Photo by Stanislaw.

This is “Add to Queue,” our attempt to sort through the cacophony of music floating in the algorithmic atmosphere by consulting the experts themselves. Our favorite musicians tell us about their favorite music—the sad, the happy, the dinner party-y, the songs they want played at their funeral. In this edition, we speak with the musician TOBi in honor of his latest single “Don’t Touch!” Below, the recent Juno Award-winner of Rap Recording of the Year for his project ELEMENTS Vol. 1 shares what’s on his playlists—from Outkast and Nina Simone to 50 Cent and D’Angelo.

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JULIANA UKIOMOGBE: I want to start with your latest single “Don’t Touch!” How did that song come to be?

TOBi: I’ll give you the backstory. I did a freestyle on Sway in the Morning in 2019 over this Kaytranada and GoldLink song. When the video came out, it had its moment. A lot of people were sharing it with Kaytranada and tagging him. He caught wind of it, reached out to me, and sent me some beats. “Don’t Touch!” was the first song that we did together. It was the first beat that really caught my ear. This was around the time of the protests for George Floyd, so that was really where my mindset was when I was making the song.

UKIOMOGBE: What was it about the beat that caught your ear? It sounds like summer to me. 

TOBi: Yeah, it’s so groovy. It’s groovy, funky, but also kind of dark. I could see that playing at a rave or a sweaty wall-to-wall party. That was the feeling that I got from the beat, like, “Yeah, I can definitely cut up to this.”

UKIOMOGBE: Your Spotify bio says that you’re a “Nigerian-Canadian making unapologetic soul music.” Do you think that’s accurate?

TOBi: Indeed, it definitely is. My music is raw, it’s unfiltered, it’s true to how I feel and how I look at life. It’s not asking for people to like it.

UKIOMOGBE: What was the last song you listened to?

TOBi: I’ve been listening to this JMSN song called “Rolling Stone.” It’s beautiful.

UKIOMOGBE: What artists have you recently discovered that you love?

TOBi: Pa Salieu from the UK. He’s one of my favorites right now. Oxlade from Nigeria. Slowthai. Mustafa from Toronto. There’s a lot of great music out there right now.

UKIOMOGBE: Did your parents play music in the house? What did you grow up listening to?

TOBi: I grew up listening to a lot of gospel music, jazz, Afrobeat. That was the music playing in my home. Then when I went to my cousin’s house, he played hip hop—DMX, Ja Rule, and Master P. Those are actually my earliest introductions to hip hop. I’ve always been surrounded by music.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you recall the first CD you purchased?

TOBi: Get Rich or Die Tryin’ by 50 Cent.

UKIOMOGBE: Iconic.

TOBi: I know, right? I was 10 years old. There’s no way I should’ve been listening to that. But it is what it is. I had two versions of it. I had the original and the deluxe.

UKIOMOGBE: Wow, look at you.

TOBi: [laughs] I know, right?

UKIOMOGBE: What was your first concert?

TOBi: Well, I was actually pretty late to the concert game. I didn’t go to my first concert until I was a young adult. I’m pretty sure it was The Weeknd when I was in college in 2011.

UKIOMOGBE: Who do you want to see in concert that you haven’t yet?

TOBi: That list is so long. I have to see Kendrick. I’ve only seen him once and I’ve got to see him again. I need to see D’Angelo and Wu-Tang. From the newer dudes, I want to see Don Toliver. I’ve been listening to his album “Heaven or Hell.” I’ve been rinsing that album like crazy. If OutKast comes back to do shows, that would be a blessing for the culture.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you have a favorite OutKast song?

TOBi: Oh, that’s a good question. “Return of the ‘G’” is one of my favorite OutKast songs. “Skew It on the Bar-B,” “So Fresh, So Clean,” “B.O.B. – Bombs Over Baghdad,” and “Da Art of Storytellin.’” Oh man, there are so many. Of course, “Ms. Jackson.”

UKIOMOGBE: Those are all classics that you just named.

TOBi: I know, right? Their catalog is too iconic. Oh my goodness.

UKIOMOGBE: What was your first favorite song?

TOBi: Yo, to be real with you, my first favorite song was the Phil Collins song on the Tarzan soundtrack. I was probably six being like, “Yo, this song slaps.”

UKIOMOGBE: If you had to compile a short playlist for a dinner party, what would you play?

TOBi: It will probably be warm soul grooves. I would be playing Ari Lennox, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Soulection, that kind of vibe.

UKIOMOGBE: What would you play for an upbeat house party?

TOBi: For an upbeat house party, we’re cutting up. I’m going to do Don Toliver and Travis Scott. I love UK drill as well, so I’ll probably throw in some AJ Tracey. Just some hard shit to get people loose and out of their comfort zone. I’ll probably play some Kanye too, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. You don’t even need to be drunk because the music got you lifted.

UKIOMOGBE: I don’t know if you smoke, but if you were to make a high playlist, what would you put on it?

TOBi: Well, I definitely smoke. My high playlist would probably sound like my dinner vibe playlist, but it would be more vintage. So I would definitely get into my super soul vibes. So, Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack, and Nina Simone. Yeah, just vibe out and levitate.

UKIOMOGBE: What’s your favorite music video of all time?

TOBi: “Thriller” because it haunted me for so long.

UKIOMOGBE: If you were to have dinner with four artists living or dead, who would they be?

TOBi: Prince, Lauryn Hill, Jay Z. Dang, this last one is tough. You said four? Can I make it five?

UKIOMOGBE: Yeah, sure.

TOBi: Thanks. Kendrick and Marvin Gaye.

UKIOMOGBE: Wow, that’s an all-star dinner.

TOBi: It would make for some good conversation. There are so many, though. I wish you told me 20, but I like the five.

UKIOMOGBE: What’s your go-to breakup song?

TOBi: I don’t know if I necessarily want to be in my feelings when I’m breaking up. So it might be some hard shit, to be honest with you. Actually I’m cappin, it’s probably “21 Questions” by 50 Cent and Nate Dogg.

UKIOMOGBE: What song would you use to describe yourself?

TOBi: Man, that’s a good question. For the totality of who I am, it has to be a number of songs.

UKIOMOGBE: You can pick a couple.

TOBi: Yeah, because I’m thinking of a couple right now. For one, “Power” by Kanye comes to mind. It’s one of those songs that just levitates me. “Father Stretch My Hands” by Kanye—just the hook, though. “The Blacker the Berry” by Kendrick.

UKIOMOGBE: What’s one album that you think has zero skips? You can play it from start to finish all the way through.

TOBi: Oh, To Pimp a Butterfly. Zero skips.

UKIOMOGBE: Good choice. Do you have a favorite song on that album?

TOBi:  There’s something about “Wesley’s Theory.” It just has me. I think maybe it’s because it’s the beginning of the album and once you step into it, there’s just no way you leave. It just sets the tone.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you have a top-five in terms of rappers?

TOBi: Talking about lyrical dexterity, I’d say Kendrick, Hov, Andre. I might have to go with Jadakiss.

UKIOMOGBE: Wow, hot take, okay.

TOBi: I know, right? But Jada’s never had a wack verse and it’s been almost 30 years. Ridiculous. This last one… you know what? I’m not afraid. I’m in that zone right now. I’m going to say Phonte.

UKIOMOGBE: What a list. I respect it, I do.

TOBi: You feel me?

UKIOMOGBE: A little bit. If you could introduce everyone in the world to one song, what would the song be?

TOBi: One song of mine or in general?

UKIOMOGBE: You can do both.

TOBi: Okay. Of mine, I’m going to say “City Blues,” which is on my first album “STILL.” And in general, I’m going to say “How Can I Ease the Pain” by Lisa Fischer.

UKIOMOGBE: Oh, I don’t know that one. I’ll have to look it up.

TOBi: Oh my goodness. That song is going to levitate your soul.

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Listen to TOBi’s “Add To Queue” playlist below, and follow Interview on Spotify for more.