TOBI's STILL is a Personal & Creative Coming of Age Debut
Evan Dale // May 10, 2019
Even while music expands towards the direction of the melodic and the absurd, so too does it move further in the direction of the lyrical and meaningful. And while many artists exist as transcendent forces of groundbreaking risks taken to merge different ends of the spectrum, a rare artist so fervently gifted in their collection of stylistic grey areas is able to push the mold further and harder in a multitude of directions than anyone else before them. From Canada by way of Nigeria comes TOBi, whose debut album, STILLhas been many creative years and two-and-a-half decades of life in the making. An unparalleled force with a pen, with a tongue, with a voice, and with a brutally open emotional capacity, TOBi, in an era of indefinable risk takers is least definable and most risky.
STILL is a marathon of self-reflection and bluesy influence that at times feels like a lyrically-endowed hip-hop project, at others feels like a collection of downtrodden R&B ballads, and at others still is fondly reminiscent of his incredibly diverse and complex roots. STILL is TOBi reflected in artistic form, and nothing could make for a stronger debut album.
Relocating to Canada with his father at the age of eight, TOBi was torn between two very different but very complimentary cultural backdrops. When his mother and the rest of his siblings were able to join them in Canada a year later, ToBi’s life moved forward not too far removed from the normalcy of his local Canadian counterparts. Surrounded by the cultural myriad of his differing roots and pushed by an immigrant family’s desire to adapt and thrive along a steady and secure line, TOBi was torn between pursuing the arts or pursuing a life delineated by education and standardized definitions of Euro-American success.
It goes without saying that all of us are content with the fact he chased his creative passions because STILL and the overarching direction of his musicality to this point are what we love most about what the arts not only offer their audience, but also their creators.
The album reads like a complex run of diary entries from an artist that has more to speak about and more to deal with emotionally than most of us ever will. But unlike most of us, recounting his past and looking towards his future results in undeniable, thought-provoking, heartstring tearing art. And throughout the album, it feels like a very necessary emotional release for its creator. Duality plays a leading role in TOBi’s thematic explorations. Torn between his Nigerian and Canadian roots, between the musical influence of both, between style at large, and between the struggles of such conflicted background, the entirety of STILL is meant to be listened to consciously. And realistically, it would be difficult not to be drawn in to every poetic wisp.
Yet, STILL is not lacking in any sort of manner that hyper-lyrical, hyper-emotional albums often are. There is plenty of melodic energy guiding the album’s length. Just give one listen to Werking – one of TOBi’s leading singles and one of the more addicting, bouncy choruses of the year. Just listen to Sweet Poison which boasts particularly clean and uniquely electronically-nuanced modern production while holding true to TOBi’s grey-area, boundless vocal delivery.
And then, at the drop of a hat, TOBI is able to switch the script and explode with in-depth penmanship rarely matched in modern hip-hop music. Which is made all the more impressive and modernly transcended by the fact that it would be nearly impossible to label TOBi a rapper. He’s an incredibly gifted soul vocalist who draws as clear of inspiration from blues as he does from his West-African roots. He is a gospel singer, a vibrant piece to the Toronto hip-hop scope, and an inspirational writer built on a myriad of range and influence. He is undeniably comparable to other geniuses of the modern transcendent realm – Anderson .Paak, D’Angelo – but with the advanced range of his background and the continued exploration of his past and present, he is something else entirely – something equally great.