Featured Artist: ToBy
Miami native ToBy is bursting onto the city’s rap scene, and his latest EP, El Prado Blvd, shows off an incredible amount of skill. His lyrics are incredibly relatable, particularly to Millennial culture. He shows off unique versatility, baring his soul in a beautiful croon-style tone, then transitioning to fast-paced rap over the party beats of “La Playa.”
I recently spoke with ToBy about El Prado Blvd, songwriting and growing up in Miami.
Why did you choose the title El Prado Blvd?
Well there’s a whole story to that. Our bassist, Mike, came upon a house in Coral Gables in Miami. One of his friends was out of town for two weeks and she let him house sit, feed the dogs, water the plants, stuff like that. She was fine with having guests, so we set up a whole mobile recording studio in the house. We just banged out this whole EP in two weeks. We were sleeping there every day, we kind of just moved in in a sense.
Who are the Kuda Band, and how much influence do they have on the EP?
The entire album is produced by them. The members are myself as the front man, drummer Reuben, who is a co-producer of smle, Mike is our bassists and our guitarist is David Hidalgo. The entire album is just a collaborative effort between their musical talents and my songwriting.
El Prado shows off a ton of versatility, from a more relaxed vibe to partying on the beach. What made you want to turn up the tempo on “La Playa”?
Interestingly enough, every song we worked on was done in chronological order. That was the order that we worked on them. By the time we were at “La Playa” I had noticed that the narrative of the EP was kind of bleak. And maybe not so much in the presentation or production, but in my songwriting. It was melancholy, there wasn’t a lot of hope or light in my lyrics. If you go back in my catalog and listen to songs like “Screamo” or “Trader Joe’s,” I’m not afraid to go to those kind of real, not so happy places. I’m very familiar with that part of myself. But, I felt like when it was time for “La Playa” the whole vibe needed that change. It needed the contrast to some of the overt negative tones going on to that point. Lucky enough, I heard the beat while it was in production, and that’s what informed my writing. This was my chance to uplift and set up an even more powerful ending in “Mi Amor, which is in my opinion one of the most hopeful songs I’ve ever written. I really wanted “La Playa” to be that transition into that resolution that “Mi Amor” brings.
Staying on songwriting, tell me about the influence of the hook “I was in love with you / I was in love with the thought of you / I hadn’t thought of you”?
I’m glad you caught that because when we perform it, I once tried teaching the crowd that hook to have them sing along, and apparently it’s too fast! But, that lyric, that song even, it comes from a personal place. It comes from me being in El Prado, the house, kind of letting the things always on my mind come out in a really unrestricted way. I took that time to self-reflect a lot. So when I say those things, it’s really an admission having to do with a relationship that changed who I was entirely, from the core outward. Me saying those words, me painting that picture and telling that story, I’m really saying that I was so blinded by my infatuation for this person that I didn’t realize I was falling in love with, sort of, a homunculus of this person, not even the real person themselves. And in doing so, I neglected to do what was right and take care of the person I was involved with rather than thinking to sustain myself and live off the essence of love and not love itself. Because when you are true and honest with yourself, then you come to grips and come to terms with something that may not be the healthiest for you, you do the right thing and you let it go and you mature and you grow and you evolve, and that’s totally not what happened during that time. I’ve gotten better I’d like to think.
There’s a ton of Spanish influence on the album. I imagine that just comes from growing up in the Miami culture. Can you speak to that a little bit?
You hit it right on the head. I’ve lived in Miami my whole life. I’m Haitian, my household is Haitian. For a large majority of my life my friends have been hispanic. I’m the only non-hispanic member of the band, so they brought that kind of Latin flair to the album, and I just wanted to match that songwriting wise. Growing up here, it’s not something you can escape. I mean I drink Cuban coffee virtually every day. You know, you’re around it and I wanted to pay homage in the best way I knew how. I’d call it less hispanic influence and more Miami influence. It’s a blend of all these different cultures clashing in one small community.
For all the foodies, what’s your favorite local Miami dish?
I’m a sucker for maduros, which are fried sweet plantains. They accompany anything like chicken or steak, rice and beans. I just love the sweet flavor that they normally bring to a savory dish. I think the contrast works really, really well. So, I’ve got to say a side of maduros is probably my favorite food.
This was your first wide release, correct?
This was my first official release, yeah. This is the largest, I guess distribution wise project I’ve done. My first mixtape, released in 2015, “KNGS,” which is on Soundcloud, and then I have an EP “SEITEICOS,” then an EP after that “What the Future Told Me.” But, those have all been YouTube and Soundcloud free releases.
Keeping that in mind, what does this experience mean to you?
It’s such a huge step, and it kind of opened my eyes. The whole day, I was like “Wow, I actually have a piece of art, a piece of content that I made with my friends, available for sale. It’s such a milestone. I thought about all the people that got me there. My manager, Josh, out in LA. My new publisher. All these different factors and gears working together to really bring the artist ToBy to life. It was a really sweet moment and something I don’t think I’m ever going to forget.
Click here for ToBy’s music