Originally Appeared on TheseDays in July 2016
It’s the Fourth of July and I’m sitting across a couch from Preston Oshita as he decides between a hot dog or lobster roll. Studying the menu before him he weighs his options, the waiter just let him know the oysters weren’t available. Taking a moment and decides on the lobster. His food on its way, the artist better known as Towkio quickly reflected on his choice: “I’m not huge on fish but lobster just seems appropriate”. Such is a small indication of the kind of leap in lifestyle the 24-year-old crossover act has achieved since stepping out to the world four years ago as Tokyo Shawn. In the time since, he’s gone from sleeping on my couch to some of the biggest names in music, continuing a winning streak with his July release, Community Service 2, which continued building his distinct sound and mentality. Sitting on the couch with the fireworks crackling in the background, he settled into yet another sofa to explain the ride that has positioned him as one of the most exciting breakout stars of the last year.
As the SaveMoney summer has continued through to July, one of the most compelling storylines has been that of the abstracted work of Towkio. Since breaking through with his 2015 .Wav Theory release, the Chicago native has established for himself an aesthetic that attracted the likes of Rick Rubin, who has opened his doors to the young artist and pulled him under his wing in the process. The result has been an increasingly interesting and varied approach to the music that proved Towkio as a artist in his own right, unafraid to deal in the unknown or esoteric while operating under the guise of a ‘rapper’ in all it’s 21st Century flexibility. The only consistent with Towkio’s music is it’s intrinsic ability to leap off a cliff at a moment, spiraling into a cacophony of abstracted ideas and realized dreams that come together to form a patchwork message that is only still being unveiled.
“My music is the real and that’s why it connects,” said Towkio, carefully studying the lobster roll on the plate before him. “The real will always prevail and that’s the truth. .Wav Theory is a project you can places but the sounds in it, the message underneath is deep, I’m really touching people’s souls and their subconscious. People who fuck with me really fuck with me and it’s because they can feel what I’m saying is real and genuine, but I’m learning to understand experiences more and be able to relate them as well.”
At a recent talk in Chicago, Nico Segal spoke to the mentality of SaveMoney song-making that often looks to deconstruct the obvious understanding of how a track is structured, instead forcing listeners to pay attention to the musicality, to the ideas not clearly underlined with lyrics or explanation. If that is the guiding message of the collective’s stance on creation than Towkio is not unlike the distilled version of that aspect. Ever the individual, whether it be his clothing, conversational word choice, general outlook on life, Chicago’s wave rider has blazed a new trail through sound that speaks to an idea of creating one’s own road map for working their way through life. Towkio’s is called .Wav Theory and he’s been using the uniquely transcendental approach to charge even further into the game, continuing an unprecedented run for SaveMoney that has begun to truly find the deserved world-wide attention it’s been waiting on since stepping out just over four years ago.
“.Wav Theory was just the introduction,” said Towkio, sipping a red white and blue slush cocktail through a straw. “I just released a new project of stuff I’ve been working on, fun shit. .Wav Theory was really theoretical, I was talking about a bunch of ideas and how I felt on perception of things, trying to connect on some spiritual shit.”
Before all the philosophy, Towkio was Tokyo Shawn, an earlier artistic manifestation, the former starting quarterback at Lane Tech High School transformed throughout his latter high school years. As he puts it, he and his friends ’studied’ the culture of the internet that was beginning to truly come of age around 2010 with the advent of blogs, streaming music and YouTube. They took what they learned, allowing it to inform everything from their fashion to musical taste and in viewing it through their own lens, created a unique aesthetic all their own. Early videos like “Holla At My Guala” speak to both the brash fashion choices and eye for subtle detail that set them apart. “World Turning” with Purp, released in November 2013 still stands as one of the most stylish visuals to come from and independent act in or out of the city with the bravado to match. While Towkio has always seemed to possess a particular look and ability, a theme was missing and he knew it.
“I knew I had to make something that if I died the next day I could be happy with,” said Towkio of his debut full-length. “I wrote the album based off my concepts, just formulate it in a way that spoke to what I was trying to say while also making it comprehendible, you know? I think that everybody who understands it, understands it and everybody who doesn’t just likes it for what it is and everybody who doesn’t understand it just doesn’t get it yet.”
At a time when the typified image of a rapper in oversized leather jackets and shiny chains is as antiquated as the boot cut jeans the old heads are wearing, Towkio has found the perfect epoch from which to assert his particular brand of music. .Wav Theory was created over the course of three years spent bouncing from couch to couch around the city, punctuated by late night studio sessions, miles-long bike trips for the hustle and plenty of evenings spent falling asleep on an empty stomach. A sort of flashy street-philosopher meets high school graduate, Towkio’s general vibe is one that is hard to lock down, a theme that is evident throughout the artist’s seminal offering. It also was brought to its current form in the midst of the sessions that would bring about Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s now-iconic SURF project. Executive produced by Peter CottonTale, it certainly has the feelings and fingerprints of the soX boys easily evident. While the project was a critical success that offered an introduction to the complex story Towkio is weaving, his follow up, World Wide Waves looks to expand on that, in a way.
“Right now I’m focused on making the craziest album of my life, World Wide Waves,” said Towkio. “It really has to be explosive because the concept is there, the sonics are there, the ideas are there, I pray the timing is there but I know I’m about to make a crazy work of art and everything else is going to come after that.”
The latest project was almost fully recorded at the infamous Shangri-La Studios at the home of legendary music icon Rick Rubin. The man who helped create the genre of hip-hop as its known today took the kid from Chicago under his wing an opened his doors, and Towkio of course brought all his friends.
“It felt like we all made it to the league. I made it to the league but I didn’t make it to the league by myself, I made it with my friends so obviously I’m going to bring them with me and we fucked it up,” said Towkio, his rounded shades pulled over his eyes. “We went crazy. I think there were ten days where we made hella records: dope shit, timeless shit and then we went back and did the shit again. I know Rick and all the guys over there know too: we’re them young boys fuckin’ it up. Like we had to leave the studio because U2 was coming and I was like ‘who the hell is U2?!’
The support from Rubin might be surprising to some but in a world where Prince graces Eryn Allen Kane with his guidance and Jay Z and Kanye are tipping their caps to Chance and Vic; just about anything seems possible around Chicago’s streets these days. While on the surface, the connection may be slightly eyebrow-raising, the collaboration is a sensical one. Rubin, the oft-barefooted, rarely-seen godfather of some of the most memorable music of our generation is an ethereal shaman of the upper echelon of music and by many account kind of a weird guy. Towkio’s similarly as weird and the pair seem to find one another on a sort of transcendental level that has allowed the elder artist to help guide his latest protege from afar, without offering direct instruction or criticism. It’s a welcome relationship and a heavy cosign that will be a undeniable part of his career for the foreseeable future. Immediately, his latest release, CS2, was recorded almost entirely at the reclusive home studio of Rubin.
“I knew the crazy stuff was going to happen to me, I knew I was going to get a cosign from somebody but I didn’t know who and Rick Rubin is the perfect fucking person,” said Towkio. “When we linked up it just made sense, I feel like he understands me and my vibe and what I’m trying to give off to people and vice versa. He’s the type of person I want to be when I’m older.”
With Rubin by his side, outside of Chance Towkio stands as a unifying force within SaveMoney as he slowly approaches the release of his follow up album, World Wide Waves which he’s already hard at work on. Somewhat racially ambiguous (his parents are of Mexican and Japanese descent) and touching on several different genres, often simultaneously; he’s the kind of endearing, far-reaching act that has allowed the collective to move beyond the perceived boundaries of their hometown. HIs commercial viability is underwritten by a penchant for Japanese fashion, punctuated by both his stage name and trademark ponytail which seems to regularly find itself in the center of the most exclusive parties and shows. Moving with a kind of effortlessly calculated approach wherever he is, Oshita never seems to be done with the hustle, a
finesse always just a move away. It’s an approach that has seen him climb both music and social ladders, a sentiment noted on his recent Community Service 2 project when he vehemently raps on “GWM”: “Ooo I got Vic with me/That mean Ye with me/Mean Jay with me/Kim K with me/Beyoncé with me/Team too strong/Don’t play with me.” It’s at once an assertion of where he and the team he started with have arrived and a boastful toast to what the future will almost assuredly bring. It’s a far-cry from his single on 2014’s HotChips & Chopstix’s “Abstract” where he appears decidedly less sure, “Tell Kim and tell Kourtney/Tell Kylie and Khloe/Tell Kendall I love her”. Such is a symptom of the world Towkio exists in today, a consequence of the .Wav he’s been riding since high school just a couple miles from where he’ll take the stage at Lollapalooza this month. Dreams have largely become reality and those that haven’t appear just within arm’s reach.
“I feel as though my existence and my being was a little deeper than what I expected, I actually do have a higher purpose so I never felt like I wasn’t going to do something or be an important person to this world. I’ve seen God,I know what I need to do and all I have to do is continue to echo my truths and everything else is going to come. I don’t have to worry about the outside world, we create this world.”