Walthamstow native Big Tobz has been on a steady ascent, accelerating his pace year on year with a consistent streak of viral tracks from ‘Uno My Style’ which was famously remixed by a pre-signed Stefflon Don and Ms Banks, to ‘Believe In Your Barber’, as well as ‘Controlla’ (arguably Tobz’ biggest hit to date). While he’s cemented his place in the UK’s Urban scene, the 27 year old East Londoner is now gearing up for a bigger breakthrough moment. His task now is to transcend, and become a household name much like Tinie Tempah or Stormzy.
With its melodies and vibrance, Big Tobz debut EP ‘Still Winning’ is more than noteworthy and has justifiably paved the way for more success. “The quality of my music and the melodies are improving, it’s quite different to some of my previous music” he starts to explain when we catch up and talk about his story so far. “Things have changed quite a lot. The sound, the producers and the lyrical content. It’s growth”.
With both West African and West Indian roots, it’s no surprise tones of Afrobeats and the lingo of Jamaican Patois, shines through in his music; “My family’s from both Nigeria and Jamaica, so growing up in my household I was hearing a lot of African influences and at the same growing up around a lot Jamaicans influenced the way I rap. It’s Afrobeats and Bashment. Even today you can hear from the way that I talk, I’ve always had influences from both”.
Being schooled in those Afro-Caribbean sounds from the jump, meant Tobz passion for a range in his expression came as second nature, “Growing up I loved Sean Paul when I was young, he was the biggest thing out of Jamaica and ‘Gimme the Light’ was all over MTV. I loved that riddim and his vibe, so big up Sean Paul. Also listened to a lot of P-Square, then over the years Wizkid and Davido came through”. Tobz’ love for Grime manifested into his teen years, “I first started in school when I was around 15 years old… It was just me and my friends, we’d be spitting or clashing between classes. The first time I stepped foot in a recording studio I was 16 years old”.
I was in music from early, but I didn’t really take it seriously until this point.
While he dabbled in making music, it wasn’t always his desired career path, “When I started making music, I was doing it because I was trying to be a rapper. I did it just because it was just something to do. It was a bit of fun”.
Not long ago Tobz played a #celebrityballout basketball game for charity with Stormzy, Richard Blackwood, Femi Oyeniran among others. What many don’t know about Tobz is that he was once well on his way to becoming a professional athlete. “I was actually more into basketball than anything. I was in a team, we’d train and travel to other countries to play. I spent some time in America at a basketball camp and a few months at an academy in France. It was really serious for me. That’s a side of me fans don’t really know. I even went to university and played for the uni team, but eventually I realised no one in this country really cared about basketball. It was all about football and rugby”.
Tides soon turned as the reality of pursuing his career in basketball began to set in and Tobz explains he found himself at a fork in the road. “I’d be away at uni and come back home and see some of my friends were on rapping, so I ended up leaning more towards my musical side. That’s when I started recording freestyles and a few tunes. In 2014 I released a track called ‘Winning’ and that kind of set me off. I was in music from early, but I didn’t really take it seriously until this point. I guess that’s when it really started for me”.
Growth is a recurring theme throughout our conversation. “I’ve grown up a lot, and with that I’m approaching my music in a different manner. I’ve been through some things and have got a lot more to say, personal things to say”, Tobz elaborates. One of those “things” he touches on is a near death incident in 2016 where Tobz was stabbed and shot, leaving him hospitalised.
Talking in-depth about the situation in his documentary earlier this year, I ask how the incident had impacted his music, and his response is enlightening. “There isn’t a direct impact, but now when I talk about trials and tribulations in my music I’ve got more to speak on. More insight with what I’ve been through… It’s had more an effect on me personally than my music. I know to not take life for granted, I look at life differently”. Never the defeatist, Tobz goes on to put things into perspective. “A lot of people go through that kind of stuff and don’t make it to the other side, but I came out of the hospital motivated and ready to continue making music.. the way I see it God puts you through certain tests for you to overcome and be a stronger person”.
Away from those dark moments, our conversation takes a lighter turn as we talk some more about his musical influences – both current and early. “Right now, I’ve got a lot of Afroswing on my playlist, I’m loving the wave right now” says Tobz, jumping straight in. “Through listening to a lot of that, there’s been a definite influence on my own music. At the same time I’ve also been listening to a lot of Drake and Migos. I’m listening to vibey music, that’s my kind of music. I’m a good vibes person”.
Fast forward to today and in the humblest of senses, things seem to be working out well for Big Tobz right now. Having recently signed a deal with Polydor Records, work on his next EP is well underway and he’s set to make some afrowaves with his feature on Team Salut’s new single ‘Buss It Up’ alongside Deefundo.
With the success of his ‘Still Winning’ tape in the bag, it’s safe to say there’s a lot more winning ahead for Big Tobz.