Govball 2019 Preview Series: Rapper-singer Tobi Lou makes sad songs in a happy way

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“I really like to let people know that you’re here and I’m here and this is what’s going on right now.”

Tobi Lou

Image courtesy Gov Ball Press.

With the last finals of the semester and for some, graduation, behind us, it’s time to start making summer plans. The Governors Ball Music Festival, a three-day festival at Randall's Island Park in New York City spanning May 31 to June 2, is the perfect way to kick off a truly incredible summer. With the festival less than a month away, we’re continuing to spotlight some of the best up-and-coming musicians playing the fest this year.

Tobi Lou, a rapper-singer from Chicago, is one such artist that is rapidly on the rise. You may recognize him and his space buns, whether in real or cartoon-form, from his music video “Buff Baby” that went viral on Twitter in 2018. Between becoming a Twitter sensation, his continuous aesthetically-pleasing video drops and now a spot on the 2019 Govball lineup, it’s clear that Lou has definite star potential.

Lou has always been enamored by music, citing Missy Elliot, Busta Rhymes, Will Smith and Biggie as early influences along with any “fun, interesting rap s***” he saw on MTV, as Lou himself put it. It wasn’t until Lou heard a song on a local radio station in Chicago by an unknown rapper-producer named Kanye West, however, that he began to think about making music as a way of life.

“As soon as I heard [West’s] voice I was like, ‘Yo, he’s speaking to me,’” Lou explained. “I felt like there was a guy out there that was just as awkward but confident, weird but confident, as me. And it was like a new wave: You didn’t have to be a gangster to rap. It felt really good with him being from my city, Chicago. It just felt super possible.”

Although it was then that Lou first discovered the power of music, it wasn’t until about five years ago, when Lou moved out to L.A., that he began to create the music he’s become known for as Tobi Lou. However, while Lou definitely has been gaining popularity, it hasn’t been an easy process.

“A lot of gaining popularity was just consistency: Just keep dropping visuals, keep dropping music; making sure everything was high quality, and that everything had a vision,” Lou said. “But it’s been a hard-working process, it hasn’t been easy or quick or anything overnight. It just seems like one thing has been leading to another, and as long as I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, it keeps going.”

Lou certainly seems to be doing what he’s supposed to be doing, as this grinding process has earned him a spot on the 2019 Govball lineup. “[Playing] Govball is the first actual thing where I could tell how nice of a feat that was from the reactions of my friends and some acquaintances,” Lou said.

“They were like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re playing Govball? You really made it,’ even though I haven’t made it. It’s a nice stepping stone to be like, we’ve been doing good work and now we’re starting to see the shows are getting bigger. You start seeing your name on lineups with just amazing headliners. I’m just very thankful for the opportunity and can’t wait to kill it,” he continued.

Connecting with his audience is an important part of performing for Lou. “The thing I hate the most about the bigger shows is how far the stage is from the people. I love being right up [to the crowd]. I look people in the eyes: They could be dancing and I’ll look them in the eyes, they could be not liking me and I’ll look them in the eyes. I really like to let people know that you’re here and I’m here and this is what’s going on right now,” Lou explained.

“But, and I don’t even know if competitive is the right word, I’m competitive: I want to be performing at big stadiums,” Lou continued. “So when there’s a chance of performing in front of a big crowd, it’s scary as fuck to think about it but it’s also like, ‘Wow, this is the stuff you’ve kept asking for.’ [In big crowds] I don’t know what type of crowd I’m going to have. But it’s been nice to see over this past year fans know these words to this music, they’re vibing, they’re getting excited that I’m there.”

Lou’s music is very much like himself and his performances: Both sensitive yet energetic, introspective yet fun. This unique mix of happiness and sadness that Lou is able to portray again and again on his tracks was originally inspired by the OutKast hit, ‘Hey Ya!’

“I looked at the lyrics [of ‘Hey Ya!’] and that was the first time in my whole life I realized that it was a sad-ass song. André 3000 was literally talking about how marriages don’t last, divorce is imminent and love doesn’t last forever,” Lou explained. “But he was singing that over this happy-ass sounding guitar, and when I brought it up nobody knew it was about divorce. So I was like, ‘Wow, here’s this guy singing a sad song in a happy way.’ I became addicted to that, and that was the basis for Tobi Lou.”

“It was kind of like disguising how I was really feeling, but using these sounds to lift me up even if I was feeling sad,” Lou continued. “It’s crazy now seeing messages and hearing fans say that my music does so much for them, because I was making this music as a place to kind of get me out of, but I ended up helping other people.”

This idea of helping others through his music is what Lou most wants his fans to take away from what he’s creating. “I want people to have songs that they can use to deal with what they’re going through in life,” Lou said.

“I don’t see a therapist--yet--but music has definitely been the most therapeutic thing in my life since before I can remember; it’s always been there. You can tune out everything but just turning something on. What [people] take from [my music], how they dissect it, that’s up to them. But as long as it helps them.”

Make sure to catch Tobi Lou at the Governors Ball on Sunday, June 2 at the Honda Stage at 12:15 p.m. Tickets can be found on the festival’s website.


Lucie Turkel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lucie.turkel@uconn.edu.