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A Literary Guide to TOBi


“We hopped out of my whip, a knife fell out your purseYou said, "Ain't too many places a girl is safe on this Earth"I said, "I understood," but I didn'tGoddamn, the privilege of the skin that I live inGoddamn, I walk at night, don't think twice 'bout the feelin' at all”

Who else got chills just by reading that? I know I did. These are lyrics from TOBi’s song “Flowers,” one of many amazing tracks in his newest album, PANIC. TOBi is a multiple JUNO Award-winning rapper and singer, born in Nigeria and moving to Canada as a child. He quickly found an outlet in writing and performing music. Voted by Complex Magazine as “a top artist to watch,” TOBi has received critical acclaim from Billboard, Rolling Stone, i-D, COLORS, PAPER, and Sway In The Morning.

TOBi and Literature

I had the chance to chat with TOBi one-on-one a few weeks ago. We could talk about his introduction to the world of literature and music.“I started making music when I was nine because I started writing poetry. At nine years old, I was influenced by books at the time, like the “Goosebumps” series by R. L. Stine, you know, “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis, so, very imaginative worlds. [From these] I started writing my own worlds, and that’s where music just came into the fold. I’ve always been expressive that way.” During my interview with TOBi, we chatted about how literature has impacted his work as an artist. He shared one of his favorite quotes with me: “When you have too much on your mind, you write. When you have too little, in your mind, you read.” “And for me, what that means is all of these books and thoughts that I’m accumulating from other writers and other authors and people that live very different lives to myself, they helped me get a more complete picture of the world around me,” he explained. “And musically, I want to bring people together. That’s my job, you feel me?”

"I want people of all races, backgrounds, ethnicities, to be unified under the banner of music and art. And I think literature does a great job of that. Because, you know, you can read, 'The Kite Runner,' [which is] about a boy in Afghanistan, as a Canadian, and tap into a reality that's different from yours, and hopefully, hopefully, it brings up empathy. And that's my MO."

And if you take the time to listen carefully to TOBi’s lyrics, you’ll see that he does indeed achieve this goal. I could go on and on about lyric analysis and creating various connections, but that would make for a very long blog post. So, instead, I’ll simply urge you to listen to his music, but listen carefully. As with all works of literary art, words can have various meanings. When listening to the tracks in “PANIC” or in his other albums like “Elements Vol. 1” (here’s a great piece written about this specific album; I strongly recommend you give it a read), pay attention to the lyrics. You can watch a video from that album.

TOBi’s Top 8 Books

TOBi was kind enough to bring eight of his most recent (favorite) reads during our interview so that I could share these with YOU. Here they are:
“In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Dr. Gabor Maté
TOBi’s review: "This is a brilliant author from Vancouver, actually. Basically, it talks about addiction, mostly with people who live with addiction and at the Portland hotel in Vancouver, and, you know, healing. Looking at everybody, as an individual and how they have complex stories. I think most people paint addicts with a singular brushstroke. But there’s so much more than meets the eye. And that complexity is something that I’ve learned to see the whole world through, you know, that’s great." 
“The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron
 TOBi’s review:"Very amazing book, she calls it a spiritual path to higher creativity. I call it a difficult path. Because the exercises in there, some of them are not easy, you know, they dredge up all these emotions that may have been repressed over years. So, that’s something that I do in my music as well is bring these emotions to the surface. And just feel it all - the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful." 
“You Owe You” by Eric Thomas
TOBi’s review:"Eric Thomas. I used to listen to his YouTube videos when I was like 15 years old in high school. My friend put me on to him. He’s like a motivational guy. Or he’s a very motivational person. And, you know, the whole essence of the book “You Owe You” is to basically not victimize yourself, right? And take your unfortunate circumstance and alchemize it into a desired future." 
Scientific American Magazine
TOBi’s review:"Basically, this is not a book. This is a magazine subscription I’ve been subscribed to since I was like, 18. It’s called Scientific American. I love this because it’s basically just a lay of the land of what is going on in the contemporary world of science - advancements or potential drawbacks, you know, and I love it. I love it because it keeps me engaged, even though I’m not a scientist, obviously, but it keeps me in the know as to the scientific world around us." 
“Propaganda” by Edward Bernays
TOBi’s review:"All right, now we got to get a little heavy. This one is called “Propaganda” by Edward Bernays. Edward Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, and they call him the “godfather of advertising.” In this book “Propaganda,” he basically talks about the origin of propaganda, which actually had an innocent origin. Its origin was just spreading the gospel of Christianity, right, they would call it the “propagation of Christianity.” And then, as we all know, it got altered into what we know as modern day propaganda, which is to be used to serve somebody’s interests at the expense of others. So, great book." 
“The Magic of Reality” by Richard Dawkins
TOBi’s review:"It’s like a picture book. They just help you get more engaged in what’s being written. So this is like an adult picture book. And it’s illustrated by Dave McKean, it is beautiful. This is one of the books that makes me just appreciate life so much. Like, appreciate why the leaves are green, you know, why the trees shed leaves every year? Why do birds fly south, why do rainbows come after storms, you know, the magic of reality. I recommend that to anybody." 
“Mind Over Mood” by Dr. Denis Greenberger and Dr. Christine A. Padesky
TOBi’s review:"My final one is “Mind Over Mood,” which is not a novel, but it’s actually a workbook. It’s a workbook for cognitive behavioral therapy. And the reason why I chose it to include in this list is because on the album [referring to PANIC], and in my music, I look at it as like a therapeutic medium, right, to access my thought patterns. And, you know, it makes sense of the world around me. And this book did a good job of that for me growing up. I still reference it from time to time, and it’s a book I’ve recommended to tons of people." 

A complete guide to TOBi’s career

TOBi released his first independent EP titled “FYI,” which included the songs “Indecisions” and “Deeper,” in 2016, at the age of 23. From this point onwards, he continued to release music regularly until signing his deal with RCS Records and Same Plate Entertainment, where three of his debut tracks - “City Blues,” “Sweet Poison,” and “Werking,” served as the singles in his first studio album, “Still.”TOBi released STILL in May 2019, exploring themes of vulnerability, post-traumatic growth, self-reflection and masculinity in his time emigrating from Nigeria to Canada. His project, ELEMENTS Vol. 1, was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize and won the JUNO for Rap Recording of the Year in 2021. He was also Nominated for Contemporary R&B Recording of the Year, and he performed at the Opening Night Award Ceremony. The JUNO love continued in 2022 and 2023 with back-to-back nominations for Songwriter Of The Year and another win for best Rap Album/EP of the year for his EP Shall I Continue?. TOBi’s latest album, PANIC, was released on October 12th, in what is sure to be a true breakout year for TOBi and his unapologetic soul music. On top of recording and performing, TOBi is a co-founder of UNPACK Community, a series of discussions on mental wellness in creative fields.”TOBi is a singer, rapper, and songwriter of various genres, primarily R&B, hip hop, and soul music. He was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1993 before moving to Ottawa, Canada at the age of 9. It was also around this time that TOBi began experimenting with literature and poetry, which eventually led to his passion for composing music. TOBi and his music have been nominated for various awards. His second studio album, Elements Vol. 1, won the 2021 Juno Award for Rap Recording of the Year. This same album was also shortlisted for the 2021 Polaris Music Prize. Additionally, his song “Holiday” was nominated for the Contemporary R&B/Soul Recording of the Year, and the music video for his song “24 (Toronto Remix),” directed by Kit Weyman, was longlisted for the 2021 Prism Prize. In 2021, he was named one of the winners of SOCAN’s inaugural Black Canadian Music Awards, alongside Dylan Sinclair, Naya Ali, RAAHiiM and Hunnah. 

Keep reading on Fable!

Find TOBi’s book recommendations all in one list here Want to keep up with TOBi? You can follow him on his socials @sincerelyTOBi, as well as on Fable here!

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