TOBi’s 2019 debut album, STILL, introduced a singer/MC who could slip between old-school soul and modern-rap modes fluidly and deliver heart-rending stories of his immigrant upbringing in the Toronto suburbs with cinematic gravitas. But the warm reception for that first record—including props from hip-hop heavyweights like Snoop and The Game—has only encouraged TOBi to stretch his aesthetic into new directions, and the inaugural instalment of his ELEMENTS mixtape series functions as a petri dish for deeper exploration. As TOBi tells Apple Music, ELEMENTS, Vol. 1 is “a vehicle for me to push music that I've created in between album cycles, just to have the freedom to experiment and try new genres and sounds that I haven't done before. It's a challenge to myself as a songwriter.” For TOBi (born Oluwatobi Feyisara Ajibolade, in Lagos, Nigeria) that’s meant making maiden forays into styles like grime, Afrobeats and romantic slow-jam duets, while framing his real-life lessons in more evocative, metaphorical language. “What I love so much about songwriting is the imagery,” he says, “so I’ve been reading a lot of poetry and listening to a lot of Gil Scott-Heron and dub poetry—I’m very inspired by that.” Here, TOBi presents us with a track-by-track table of his ELEMENTS.
Dollas and Cents "I've been listening to Afropop and Afrobeats since I was a kid. Now, creating that music is kind of new for me, but it's so natural. It's not something that I have to overthink. You know, I speak the language. I know the rhythms—it just feels natural. 'Dollas and Cents' to me is like a personal mantra of 'don't sweat the small stuff'. In the verses, I talk about my journey as an artist and my journey through life, and a big part of that is paying attention to the things that matter. That's very important to me."
Made Me Everything "The producer brought me that sample [of Words of Wisdom-Truth Revue's 1971 single 'You Made Me Everything']. I was doing a session at his studio, and as soon as he played the sample already chopped up, I was like, 'Yeah, I gotta get on this,' because it lifted my soul ASAP. In the sample, he's talking about going down on his knees and praying to God, and it just feels so powerful, and it resonated with me so heavily. And [my line] 'The pain made me everything I am' just came out of the air. I didn't think on it too hard. It was just natural, like it made sense."
Conquest “I was thinking about loss in a previous relationship, and what it felt like to be tied down, which is why I talk about bondage in the chorus. But the whole premise of the song is I'm not possessive with the people in my life. I believe people come in and out of our lives and they teach us things and we just carry that with us.”
Family Matters “I did this song in the UK, with the producer Hannah V. I was literally in town for two days, and we locked in. I wanted to do some grime-sounding music, and she was like, ‘Let's do it!' The song is actually a story about a friend of mine. He told me a story about his life and his dedication to his loved ones, but how that also came with the vices and temptations of life.”
Silhouette "Someone put me onto LOONY's music last year, and I was so impressed by the songwriting and the production. I became a fan, so I just hit her up, and I was like, ‘We should work on something.' And she was super excited. I sent her the song, I sent her the theme, I sent her what my intentions were, and she just bodied it. I think it's a beautiful song. It can be difficult to write a love song, because when you write it, and you're being honest and true to your story, it means you need to accept whatever it is that’s going on in your life. So for me to be that vulnerable on that song, and talk about being insecure in a relationship with somebody, part of me is like, 'Do I really want to put this out?' But it's music, it's art—it's meant to be that way."
Beige “I was having a conversation with a friend of mine and she talked about being of mixed race, and she spoke about being caught between those two worlds and what being biracial meant to her, and how she didn't feel like she quite fit in with either sphere. So that really inspired me to go deep within myself and think of what that word, that colour beige, means. It can be taken as an insult, but it is what it is—I think people feel that way in different places.”
Shine “This one's actually about a friend of mine, who's like a brother. We mirror each other: Those things that he's talking about in the song, I felt that too. I love this song; it was cathartic for me to write.”
Faces "There were definitely a couple situations that happened [after my first album came out] that made me write this song: You know, walking into certain rooms where I'd been in before and noticing the air was a little bit different this time around, even though I hadn't felt like I had changed, just some external things had changed.”
Matter “I think that line 'I'm in a class of my own, it's been a lonely semester' is meant to be braggadocious but also self-deprecating at the same time, in the sense that I do feel like I'm in a class on my own when it comes to what I'm doing as an artist, but it comes with its drawbacks, and that's people not fully understanding the vision. If you really, really love somebody, you should love them enough to give them space, but never leave them—you know what I mean?”
Still Singing “This is me wrapping up the project and just being vulnerable with the story and keeping it true, while providing some solace to the listener. I've been singing all my life; I'm gonna keep singing forever.”