Towkio Talks Debut Album 'WWW.,' Signing to Rick Rubin & Working With SZA
Last week, everyone quickly placed the "crazy" tag on buzzing Chicago artist, Towkio, after he released his debut album WWW. from space. While many were dumbfounded by his spacey idea, Towkio's unorthodox move seemed like a natural one for him.
Last year, Towkio (born Preston Oshita) inked a deal with American Recordings/Republic Records after having a dream about his hangout session with music savant Rick Rubin. "You know, your subconscious tells you things in your dreams, so I always analyze my dreams, but I remember I wrote [Rick Rubin] a letter that day, speaking my heart. And he was like, 'I got you,'" recalls the 24-year-old during his time at the Billboard offices last month. Those three words cemented Towkio's decision to partner up with one of rap's biggest luminaries and inspired him to create his colorful debut album, WWW.
The 13-track endeavor is loaded with flavorful tracks, like his speedy single "Drift" and the luminous intro "Swim," which later was co-signed by Kanye West. With a smooth balance of dexterity and melody, Towkio's songwriting prowess shines throughout WWW. Boasting features including SZA, Vic Mensa, Teddy Jackson and more, Towkio proves to be adept at building tracks with the right ingredients, when needed.
Billboard spoke with Towkio about his new album, WWW., working with Rick Rubin, the importance of his heritage, collaborating with SZA and the brotherhood between him, Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa. Check it out below.
I know that you’re Mexican and Japanese, correct? So to pay homage, you went to Mexico and shot your album cover in front of pyramids. What compelled you to do that?
Those pyramids, they were found by the Teotihuacans. I just can’t believe that. Like even when you go there, they’re like, “They found these pyramids.” I was reading these books, and it was talking about root races. The world’s been around for billions of years, so there’s been root races of evolution. I think the first root race is when we were algae, then it was human. Then, you ever heard of Atlantis, the city under water? Supposedly, they had things that flew. Their technology was so advanced that they got things in the sky.
People would be stupid to not believe it because our time here in 2018, since we’ve been marking dates, is not even close to 100,000 years. But this shit’s been around for billions of years. There’s been civilizations that’ve existed and been erased, and we can’t document everything from when the earth’s been around. Those pyramids are a root race that existed. Somebody built them bitches and it was the closest thing they had to the stars to the moons. They were very sacred, and then whatever happened due to natural disasters, it wiped them off the earth. I read someone that there was a flooding, like the world got flooded.
And you know Pangea--the first people on the world were black, and then people spread out and there were different races. And that was crazy to me when I read it cause if the first humans on the earth are black, how the f--- did this happen? So, really, I’m just informing people of something they have never thought about. Everybody worried about their day-to-day, but it doesn’t even matter. That’s the side of that that it shows.
And then, me going in the spacesuit in front of those pyramids is a full circle of human efforts. Every human there had hundred of thousands of people putting those together, and it took hundreds and thousands of our generation of humans to get to space, or even be able to get the opportunity to get the space, go to to the moon, go past it. And we’re probably gonna be the first generation to make it to the stars, and survive whatever disaster happens on earth. We not gonna have this place forever, as you see we’re using up all the energy and the natural resources. I mean we might still be alive and our kids maybe, but who knows when we’re gonna start depleting.
Your level of wokeness is at a level 50.
I do what I do so I can inform people through content and art. And then, hopefully, that’ll help them spark interest in getting informed, and then society is moving faster because everybody is starting to wake up or trying to inform themselves. The way it’s set up is we’re getting fed everything, and it’s gonna continue to be that until you wanna start eating, and start choosing what you eat.
Like, Jay Electronica was an artist I looked up to a lot. And I was like a kid listening to this shit, but it’s resonating with me harder than I know. I’m like, “Why is this resonating with me so hard?” I grew up and was like, “Man, he’s just speaking the truth. He said something on “Better in Tune With the Infinite” that was like, “The message grab a hold of every ear it gets whispered in, the bayous in New Orleans and the water’s still glistenin’, the universe is listenin’, be careful what you say in it.” The message does grab a hold if people can understand the truth. It’ll grab you, even if you don’t understand it.
That photo’s one of the most important things I’ve made because it’s striking people subconsciously. They don’t even gotta know what they’re looking at, but something clicked on their brain -- cause even if they don’t know what they’re seeing, their brain will know it’s a spacesuit in front of a pyramid and pyramids are made….All of that is in their subconscious. They might not understand it, but when they realize it resonates and shakes through your body. That power is...it’s when you make art, you do that. Some people channel it differently, but I choose to channel it through the information I’ve found. That’s how I got to .Wav Theory.
Talk about growing up in Chicago and how that experience molded you.
I grew up in Chicago, born in 1993. My mother came from Mexico, my dad was born and raised in Chicago. They found each other on the south side, my mom’s from the south side, my dad’s from up north, and they met in high school. And this was back in the day so there’s still a bunch of racial stuff. And then, even further back, my grandparents were Japanese during World War II, and if you’re Japanese during WWII, you got imprisoned just cause you were Japanese.
So the only reason why I’m here is because my grandparents met and got married in the internment camp. So that trickled down to my father being born in Chicago, them moving from Washington to Chicago, to 43rd and Woodlong. My mother moving from Mexico because they didn’t have no money out there.
So it took everything that they did for me to even be born in ‘93 in Chicago. I went to grammar school with Joey [Purp], he was one of my best friends, and we were around the corner from Vic [Mensa], so I knew Vic and Chance [the Rapper]. We all knew each other from grammar school and high school brought us even closer together. And then, if you need any validation: three Grammys. People need validation. That’s something from the ground up that we’ve been experiencing and pushing towards.
I think that it’s all part of the plan and now, people are about to see my sector of the story. Because out of anybody that could’ve f---ed with me, anybody, I couldn’t think of another person than Rick Rubin. And he’s one of the creators of the genre that we’re living in now, and the fact that he gave me -- I don’t even know why he signed me.
Rick scooped you up and handed you a deal. How did ya’ll link up?
He heard the music, and we started meeting up--I went to his house a couple of times. He wanted to do the deal, and I sat on it. I remember the day I was supposed to get signed, Chance called me like, “Don’t do it. I’ll put you on a song with Justin Bieber.’ I was like, You’re my brother, say less.” I pulled up to Rick Rubin’s crib and didn’t sign the deal. I don’t know how Rick felt, but he was cool. He was like, “Man, whenever you’re ready.’ So took some time, and then I was like I do wanna do this.
How did it hit you? How did you know?
Okay, there’s two crazy things: I had a dream that Rick Rubin drove me and my homies down PCH and it was pink sunset the whole time. And I could never forget this dream because it was the most beautiful the way the sky could look. And he drove us all the way down PCH to Chicago, PCH turned to Lake Shore Drive and he dropped us at a crib. I don’t know whose crib it was, but it was really nice and it felt like it could’ve been my house. You know, your subconscious tells you things in your dreams, so I always analyze my dreams, but I remember I wrote him a letter that day, speaking my heart. And he was like, "I got you."
And I remember we’re in the car, I’m with my homie Smoko, and we talking about whether I should do this or not. He was like ‘pick a number one through ten.’ I smacked the number. One in ten chances. I read the signs, so I was just like, “Alright, Let’s do it.” And it’s been one of the best decisions in my life. More so than any money, or any record label, or any rapper -- like if I were to f--- with a Kanye, or a Drake, or a JAY-Z -- at the end of the day, you get when you dig into yourself.
So I’ve been given Shangri La, which used to be Elvis’ beach house, he sold it to Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan sold it to Rick. And it’s one of the most beautiful places; it has over seventy or eighty years of music in there and I get to live there and make music and sit in my brain all day.
So I’ve evolved in two years since .Wav Theory. And that’s more powerful than any money could’ve gave me. You could give me a million dollars, but if I didn’t get smarter with that million, then it’s gonna disappear. I’ve been evolving and I have the perfect place to evolve. You can’t put a dollar amount on that cause everything comes from it. I’m making crazy dollar amounts from me digging inside of myself. Another thing is Rick, he’s probably the most detached from his ego that I know, from a lot of people.
It’s a great thing because working with any other rapper they’re gonna have an ego. Like rap is egotistical, it’s crazy. Rick is a guru, like a person I would wanna be like. I don’t know if I wanna be like a lot of rappers though. I like what they did and they inspire me, but like I don’t wanna be like them in my brain. Rick has a certain intuition similar to mine, and he just moves with it and people don’t second guess what he says. I think everything happens for a reason, and sometimes we do things, and we don’t know why we do these things. So he’ll say something, and I won’t take it lightly, even if I go against the decision on some music shit.
It’ll sit there.
It’ll sit there. And I’m like, "Why did he say that?’ He probably doesn't know why he said that neither. He just said that. We’re just channels. His shit is validated, so I’m like, "Alright, I’m not gonna second guess you because I’m just gonna second guess the shit out of myself. Like, if anything, he’s the one person where if he says something, I’m like, "Final decision, I trust you." It’s been a blessing to work with legends. He a legend. And he hasn’t worked with another hip-hop artist, or at least signed them in so long. I just feel like he sees something in me that I didn’t.
I knew something was in me, but he allowed me to hit my stride. Now there’s an opening for something new, and I think he sees the vision for what I’m trying to create. There’s a double edged sword -- sometimes you come with different stuff and sometimes, people are like, "Man, I like this so much ‘cause it’s different," and, sometimes, you come with different shit and it’s just too much for people to understand at the time.
But I think it’s 2018 and I think people are starting to open up and want some truths and some other things, and I think there’s a space opening up for me and my sonic and my vibration. And with that, there are artists like Kid Cudi, and like Kid Cudi changed the game. I see myself just like an artist like that. I have different appeal like there’s never been a me, and there never will be a me.
You also managed to nab SZA on your track "Morning View." How did that record come together?
So, SZA had been coming through the studio during the process of .Wav Theory 'cause of [producer] Carter [Lang]. We would just kick it, smoke, meditate, eat sushi, just kicking it, like it’s the most beautiful place in the world. We had cut some shit that we didn’t end up using or nothing, we was just making shit, and then one day Rick pulled up at like 10:30 in the Tesla spaceship with SZA. He walked in and was like, "I'mma leave y’all to it," and then bounced.
And me and SZA just sitting there, she was like, "I wanna get on ‘Morning View,’’ and I’m like, "Bet, and then boom! Smacked the shit. It was an aligning of our moments and our frequencies because we’re kind of on the same page. I thought the project was gonna drop last year, but it’s 2018 now. Everything happens how it’s supposed to. Her tremendous energy just took over this year, and god willing my shit will do the same thing.
You have a knack for collaborations and it seems like throughout you career so far, whether it's been with SZA, Chance the Rapper, or Vic Mensa, the tracks have been organic, as opposed to being forced.
“Morning View,” I remember BJ the Chicago Kid asked me for that song, but I was like nah I’m a keep it at interlude cause it’s one minute long. And then SZA was like, ‘I wanna get on that song.’ She couldn’t have shmacked it if she didn’t feel that song. But she shmacked that shit the first night. Most collaborations happen naturally, and those are the best ones when they’re a moment in time, and it’s two artists meeting up.
There’s about to be a lot more collaborations coming up I bet from me and Chance and Vic. We’ve just been cooking up a bunch of shit. And whenever me and Chance get together, like we did “Heaven Only Knows” and “Juke Jam,” and “Clean Up” and I put him on with BrassTracks for “No Problems,” So, motherf---ers can’t say that my energy is not important because I got a Grammy off of that shit. So like, whenever the next cook up happens, like their energies are like Goku and Vegeta. Vic and Chance are like Goku and Vegeta.
Who’s Goku and who’s Vegeta? Is Chance Goku?
I don’t know, I don’t know. Yeah, that’s probably what it would be, but I don’t know who I am.
You could be Trunks.
I could be like Gohan, but not Gohan ‘cause [Chance] not my daddy. It’s like somebody that came back from the future. I’m like future Trunks!
You’re future Trunks, there you go.
I’m somebody from the future. When motherf---ers link up…