Although it’s only noon when Malcolm Jamaal Davis arrives at El Cochinito—the Cuban restaurant where he is set to begin today’s photo shoot—he has already been up for hours and still has a long day ahead of him. Waking up to the sound of his son True crying moments before the sunrise, Davis put True in his bouncer and sat with him in the half light before grabbing a coffee and catching a car service to Silver Lake. Living well outside of L.A. proper, Davis—better known as MadeinTYO—will only hang within city limits for a few hours before flying to Chicago for Lollapalooza and then heading back to Los Angeles to perform at HARD Fest.
Between life as a new parent, a husband-to-be, and an emerging rap star in the midst of the summer festival circuit, Davis’s plate is more than full. “It's juggling back and forth to where when I'm not busy, I'm still busy,” he explains later. While the young MC’s life is anything but ordinary, it seems to suit him just fine.
Davis has been has been a fixture of the hip-hop world since his single “Uber Everywhere” went viral in 2016, amassing over 50 million plays on YouTube and earning him cosigns from 2 Chainz and Travis Scott. Thus far, 2017 has shown no signs that the 23-year-old artist might be slowing down, as he prepares to take off on his first headlining tour this September–appropriately called the Tokyo Tour—and release his latest musical offering, the True’s World EP, which dropped earlier today.
Growing up as a self-professed “military brat,” Davis became accustomed to constantly moving around at a young age, living in San Diego, New York, Virginia, Northern Georgia, eventually landing in Yokosuka, Kanagawa, a core city in Greater Tokyo, the place that would eventually earn him his nickname. “I didn't start calling myself Tokyo,” Davis says. “People was like, ‘Oh, that's the kid from Tokyo....’ ‘Oh, what up Little Tokyo.’" Spending five years in Japan, did however, make a huge impact on Davis, who never quite saw himself as fitting in elsewhere and reveled in the anonymity granted to him by the foreign city. “You had a mixture of everybody so nobody was really from anywhere,” Davis explains. “You [could] walk down the street and see Africans...or girls that used to live in London and now go to fashion school in Tokyo...or even kids that [were] from everywhere, just like me, because their parents [were] in the military.”
“It's juggling back and forth to where when I'm not busy, I'm still busy.”
As Davis tells it, after finishing high school he took a year to run around and get lost in Japan. Davis recalls “[being] on the train, listening to Lupe, Kanye, Big Sean, and just being a fan of this music.” While his American icons—and future friends— provided the soundtrack to his wanderlust, there was a certain Japanese element of openness that would also impact his future work. He explains Japan as a cultural melting pot, where “you get a mixture of all types of music, from going to a club that's playing nothing but deep house to [one that’s playing] nothing but Atlanta trap.” He would begin MadeinTYO after a brief stint in Washington D.C., but he considers that sense of comfort and his unclassifiable swagger indebted to Japan, reflecting, “I'm so out of the box [that] if I go somewhere, I fit in, regardless.”
This swagger can be seen in the friendly yet turnt nature of his lyrics, as he weaves between playful turns of phrase, sobering real life scenarios, and party mantras meant to be shouted in unison by five thousand energized fans. This swagger can also be seen in Davis’s fashion choices, as he grew up in the era of the rapper as a fashion icon. “Wiz, Curren$y, Pharrell...Kanye, all of these people that inspire your style, your swag, the way you feel, the music.... It's a lot of emotions,” Davis relates. Going to high school in Japan, Davis had to sneak in the swagger, but the rewards paid off big time. Davis recalls, “I was rocking [Reebok Classics] with my uniform...these was simple but still swag, that was probably the best part of my outfit. You could be yourself and you would get glorified for that and people would want to be like you. It wasn't a catch, like I want something from you, it was genuine, like I like you. I think that made me open up to where it was like, ‘You know what, I'm going to wear the type of pants I want to wear. I'm going to wear this because when I walk out, I'm already looking interesting to the typical Japanese cat because I'm not from here."
The classic staple Reeboks were the perfect way for Davis to make a statement, he explains how they were his “any day, get messed up, cozy, going to Whole Foods, dad swag, rapper swag, wherever I need,” type of kicks.
Today, it’s a fashion shoot but weeks ago, this included needing footwear appropriate for a last minute Go-Karting session with an A-list group of contemporary rappers in the deserts outside of Los Angeles. “Just on some random; me, A$AP Nast, Tyler...being around them, they're crazy,” he reflects while occasioning hitting his vape pen. But for the most part, not slowing down his career has meant that Davis has to take better care of himself, in real time. “I skate a little bit when I've got a block out with not too many shows, [but] I'm not trying to break nothing. You hear things on stage with artists, ‘Oh, he was dehydrated and he fell out....’ I be just thinking about everything now to where it's like, I've got to be on point." And now more than ever, he has a small family that also depends on his success.
Davis didn’t want to get too into the personal on True’s World, noting that while he appreciates the rappers who pay homage to the everyday hurdles of taking care of a family, it’s not for him. “Not everybody got to be like J. Cole and talk about I want to make room for you. I respect it because around the time that project came out was when my girl was pregnant and before my son got here. It was like the soundtrack for that moment in my life,” he acknowledges. "But I'm still young. I'm still lit. I'm still turnt. My young fans, they wouldn't really understand nothing about being a dad, and I'm not going to push that on them."
But while True’s World doesn't go through the minutiae of buying diapers, in many other ways it is the utmost example of a family affair. Produced by longtime collaborator 24hrs, with beats by Private Club labelmate DWN2EARTH, and cover art designed by his fiancé Anhia Santana, a.k.a. Distordedd, True’s World is the amalgamation of Davis’s closest allies. While not the full length debut fans have been waiting for, Davis thinks the EP will keep diehard fans satiated ahead of his upcoming tour. “I got some vibes for you and your girl [as well as] the typical Tokyo turning up,” he says of the release.
The mixture of vibes is indeed a reflection of the unclassifiable life that is MadeinTYO, and that stretches from the stage at Coachella to the grocery aisle at his local supermarket. “I'm looking at food that I'm buying for my son now because he's starting to eat...solid foods. I'm like, "Yo, no, what's that? Is that organic?" He doesn’t expect his fans to be at the same point in their lives, but for Davis, this is just the beginning and he wants to stick around for awhile. “I understand certain things now, like when your parents tell you, ‘You're not going to understand what it's like to have a kid until you got one.’ Now it's sinking in. Real life.”