to it — because it could also be expensive, so there’s barriers but I would love for my fellow west African people who are thinking about it to demystify that term. it’s not that deep. It's going to (hopefully) make you a better person. It’s love that’s going to get you through the finish line regardless.

So you went from battle rapping to now Panic the album. How has your lyricism changed from them till now? What is that trajectory for you?

I think the key switch is that when I was doing battle rap I was just trying to impress people, spit some bars just to get an applause from the crowd. That’s the cognitive switch that it went from caring about that and from what I found now is dope. That’s when I did the inner work and the poetry. A good poet is able to just talk about something that’s happening in life and break it down in a way where you feel it inside, and it’s not just intellectual — you feel something with the words. I can’t do that battle rap shit anymore. I still appreciate watching it, I don’t know if its in me to battle rap anybody anymore.

You won the Juno Awards this year for Best Album/EP and you're going on tour with Mick Jenkins in January so what are some places you’re excited to go to?

I am excited to go to Lisbon because they have a rich musical history and I think its the westernmost city in Europe and just nerd out. I love geography.

What legacy do you want to leave? How do you want to be remembered?

Honestly for me it's the simplest thing - I just want people to remember that we have way more in common than differences. If I can do that through music — mission accomplished.

Director: Deeds / @deeds_art

Photographer: Debra Orols / @debraorols

Producer: Pablo Flores Perez / @shootervisuals_

Styling: Aunna Khyris / @princessaunna

Styling assistant: Vanessa Arturet / @vanessaarturet

Writer: Dorcas Thete / @dorcasthete

Lighting Assistant: Brianna Alysse / @brialysse

BTS: Johnny Cooke / @johnny__cooke

Label : RCA

Publicist : Nicole Garcia Amanda Zimmerman