Photographed by Martin Nguyen @stayneutral
Tobi Lou, a musician from Nigeria by way of Chicago whose real name is Tobi Adeyemi, felt an inkling that 2020 might be a rough year when Kobe Bryant died in January. With the coronavirus not yet a known threat in the United States, Bryant's passing hit Adeyemi hard—harder than he thought, as a Bulls fan who worshipped Michael Jordan growing up. But mourning the basketball star also came with a revelation that led Adeyemi to an undisputed boon: writing his new album, Parrish Blue, which will be released in 2021.
"I felt he had lived and was working in every moment, whether it was his devotion to his family, or on the things he loved. He gave every moment of his life," Adeyemi says on a phone call from Los Angeles, where he's been living since the pandemic began. "I was just like, 'What can I say I've given to the world, what can I say I've done?' That sent me into wanting to lock in and figure out what I want to do and how I want to put it out."
The subsequent months—the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter and #EndSARS movements—provided plenty of moments for reflection and, by association, material for his music.
"I was never setting out to make an album," Adeyemi adds. "I was just making music inspired by the feelings of what it felt like for everyone to be shut down. We were all dealing with this new side of ourselves, and I was just trying to dive into that feeling and make music from there."
He began making tracks here and there, and once he had about 20, he listened to them and realized he'd captured his mood from this moment in time.
"It's been very different from what I thought making an album would be," he says. But like most in the entertainment industry, Adeyemi has adapted—he's released collab tracks ahead of the album release with Mia Gladstone and Dreezy, and his song "Buff Baby" (which has a corresponding viral dance on TikTok), recently went gold. Below, the musician shares his online habits—from getting a finsta account at Seventeen's Vernon's behest to finding breaking news on Twitter.
What are your biggest musical influences?
My biggest musical influences would be early Kanye—he was the reason why I started making music. Andre 3000, Frank Ocean, Pharrell; Pharrell was a big influence. To me, there hasn't been anyone as great and as consistent as Pharrell has been through his whole career. He has hits through so many eras, from when he started to today, he's still delivering. The Neptunes, early Maroon Five, like Songs About Jane. I used to really go ham for Songs About Jane. Kings of Leon—their first album was very fire. Also Timbaland, Missy Elliott, like Ludacris, Busta Rhymes, their whole visual aspect spoke volumes to me when I was growing up. Seeing how to really capture attention through visual art—being outlandish, being wild, being provocative, just being entertaining—they did that so well. And other than that, they made great music.
I can definitely see the visual influence from that era in your work.
I don't know if it's like, they let me know visuals were important, or I was just so in love with what they did visually, that visuals became important. From then on, I took visuals super seriously—probably more seriously than I do my music. I would shoot videos and scrap them entirely sometimes.
Do you remember your first Instagram post?
I think it was of two dogs. I was in Alamogordo, New Mexico and I was playing semi-pro baseball there after college. There were two dogs in the back of a pickup truck and one was all white and the other was all black. So I took a picture of them and posted it and wrote for the caption, “Got a light-skinned friend, looked like Michael Jackson; got a dark-skinned friend, looked like Michael Jackson.” I think I have it archived now, but I'll probably unarchive it. I felt like I had cracked Instagram that day—and only three people ended up seeing the post. So I was very disappointed, that was my shining moment in social media history.
Do you have a finsta?
I do have a finsta, but it's funny—I only have a finsta for one reason. One of my friends, his name is Vernon, he's in this Kpop group Seventeen. He basically made me get a finsta, by just asking me all the time, like, “Yo, do you have a finsta? What's your finsta?’ I was like, ‘I don't have a finsta, I don't even like posting on anything.’ So I use it sparingly.
Describe yourself using three emojis.
Let me pull up my emojis real quick. Upside-down smiley face—that's definitely me. Let's see, the crying emoji.
The laughing-crying emoji?
The crying emoji, the full-on, bawling one. There's two of them—there's one with the single teardrop and there's one that's crying crying. I'm gonna just go for both. Sometimes when people will post stories and mention me, I'll react with just the crying emoji. I'm usually reacting with one of the crying emojis, even if it's something good.
Reels or TikTok?
I have a big confession: I have not used Reels yet. I was actually thinking to myself this morning, I saw a Reel, and I was like, okay, am I missing out? Am I not doing myself the justice I should be doing as far as the business side of social media by not using Reels? But I'm pretty TikTok over reels.
What is the weirdest corner of TikTok that you really enjoy?
Before anyone knew what TikTok was, in early 2019, there were these random TikToks: they were so strange, they would pop up randomly on my Tumblr. They would almost look like cursed videos. They were funny, but they had very, very weird humor. What TikTok eventually evolved to once it got mainstream is very dope—you know, quote unquote, the second coming of Vine—but these TikToks specifically, I can't even describe how funny they were. They were such weird humor. It made me wonder, what was going on on our planet? If the aliens saw this, what would they think?
I got pulled into TikTok, ‘cause one of my songs went viral there, and then it was a whole other world. I always think life works out in a way where there are signs—we're all traveling paths, right? And there are signs to show us where we should go. Or else we really don't know what the hell we're doing; we're really just guessing every day. But then you get these little signs that give you either a little preview, or a window of what you'll be doing. Little directions: like, okay, you're doing good, or maybe you should look into this instead. Me seeing those early, strange TikToks was the preview of like, okay, get ready for this world, because it's going to be important to you and your career.
How did you find out that your song had gone viral on TikTok? Did someone tell you?
Yeah, a lot of people were telling me on Twitter. My followers on Twitter are dope, ‘cause they'll just inform me of stuff I would have no way of knowing otherwise. They just kept trying to tell me, there's a dance on TikTok to "Buff Baby," and it's going pretty crazy. It usually takes a couple of people to say it for me to be like, "Okay, what is this?" Once I figured it out, it opened up a whole new world.
What is your favorite platform?
I have to say Twitter. The world on Instagram just isn't real enough. With Instagram, I feel like I'm entering this alternate, non-realistic simulation of everyone's lives. Every post has gotten to the point where it feels unnatural. Everyone's posting for a specific reason. Maybe I just be thinking too much, but I feel like that's what happened with Instagram for me—it just got to be too much. Twitter is wild because everyone's trying to figure out who is the villain of the day. You never want to be the topic on Twitter, because it usually means something bad is going on. But since it's less based on pictures and looking cool, it's more like everyone firing off words in the AOL chatroom. It's just a lot more hilarious and a lot more immediate as far as finding out information.
What is the best way for you to unplug?
I haven't done a good unplug in a while, but I got a great chance to two weeks ago, because my phone broke. It was a phone I just got because my other phone broke. So I had no phone for four days. It was unsettling because I got to feel all the moments of the day when I would randomly reach for my phone. Say an ad played on YouTube or a boring part of a show came on—my hand would activate, and reach for the phone. I was sad because I felt that my life was actually virtual. I'm half in the real world, and half of me is a fully functioning, virtual being. Half of my brain is just plugged into this virtual mainframe that can only exist and feel moments of joy by entering an app. So the best way to unplug is to turn your phone off, and not to have it. I started to try to do that for the weekends. My sister does it every weekend, it's very admirable. It's hard, but it just needs to be done.