tobi lou hails from Chicago and he’s “happy+extra sad.” In today’s climate, that might be the best and only way to live. At the least, it’s allowed lou to release a steady stream of gripping music and amassed him a sizable following in 2018, his breakout year. Working with Smino, releasing incredible music videos with Glassface, and linking up with No I.D., who will be executive producing lou’s forthcoming debut album, has helped establish tobi lou as Chicago’s most endearing star in the making.
With the release of his latest EP, tobi lou and the Juice, lou has us sinking ever deeper into a punch bowl of uncontested cool. lou’s personality-forward music never strays uninspired, partly thanks to these bite-sized offerings, and in even larger part thanks to his penchant for creative direction. Each EP comes with a noticeable and appreciated pivot, be it the tone of the music as we saw with tobi lou and the Loop, or the rap delivery as we have here on tobi lou and the Juice.
There are callbacks to earlier EPs, of course. From the title to the content, “Sadderday” is in the form of Loop, sneaking in the morose with the joyful, and showcases how grief is ever-present, but does not have to be devastating. This motif has worked well for all of tobi lou’s burgeoning career, but has the potential to grow tiresome without a proper injection of texture or fresh rhythm. What I mean to say is, it might be time for some tobi lou overstatement, where jeering and understatement have served him well enough for a majority of the year.
More importantly, though, Juice focuses on the key element keeping tobi lou’s music from droning: his refusal to take himself too seriously in either direction. lou’s brand of happiness does not make your teeth ache, and his teasing at the doldrums doesn’t rely on formulaic melancholy. “Sadderday” concludes with a string of Alexa memes, for one. Teasing this project, lou released a music video starring himself and a gaggle of goats. Everything tobi lou does is in good fun, with the intent of being resonant when time allows. It’s a considerate brand he’s developed, and it works.
tobi lou’s projects are crisp and digestible but layered all the same. It’s easy to miss savvy and woefully prophetic observations that make his tunes thoughtful commentaries on youth and the thinning line between innocence and survival. tobi lou and the Juice begins with the despondent and wistful. “Yeah I called God, never called back,” lou sings on “Lavender Town Pt. 1.”
For the lore-illiterate, there’s a well-known myth that the theme song for Pokémon’s Lavender Town area prompts children to commit suicide. Harrowing—and altogether impossible—history aside, the remainder of the track is a breathless warning: “You don’ wan’ get turnt up / You don’ wan’ get burnt out / You don’ wan’ have to call home like, ‘Mama, look how I turnt out.’” There is fear on Juice, but the EP is also knowing in the way J. Cole imagines himself to be squatting down to dole out advice. Except tobi lou is living and learning in the same breath, making him all the more endearing and approachable.
In Pokémon, Lavender Town is a burial site, which is particularly gruesome for a children’s game. On tobi lou and the Juice, “Lavender Town Pt. 1” is the procession for burying what we understood to be youth. It’s a call to the concerned drug talk on Loop. Childhood is changing; lou points this out all over Juice (“High Score,” “Birthday Boy”). Perhaps not dying, but certainly changing, and not always for the better.
This change brings us to “Knock Knock,” which opens with a leveling note: “They won’t give peace a chance / That’s just a dream that we once had / Sitting in the back of a parking lot / ‘Cause when you young, you just be in your car a lot.” The dream, the car, the lot, the late nights thinking you’re the only one with the important questions and answers rattling in your head—that’s youth and prophecy, and sadness and hope, wrapped up in four bars skating over toybox keys.
“Knock Knock” also features some of lou’s most frenetic and inspired rapping. While we’re busy deciding if rapping fast is cool or painfully uncool, tobi lou is slipping in brisk tongue twisters to keep our ear before we return to our regularly scheduled programming. It’s a nice touch, and perhaps the best example of interchanging your flows to amplify your aesthetic. tobi lou has a knack for capturing the rain and the sunshine, but on tobi lou and the Juice, we also find him adept at fanning his underlying fire.
The way tobi lou blends the crunch of classic hip-hop percussion with Disney-esque melody is a testament to his range and swath of influences. The young man seemingly has an eye and ear for everything, but he never struggles to balance the externals and focus on himself. Each tobi lou EP has been a meditation, but Juice is lou’s most thought-out offering.
As a topic, youth and the impending loss of innocence can veer trite, but tobi lou makes heavy abstract losses feel weightless. Of course, the length helps, but we could just as easy trim the tracklist and have the concept remain intact. We are listening to lou master his voice in real time, and lucky for all of us, there have been few misfires.
With tobi lou and the Juice, we’re given growth and concept in equal portions. It’s a full serving of the lou's strengths, with few allusions to his weaknesses. The EP format has been kind to him, allowing prospective fans and outlets to warm to the Chicago artist and steadily fall in love with his “happy+extra sad” demeanor.
Juice makes many statements, but the loudest might just be: It’s time for the album. tobi lou sounds ready, fans were born ready, and the time is now.
Three Standout Songs
For anyone concerned about tobi lou’s mic skill, this is the track for you. “Knock Knock” brings lou’s sometimes-spastic aesthetic into the realm of breezy double-time flow and sharp commentary on growing up. As a measured and thoughtful cut, “Knock Knock” only rivals “Troop” as lou’s best work to date.
With so many dark undertones, “Billy” is the buoyant landmark of Juice. The track is skittering and unique in how pure lou’s happiness comes across. Where it can be corny or contrived to be a “happy rapper,” tobi lou proves that organic joy is never less than appreciated.
“Sadderday” is the blueprint for tobi lou’s bait-and-switch style and his many layers. Just so on-the-nose in title, the track is a wonderful distillation of lou’s silver lining raps. tobi lou thrives because his music embraces and finds hope in grayscale, and “Sadderday” is no exception.