For Tobi Lou, Home Is Where The Soul Is

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During a recent tour stop in Chicago, Tobi Lou reflects on what sets his hometown apart.

As Tobi Lou walked onto the stage of the Concord Music Hall to perform in Chicago in the first time in a year, the beat to “Lavender Town, Pt. 1” filled the entire room. Swaying back and forth to the front of the stage, the audience followed suit. His homecoming show was starting without a hitch... until it it came time to spit his verse. Opening his mouth to start rapping, the sound from the mic cuts out,leaving just the instrumental playing- undeterred, Tobi kept performing like nothing happened, subtly pointing to the stage crew to get him a new mic. Dancing to the the music and engaged the crowd (which started an “ay, ay, ay” chant), he bopped to the music until the mic was fixed. “Bring that shit back, Bring that shit back,” commanded  into the now functioning mic. “Are we cool now?” was met with a roaring yes. Cue the music. Tobi was back home.

“I’ve stood up in front of too many strangers to ever get worried about technical difficulties over family, which is what I feel when I’m in Chicago. Even when I’m not here for while and I come back, I just feel a sense of happiness like ‘oh, fuck I’m really back home’ and it feels good because the family is here. When I see people outside, it like ‘okay, everyone is from Chicago’ and I know their struggling a little bit because this where I grew up, so I know exactly what they’re dealing with. It just feels really familiar and familiarity is good.”

Tobi’s family moved to Chicago from Nigeria when he was two years-old before eventually settling down in Homewood-Flossmoor when he was five. He credits his upbringing in Chicago as having the most profound impact on himself and his music, but specifically credits 3 key components of Chicago culture:food, weather and people.

Food may seem like an unlikely source of artistic inspiration, yet shouldn’t be too surprising Tobi’s name dropping of a certain local pizza chain in his latest single “Orange” (“Bitch, I’m from Chicago/I like Giordano’s”). After his set, he could be seen by the merch table slamming slice after slice of Giordano’s deep dish with the rest of team while greeting fans.

“I just love Chicago food because it’s just the best in the world. I didn’t know we had the best until I tried other cities’ food and realized ours really is the best. Our food is just a part of our culture of going hard in everything, no matter what it is. We just do everything with soul.”

Chicago’s weather taught Tobi to balance the good with the bad. Spending the last few years living in L.A., Tobi has enjoyed nearly-pitch perfect weather almost everyday. Growing up in Chicago though, he learned to endure the elements at their best and worst.

“Weather in Chicago has this bipolar nature. I feel like there’s no place like that in the United States. It’s either cold cold or it gets hot hot. The weather just really taught a lot about myself because I wasn’t allowed to go outside like that with my friends depending on the weather so I had to learn how to have fun by myself.”

Tobi’s music captures that bipolar environment,blending catchy, melodic sounds with lyrics exploring life’s deeper meanings, from mental health to self-worth. He effortlessly weaves these two seemingly contrasting styles like a quilt with clearly distinct and separate patches.Stitched together and wrapped around yourself,  you’ll feel warm, cozy and protected from the world’s harsh elements.

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“With the people of the Midwest, specifically in Chicago, there’s this soulfulness.”

“You can hide a lotta shit in melody, but lyrics are still very important to me. For example, ‘Hey Ya!’ by OutKast is catchy as fuck. It was number one radio pop catchy but the lyrics have meaning. When I tell people about it, they’re like ‘oh, it’s about divorce?’ People are either going to get the message or they’re just gonna get up and dance, and at the end of the day, that’s just a beautiful marriage. You can still deliver a message in a great song and not sell-out. That’s what I try to do on every song because I don’t like to waste lyrics. If a line is there, it’s there for a reason.”

Tobi’s fusion of happy and sad undertones is most notable in his 3rd EP Tobi Lou and The Juice. The project balances opening up on his vulnerabilities while affirming his own positivity. Concluding with the track, “Just Keep Goin,” Tobi announces himself the “King of Bop”, but in the third verse expresses a desire to disappear saying “I really hate this scene/I need a lazer beam/Beam me up Scotty high beam/I need a goodnight please.” By the end of the song, he reaches out to the listener directly by repeating “I know you going through it, I know you going through, keep going baby.”

During his performance of “Keep Goin” at Concord, there was a hush in the audience. Each time Tobi recited “I know you going through things,” he pointed to a different individual in the crowd. It was an intimacy between himself and the crowd that can only be described as familial. At that point in time he was no longer just performing, but he was speaking directly to his family, offering them strength and energy.

“With the people of the Midwest, specifically in Chicago, there’s this soulfulness. We’re just passionate for everything. We’ll throw hands or get heated over an argument over anything, whether it’s over sports or food or territory. That’s how I grew up and that’s only what I know now. When I get out in the world, I do things soulfully. We just go hard in everything.”

Tobi exudes passion, whether through performance or regular conversation, carrying himself with infectious positive energy. After blowing up in the past year off the success of his three EPs and a fourth one, Tobi Lou Live on Ice!, coming soon, he is truly one of music’s budding superstars. Yet, he remains ten toes down to the Earth and is grateful for life’s opportunities.

Yeah, you know you can be good, but what if you can be great?

“I wasn’t planning on doing 4 EPs this year. It was just supposed to be one EP and the album, but the way this year went and the success we had, it’s like ‘hey guys, look at where we are right now.’ Let’s just take this moment in right now because next year, we’re gonna have to dig in again. The year either went how you wanted it to go or it didn’t, and I’ve lived a lot more years where it didn’t go where I wanted it to go than it has. I’m thankful, but we still have work to do.”

The work Tobi has been putting in so far though has been nothing but fruitful. The fan following he’s received is almost cult-like. It’s made him put into perspective on just how much of an impact his art can have.

“To me, it was like  ‘yeah, you know you can be good, but what if you can be great?’ You can be the light and be this person people look up to not even from a musical aspect, but by just being a real ass person. The key to me is just keeping my feet on the ground, and I hope someone quotes me on this if I ever start trippin’, but too often some people’s feet lift from off the ground because they got some money. That’s why it’s so important to me to meet with every fan after a show. Yes, it’s tiring, but it’s so beautiful and we need this. I like seeing people smile and just being human with people. Just being important in anyone’s life for any reason, it’s important for me to make myself available to them while I still can.”