By Adewojumi Aderemi
Growing up in Nigeria, there is a clearly prescribed mode in which genders must be performed: women are the caretakers; men are the financial providers. Men must also be the emotionless defenders of everyone, particularly the women, around them.
Coupled with his time spent watching American films of valiant men, such as Rockyand Commando, it was this image of machismo that Oluwatobi Ajibolade ascribed to being a man. It is this image that the Nigerian-Canadian artist hopes to redefine with his debut album, STILL.
Born in Lagos, TOBi, as he stylises his moniker, was sent to Canada with his father. Across the vast sea, he was introduced to a new construction of masculinity, accosted with a new reaction to his blackness, and confronted with the gargantuan task of cultural assimilation, all at the tender age of nine.
Finding his tribe in Brampton’s rap-battle circle, during his formative years, TOBi pushed away his Nigerian heritage, adopting Western culture in order to be ‘cool’. Now, as a 25-year-old musician with a burgeoning career, TOBi is re-learning the value of the culture he pushed aside.
With plans to reconnect to his family and his people, TOBi tells Billboard:
“I speak Yoruba, which is my ethnic language. I’m not the best at it, but I’ve been re-learning it, because I feel like I pushed it away when I was young. I was kind of like, ‘No, I want to be cool, I want to follow this Western lifestyle.’
But in the past five years, I’ve really made a conscious attempt to reconnect to my cultural heritage.And it’s made me feel so good. Like saying my full name in songs, speaking some of my language in songs on the album. It just feels good. It feels like I’m doing the right thing.”
In an interview with i-D, TOBi explains this transition, saying:
“I’ve been singing for just as long [as I’ve been rapping] which no one knew. As a teenager [singing] was kind of soft… But on this album, in order to represent myself as truly and as authentically as I could, I wanted to use both methods of expression.”
His multicultural upbringing and the discrimination he experiences as a black man in Canada has left TOBi vulnerable. However, after years of therapy, TOBi is now at peace with his vulnerability, so much so that he is able to counsel others, not only face to face — which he has been doing since he was 18, — but now also through he music.
Boasting supporters all the way in Russia and a big fan in the Grammy-nominated legend, Snoop Dog, TOBi’s flawless songs are spreading the gospel of vulnerability, empathy and love. It’s only a matter of time before the world catches up, and he becomes a much bigger deal.
Listen to his debut album below: