TOBi Talks Leaving Toronto To Finish 'Panic': "You Want To Find People Who Rock With You"

Complex Canada was out in LA when we grabbed burgers with the Canadian rapper to talk about leaving Canada, working with jazz legends, and the confidence to call your album “the best rap album in the world.”

Photo Credit: Patrick Duong

“I’m gonna give it to you straight,” TOBi says without flinching. He means it.

It’s been a long road to get his new album, Panic, out in the world. If the Juno Award winning Shall I Continue? was the appetizer, this is the main course, and hopefully one that achieves more accolades than its predecessors.

The Brampton native started out in his home province before moving to Los Angeles to finish out the process of completing Panic, and that’s where he’s spending the bulk of his time right now. It’s a move that worked for him, and one every Canadian artist contemplates at some point in the quest for success. He’s meditative about the move, conscious of the need to move forward, but to also stay true to the art. TOBi feels he struck that balance on Panic.

Complex Canada was out in LA when we grabbed burgers with the Canadian rapper to talk about leaving Canada, working with jazz legends, and the confidence to call your album “the best rap album in the world.”

The record is finally out. How are you feeling about it?
I'm overwhelmed. And I'm just so happy to get it out there. You know, I've been working on this since I can remember—the first session was August 2019. I had a first session and then the whole world shut down with the pandemic. I've been working on this for four years now. I'm ready to put it out there and I think it's the best rap album in the world. Panic.

The album got pushed back a few times.
Now that it's out, I think I'll feel some relief for sure, because imagine carrying something on you for so long, right? You just want to get it out. And then you don't. I've also been working on so much music I have about four albums worth of material outside of this. You're gonna hear the sacrifice and the love that we put into it. There was no half ass in there. Every time there was a limit, we said, what if we took it a little further? I raised that bar for myself as an artist.

Why do you call it unapologetic soul music?
Unapologetic soul music for me is a raw expression of who we are as artists. You know, I look at it like this: Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Kendrick Lamar, Gil Scott-Heron, 2Pac, DMX—I will call all of them unapologetic soul music. They probably wouldn't identify themselves as soul music but I call it that because of the raw feeling of emotion and expression. That’s what I want to do. But I also want that dirty, nasty funk in the bass lines too that bring us back to Earth.


TOBi discusses his latest single ‘Someone I Knew’ off the new album ‘Panic’ dropping October 12th. #tobi #newmusic #canada #panic #someoneiknew #toronto #brampton

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Complex Canada

You started in Toronto, but then you moved out to LA with your producer.
So we started in 2019 and at first, I was just trying some new sounds because I just dropped my first album, Still. And then when the pandemic happened, we started working remotely on Zoom. And we're using this app called Audiomovers, and it just wasn't working for me, you know? It felt too manufactured. It didn't feel as organic as I wanted it to be. That's why I came out to LA to get the job done. And you know, just feel that magic in person with the instruments in a live format. The move out here was important. 

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What are some collabs on 'Panic'?
I got my man Kenny Mason from Atlanta, he's on there. Topaz Jones from New Jersey. I got a guest vocal from Emmanuel. In addition to that, we got some jazz legends on there, which I'm very excited about. We got Phil Ranelin, he worked on the intro and outro and he's one of the leaders of the spiritual jazz movement in the United States from the 1970s and I had the pleasure of being in the studio with him as he was recording it, and it was one of the best experiences I've ever had in my life.

How was working with Kenny Mason on “Flatline”?
I've been rocking with his music since 2019. And I remember I used to tell everybody to listen to that dude. Kenny’s nice. Basically I’ve been championing his music in my circle the last few years, and that song “Flatline” just made sense to get Kenny on there. I reached out, he responded back and said, ‘yo, i'm f***ing with the song,’ and it was like, ‘bless, let’s get it.’ The way hip-hop is right now, Kenny is someone who can do the melodic s***, but can also do bars if he wants to. I can relate to that.

What do you love about duets on TikTok?
I look at it like practice. I want to keep sharpening my pen, perfecting my craft. I’ve posted hella duets, one went crazy with Nico Baran. We might turn that into a song.

What is Unpack Community?
It’s a movement that I started that empowers creatives to learn more about mental health initiatives. Not only in their city, but also learning the tools and practices that other creators do as well. So, we've had in-person activations in Toronto, Los Angeles, and Scarborough. And we've also had virtual meetups as well. At every single Unpack event, we have a clinical psychologist or a professional therapist in the room to help us workshop these ideas. The reason I started Unpack because as a teenager living with my own mental health issues, I've just been hyper aware of what mental wellness really looks like. I've lived with it on a personal level, so I wanted to help other people learn more about for themselves.

Let's talk about your journey to the US.
I've been going back and forth for the last five years, but I've spent significantly more time in the States the last two years. 

So this is a conversation that I feel every Canadian artist has: Do you need to leave Canada to further your career?
I think so, and the reason why I say that is because just from a sheer population standpoint, America has 10 times the population compared to Canada. Let’s say you're a boom bap rapper in Canada. The amount of people who rock with boom bap in Canada, as opposed to America, is not even close, it's not even the same. So if you want to establish your community, and you’re a niche artist—meaning you're not a general artist, you're not a pop artist—and you want to find your tribe and people who rock with you. Yeah, you do. You got to come to the States. You don't have to live in the States, but you can come here, open up an artist network. The internet is cool. You could take your time on YouTube, TikTok and stuff because you'll find your people that way. If you don't have the money to physically leave or the means, you can find other ways digitally, but it just always helps to shake hands with people and do shows together.

But Toronto is always home to me. Brampton is always home to me. I plan on being back there for real because there's so much talent out there. And we're gonna get it.

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