Perfectly complementing the harsh summer heat, rapper/actor/comedian ToBy just dropped his introspective and breezy new EP, The Outside this month. Within its six songs, The Outside finds ToBy not only doing the majority of the recording and engineering for the first time, but also exploring a new direction of his music – one rooted in vulnerability and honesty. The EP covers topics such as heartbreak, the psychological toll of success, doubts, fears, wonders, and worries in the face of impending mortality.
With The Outside out now, we caught up with ToBy to discuss the hard work that went into the EP and his plans for the future. Read the full interview and listen to the EP now below.
Prelude Press: You just released your new EP, The Outside this month! What are you most excited for fans to hear on this release?
ToBy: I’m most excited for fans to hear my new direction. I’ve taken them on several different journeys across my discography: some live band genre-blending with “El Prado Blvd” some pop-influenced contemporary records with “ToBySeason Vol. I” and other different moods and styles. With “The Outside” EP I want to expose them to a much more personal and intimate version of my music and I’m excited to see how they respond to it. Specifically I mean tracks like “Cascades” and “Wishes” where I talk more about myself in relation to my romantic partners, friends, and family.
The Outside is an introspective release that finds you returning to the source of your inspirations as an artist. It being more of a personal release, was it ever daunting or cathartic to work on these songs?
So it was always a bit of both. I know on “Southside” I had to dig deep and process my feelings about the subject matter. That song came about because I was talking to my niece when she was visiting us from Chicago back when I lived in Miami and she told me a story about how she was friends with the clerk at her 7-11. She told me all these wonderful things about him and how he gave her and her brother free candy sometimes, then ended the story with how he got shot two times in the chest and once in the head. That really broke my heart. To know that this child had to understand that level of gruesome trauma at such an early age really impacted me but in writing it out I was able to reach a place of acceptance with these feelings and know that I’m contributing to that narrative in a way. On “Wishes”, which I actually spent my 26th birthday working on in the studio, I was able to have a mental check in with myself and finally just say what was weighing on my soul. I believe in achieving unity through specificity so it’s my hope that my personal anecdotes and individual energy can help connect other people, since we’re really not so different at the end of the day.
What sort of journey did this EP take you on musically or lyrically when you started working on it? Did you have any goals in mind when you were working on these songs?
So this EP took me on more of a technical journey than anything else, and by that I mean that I actually did a majority of the recording and engineering for this project for the first time. I’ve always worked with producers and engineers but over years of watching over their shoulders and learning the software I decided to try and make this project in solitude, coordinating with oebeats for the production and my mixing engineer Ruben Cardenas for the final assets. Through that deep-dive into the world of engineering I was really able to free myself up as a songwriter. I didn’t have second opinions from people who didn’t like an idea or wanted to hear a different inflection. That energy is always welcomed but what you’re hearing on this EP from my voice is all me. I take different approaches to song structure, much like some of my favorite Frank Ocean records, and switch between rapping and singing much more than I used to because I had the time to sit and sketch out how I wanted to work things out rather than waiting to punch in or do another take on somebody else’s time. My goal for this was to be able to say that my vision for it got executed on my terms.
How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist with the writing and recording of The Outside?
I think I’ve grown in the regard that I’m not as afraid to put too much of myself on the page anymore. Before I would worry about what sounded good or hot or appealing but now I just focus on what sounds real, to me at least. Like I said before, I believe in unity through specificity so if I can put a time and date down that means something to me about a person or event then it conveys that I’m a real person who lives a real life that other people can relate to. I know that’s subject to change as I progress but for now its a rare energy to capture and I’m grateful for my ability to do so.
These avenues ALWAYS overlap! My first creative medium was writing when I was very young, I would write poems in like Kindergarten about gardens and stuff. From there I gained an appreciation for the writing of other people, which led to performing those written words on stage, which led to adapting those performance techniques for a concert while converting my poetic sensibilities into music. They all feed and inform one another, it’s less like they’re in their own category for me and that they all work together to create what ToBy is: pure unbridled creativity, shapeless and malleable.
The first single that you released from the EP was “Play Out” – can you tell us a little bit about this track?
This track was born out of a need for some lively energy on the EP. I was listening to a lot of Jack Harlow and loved the way he floated on certain beats and the different pockets he was finding within them so I wanted to emulate the energy and just talk some good old talk about having fun and partying. The song takes me back to the fun times I had in college with my friends and meeting girls and having crazy nights out. I was able to shoot the music video on my iPhone while I was in Japan for the first time ever so I just wanted to capture as much magic and fun as possible and put it all into one song.
What would you like for listeners to take away from the EP or your music as a whole?
I want people to take away that I’m an artist through and through. That if they were looking for someone new with creative vision and talent that they need not look further. I want people to hear the EP and recognize the person within themselves through my lyrics and to know that no matter how specific their lives are, they’re not as stranded with their problems as they might think. Childish Gambino is an artist that really showed me the light concerning that and it was a formative experience in my teens so I just want to pay it forward in everything I do.
2020 has definitely been a challenging year in the music industry. How have you had to change plans or adapt to everything that has been going on lately?
So we’ve had to push this release back several times given everything that was taking place. Not that I minded, I would’ve rathered the timing be optimal than insist on any sort of immediacy. I’m pretty bummed about the cancellation of live performances though. I love performing live it’s my favorite thing in the world so not being able to share my music in that way was a let down. Hopefully I’ll be able to perform these songs sometime in the future but until then I’ll settle for connecting online.
Do you have any big plans or goals for the rest of the year?
The rest of the year for me is gonna be focused on getting my affairs in order. Things have really slowed down so it’s been a great opportunity to catch up with everything that demanded my attention before but I couldn’t devote the time to. I’ve been reaching some important milestones career wise so I wanna keep that momentum well into the rest of the year.