STiLL, the debut release by TOBi, launches with the drippy, colourful R&B that almost immediately exposes the Toronto-based multi-hyphenate’s shapeshifting tendencies. Over thirteen tracks that flit between a number of genres, at times he channels the succinct gusto of D’Angelo or Blood Orange, others he sounds devoted to channeling the social allusions that feel inspired by Anderson. Paak and Chance the Rapper. During moments when he refuses to prioritize rap or soul, he opts for a morphous blend of both. And interspersed through an ambitiously crafted album that’s ripe with crossover appeal, TOBi overlays his tracks with a palpable warmth that allows enough space for experimentation; like over the spooky, darkwave synth lines on or over a lush, tropical soundscape.
The theme of growth and maturity permeate through STiLL in big and small proclamations with a vivid clear-headedness. Whether he’s reflecting on those too-expensive Jordans he once asked his parents for (“Locked In”) or lamenting a lost love over minimal, guitar-led soul (“FEEL”), the album pulls from personal narratives to explore the idiosyncrasies of first generation kids with dreams pointed skyline. It’s this quality, of making intimate moments universal that feels like TOBi has made it his responsibility to explore on our behalf. In his own words, the rising 25-year old artist broke down the inspiration behind every track on the album.
“I started the story as literally as possible, taking listeners on a trip with me to where it all started. I’m letting people in on some details about my journey and starting to frame the narrative from my days in Nigeria, to North America and what that looked like for me. I speak on growth as shedding old skin and coming into a new frame that is bigger and better.”
This song wasn’t originally supposed to be on the album. I used to listen to the producers (Free and Losh) when I was an undergrad student, years back. I found them on IG, reached out to them and told them I was a big fan of their work. We had a session like the next week and I made 3 records with them.
Conceptually, I was directly inspired by Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” and how he painted a vivid image of the harsh realities of the world in a beautiful and sonically pleasing way.
I heard this beat in Clayjays house in LA and he already had a loose concept for it. Fortunately, it was in line with what I was already feeling and the space in the production gave me room to approach this song from different melody lines. I wanted a song that would tell my story but still be able to connect with others in different situations.
This was a poem that I wrote reflecting on my life and relationship with my mother. I felt it was integral to put this on the album because it added to the central theme of growth and self-discovery. It also feels like an opening up from “Locked In.” It’s reflective, remorseful but hopeful to anybody who’s been in my shoes.
In a world that pushes us to numb and suppress our emotions, feelings and thoughts, I needed to fight against that in the best way I knew how… through song. This is me peeling back the layers and being upfront and sincere with myself and the one I love.
Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou inspires me, both her creative output and her life’s work. I would consider myself an idealist but also a pragmatist. I wrote for anybody who has felt a deep desire to make a change in the world, and needed to adjust expectations to addressing what is directly within their reach.
Freud’s ‘repetition compulsion’ describes the pattern whereby people endlessly repeat patterns of behaviour which were difficult or distressing in earlier life. While most people know what is good and bad for them, there is something alluring about what can be possibly hurtful. Danger and the unknown is exciting to us, especially in the context of companionship.
I remember as a teenager making these mistakes that made my mother worried sick about me. She told me, she felt physically ill with worry about my whereabouts. I remember coming home late one night and seeing her looking troubled at my absence and lack of communication. She gave me a long, stern lecture about the realities that I was ignoring and gave me a hug afterwards. At that point I knew I was both a source of joy and anxiety for my mother.
While chasing the thrills that life can offer me, I pray I get home safe to see another 24.
This is the climax of conflict here with a moment of clarity at the end. The conflict stems from marital issues, low income, household drama and reaching my breaking point as an artist. I would call this the point where I decide to laugh in the face of adverse conditions and keep my spirit alive. When I got the beat from !llmind he had called it “GRIT” and that’s exactly what I needed at the time. This was perfect timing as I needed the right sonic backdrop to tell this story.
Represents the transition from the rebellious nature of teenage angst to a sense of maturity and openness to self-realization.
Shot Me Down
This song was written with my older male role models in my life in mind. I watched them balance their egoic pursuits for success in the world while retaining the values that they grew up on. I reflect on how losing sight of the things that are important can ultimately bring you down on your quest for success. This song is a reminder to me to keep a balanced outlook on everything going on in my life.
Come Back Home
This was the first song that I started on the album and also the last to finish. This was also probably the easiest song for me to write on this album. The lyrics fell out of my lips as if they had been waiting to be said for years. The concepts and themes that I had been ruminating on since I was a child naturally spilled on the page when I heard the beat. This song was also the most challenging for me to do my performance on, but I was encouraged to take it to a new level by the producer Tim Suby.