Welcome to Rapper Tobi Lou’s (Delightfully) Mad World
Words by Shaday Stewart

If you’ve always wanted to peek in on a stranger’s hyperactive daydream, hip-hop artist Tobi Lou is pleased to let you tag along on a carnival ride through his creative universe of “happy and extra sad” tunes. The 32-year-old Nigerian-born rapper and producer is known for crafting candid lyrics that drift so naturally from sarcastic to mellow to wistful that you feel like his thoughts are taking shape right in the moment. Even though his songs often delve into experiences he finds sad or frustrating, Tobi delivers his lines in a laid-back, lighthearted style that makes one thing clear: He’s having fun.

Born Tobi Adeyemi, the Los Angeles-based rapper moved to the United States as a toddler and grew up in the Chicago suburbs. After playing cello as a child, he moved on to sports in high school and college, but the idea of being a musician was always on his mind. “I would be in my classroom in grade school, just singing songs and always throwing my name in it to make my classmates laugh and remixing songs we all know,” says Tobi. “It just kept going through junior high and I finally got a microphone from Radio Shack.”

While pursuing a career in semi-pro baseball, he was sidelined by hamstring injuries — an unexpected hurdle that inspired him to go all-in on music. In 2018 alone, he put out three EPs, and in 2019, he released his first full-length album, “Live on Ice.” Now signed with ARTCLUB International, Tobi has a nationwide tour under his belt and collaborations with fellow rising artists, such as Smino, Dreezy, Rockie Fresh, and Erica René.

Along the way, the hip-hop artist has taken time to keep fine-tuning his style, so he never gets stuck remaking the same things. Tobi describes his evolving repertoire of music as “a rebellion against the pop structure” he grew up listening to. “When I came to LA, I was doing a lot of pop writing for the first couple of years…so, everything was very formulaic. I think that when I got out of that system and was trying to figure out how to make it on my own, it became about: ‘How do I make the song feel like it’s moving and not just redundant?'”

With the help of music video director Glassface, the self-styled scientist has figured out how to transform his imaginative musings into witty, entertaining visuals. Fans are quickly drawn in by his unique animated escapades and surreal dreamscapes. In a beautifully melancholy song like “2 hrs,” he serves up a teary-eyed performance set against a background of fluorescent floating jellyfish. The video for his three-song project “Lingo Star” showcases the rapper wielding butterfly wings, setting his body aflame, and transforming into a dragon. At other times, Tobi’s impish cartoon alter ego is thrown into one humorous predicament after the next, as in the video for his 2020 certified-Gold single “Buff Baby.” The song went viral in a TikTok dance challenge, helping to launch the rapper’s career to new heights.

The diverse musical and pop culture influences stewing around in Tobi’s mind are apparent from the varied and often surprising ways he combines different elements into a multilayered story. While Tobi counts musicians Kanye West and Frank Ocean among his top inspirations, he grew up in the golden age of MTV, absorbing a wealth of musical styles, ranging from NSync to Yanni. “There were a lot of things coming across my ears and even if I didn’t fully dive into something, I could pick up on the beauty in it. I felt like my mind became like a database for everything I was hearing. And then growing up and hearing Kanye, the musicality he brought to hip-hop, it really egged on my musical nature.”

Tobi’s energetic individuality and willingness to be vulnerable are key reasons fans love to inhabit his world. Reflecting on how his confidence has evolved over the years, Tobi notes, “A lot of my style came from starting to be comfortable with myself and actually not caring what people thought. You just own whatever you’ve got and you find yourself feeling really comfortable in your own skin and not competing with other people anymore.” From his signature dyed afro puffs to the bold, graphic prints he dons in his performances, everything about the musician grabs attention.

And thanks to social media knocking down many barriers between artists and fans, genre-defying musicians like Tobi have more access to broad audiences that just want to feel moved by good music. “I may not have been able to exist if I came out 10 or 20 years ago,” says Tobi. “I’m existing at the right moment because music is so direct, it allowed me to break through.” True to his prolific nature, Tobi used the pandemic lockdown as an opportunity to grow, learn guitar, and work on his upcoming album, “Parrish Blue.” Whatever the artist is cooking up in that delightfully inventive brain of his, fans will undoubtedly get a fresh dose of cheeky brilliance when it drops.

Metamorphosis Issue 14


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