Meet Your Friendly Neighborhood Struggle Rapper, Tawobi
Originally from Mt. Airy, rapper Tawobi has been working on F.A.T.E (theFishthatAteTheElephant) since 2015, when he first dropped out of school in New York City and moved back to Philly with his artist collective HBC (Highest Basement Collective). He released F.A.T.E. early on Bandcamp around when quarantine first started, because he had no idea what tomorrow would be like.
A self-described “weirdo”, Tawobi grew up inspired by left field artists like Outkast, E40, Fiona Apple and Marilyn Manson. Tawobi thought all he needed to do was find a way to New York, rap for the right people and he’d make it. He spent two years there attempting to get in studios, get shows and meet all the right people. Instead he ended up doing a lot of what he did back home: getting high, chasing women and chasing fake promises of opportunity.
Since dropping out of school, Tawobi’s life has been a full on roller coaster of odd jobs, home studios, evictions, hustling, heroin addicts, schizophrenics and recording, recording, recording. After two years and some change Tawobi has garnished a stable living situation with some of his oldest friends and members of the local Philly artist ensemble Highest Basement Collective (HBC). The past two years have consisted of the most consistent content output he’s ever produced. Caused by a never ending work ethic and isolation Tawobi finished and released 4 EP, released 5 videos (including skits), and finished the full length album he began when he first touched down back home in 2015. Preparing to release the recently completed album later this year, and with his latest video for “White People Song” from his EP Backwoods breaking 100,000 views on YouTube the self proclaimed Struggle Rapper finally seems to be making waves doing what he loves.
Welcome Tawobi! To begin, I’ll ask the question I’ve been starting every interview with: how are you coping/managing your time during this period of social distancing?
Honestly, I’ve just been smoking a lot and trying to stay busy. I’m either working on marketing and social media stuff, music, shooting videos, making artwork or screen printing. I’m really trying to take advantage of this whole situation with everyone being stuck inside and on their phone. That, listening to music, watching movies, trying to find new anime and TV shows, reading comics and like checking in on all my homies and getting faded. Pretty much everything I was doing before the ‘rona, aside from going to work, playing shows and traveling! I feel a little more like in touch with everybody strangely enough. I mean I obviously miss seeing everybody, but I’m a way better texter right now.
You’ve shared the highs and lows of your life and how you’ve navigated tough times – during rough periods, what kept you moving forward? Did music have a huge impact on your motivation and goals?
Yea, music is what gets me through everything. That and my family, my own and the one I’ve helped make (HBC). Music is everything for me its the longest relationship I’ve ever had, and like my personal therapist. It’s really one of the few things I really love and enjoy doing like everything always comes back to this and art in general for me in some way. I gotta make music like everybody gotta breath, I feel like I’m suffocating if I don’t (ha).
It’s the reason I wake up in the morning, man this is all I’ve ever wanted to do this is one of the few places I belong. School wasn’t for me, a regular 9-5 isn’t for me, street shit ain’t for me; those things have rules (ehhh on number 3 there), there are no rules in what I do. It helps me put the world in perspective, to digest. I can let everything go. That and something my pops said really got me through those first 2-3 years back: he kicked me the concept of eating the elephant. The elephant is a daunting large task you have to eat, but you can’t eat it all in a day. Who knows how long it’s gonna take its a fucking elephant. So what do you do? You eat a little bit at a time. Every day as much as you can. And eventually, the elephant will be gone. And that is part of whats kept me alive since 2015.
You’re a Philly artist – how does the city of Philadelphia impact you and your music?
Philly is the place setting for most of my music. My music is pretty autobiographical, so most of what I’m speaking on takes place around the area. I first started cutting my teeth out here in the slam poetry scene really. I started going to a local one on Germantown Ave then started going to workshops that PYPM (PhillyYouthPoetryMovement) would have on the weekends. I got a lot of game there. Everyone was better than me and didn’t pull any punches with the notes. Eventually they even started a huge slam league between all the schools in the area which was tight.
There’s a lot of truth and soul in this city. You’re gonna get bid on so you gotta have tough skin and be able to take a joke at least and keep it a bean! Part of my sense of humour definitely comes here. The whole place can definitely keep you on edge though depending on where you’re at. I’ll notice when I’ve stepped out of the city and am on my way back. The closer i get the deeper the like mean mug sets in. But I also have trash anxiety. Lots of people put me on edge in general.
Tell us more about Highest Basement Collective, aka HBC.
HBC is my family. For me it started in jr. high, that’s where I met our R&B/future soul artist Moses Mosima. He was the first person I met who was as into and as serious about music as I was. We both always dreamed about having a collective of dope artists and musicians from the city but everyone we tried to like indoctrinate always ended up falling off. I came up with the ‘Highest Basement’ part of the name back in those days because we used to have fake 106 & Park interviews in my basement, and my mom would kick us up stairs so that became the highest basement. But it wasn’t anything really, then just a joke.
It wasn’t until my Jr year of high school when I moved to Springfield from Mt.Airy that it became reality. Thats where I met Riley Polis, my manager, IHATEYOUSHEED another of our artists and a lot of friends that would become members and family for life. One of the first days of math class, I walked in and Sheed out of nowhere just says ‘You look like you rap’. After that day, we had a mutual friend to let us set up a studio in their basement and thats how it all started. Everyone split off for a bit after high school, moved away or tried the school thing. We were still doing the same shit though. Recording, getting faded and figuring out the future. So we all agreed to come back to Philly in 2015 and go 100%. It’s been a lot of evictions, drugs, music, doubt, bed bugs, break ups, obscurity, trial and error, but I wouldn’t want to go through it with anyone else.
For my own knowledge, what does struggle rapper mean? I haven’t heard that before!
Lol I was gonna type it out but this is a lot more fun: