TOJU still stays pretty lowkey. He sees himself as a humble guy just doing what he enjoys to do, and if you aren't heavily into SoundCloud rap you might not know what that is. Although you'd never guess passing him on the street, the 20-year-old from Franklin Township, NJ, has already had his music streamed millions of times and featured on national television.
When we sat down to talk, we were chatting about how many flows Lil Uzi hit on the "Who Run It" remix, and TOJU was far from surprised. He reminded me that there's usually more than meets the eye to Uzi, "Yeah he's always been versatile, you can't forget that he's from Philly."
It's clear that he's schooled himself on all the rappers who've been on the rise in the last couple of years, as he spent countless hours on SoundCloud discovering new artists. Not content to just be a fan, TOJU got involved in the scene as a burgeoning producer. Today, artists like Rich The Kid, Trill Sammy, and Xavier Wulf have all rapped over his beats.
Over the length of our discussion we spoke about the first few years of his career, and all the steps he took to be where he is today. From him accepting that his beats were awful when he was starting to signing contracts from FX, there's plenty about TOJU that the world should know about.
The Intangible: When you were 12 what was your favorite music to listen to?
TOJU: When I was 12 my favorite music was rock music, I liked Paramore and Fall Out Boy, Linkin Park. I guess it sounds a little weird coming from a black kid, but I didn’t like rap music until I was 13.
TI: So what happened at 13?
TOJU: Well my friends tried to show me Lil Wayne but I didn’t really appreciate his music back then, I thought he was weird. One day I was bored on YouTube and I searched up “M&M rapper”, because I had always heard of people talking about Eminem. I spelled it wrong but somehow I found this white dude freestyling and I thought “this was amazing”. After Eminem I started getting into Big L, like New York rap.
TI: Super lyrical stuff basically?
TOJU: Yeah I was just listening to lyrical rappers at first like Jay Electronica, but one day I was looking at what was hot on YouTube and Soulja Boy had just dropped a video. This was like 2012, and after looking at the video I was like “wow, this is kinda funny but it’s not really good”. In the related videos I saw “Lil B - Suck My Dick”, I clicked on it and I was dying for hours. I didn’t know if it was considered music, that was the first parody song I’d ever heard. From then on I was into rap, from lyrical stuff to parody.
TI: When did you start on SoundCloud?
TOJU: Well in 2012 I became a massive Lil B fan, like I put half of the niggas in 8th grade on to the cooking dance. I joined this Facebook group that was into Lil B, and I saw people dropping SoundCloud links. They told me that SoundCloud was better than YouTube for underground music, so I checked it out.
TI: Who were some of the first rappers you were listening to on SoundCloud?
TOJU: The first few were Bones, Xavier Wulf, Chris Travis, Yung Lean, Spooky Black, that was the original cloud rap.
TI: I know you’d been playing saxophone for a minute, but when was being in band not enough for you? How’d you get into your own music?
TOJU: I started making beats in the summer of 2012. One day when I was watching Soulja Boy videos I saw him make “Crank Dat” on FL Studio. I was like “that’s so cool, he makes his own music to rap on”, so I wanted to do something like that. I downloaded the demo for FL Studio and the first beat I ever made was a remake of “Crank Dat”. I felt so cool [laughs].
TI: All through high school you were making beats, and you were really one of the only people who was proactive before it got super popular to do it [making music]. I feel like people clowned you a little bit.
TOJU: Yeah they did, I remember in freshman year my friends would try to get me to hang and I’d stay inside to make beats. They would be like “what a loser”, but it was whatever because I enjoyed doing that more than just hanging out. As soon as I got into making beats I stopped video games, which I used to play every day. I just thought I wouldn’t get anything from video games, but when I’m making beats I’m making music that other people can enjoy.
TI: What was the first beat you were really proud of?
TOJU: After six months of making beats I started to get somewhat good, I learned how to mix and master somewhat decently. I remember when I first started I thought to myself “ I can’t wait until I get good, ‘cause I’m so fucking trash.” I knew I was trash, but I just wanted to be good so I just kept on making beats every day of the summer.
TI: You were on your Kanye West.
TOJU: Yeah, sometimes it literally took me one whole day to make a beat.
TI: I don’t think that’s abnormal, but how quick can you make a beat that you like now?
TOJU: With mixing and mastering, I can make one in like 40 minutes. The song that got on Atlanta that Xavier Wulf used I made in 40 minutes. I actually didn’t like it at first, I was thinking about deleting it.
TOJU: Yeah, but one day Xavier Wulf just tweeted out his email like “Send me beats with no samples.”. I just sent it to him and he said “thank you” a day later on email, but two months later he followed me on Twitter and told me that I was on his tape. When he dropped it, the song got like 200k plays in one week.
TI: Was that the most plays you’d gotten at the time?
TOJU: Definitely, and over a year it reached a million. In summer 2016, that’s when Donald Glover wanted to use it for Atlanta.
TI: What made you bold enough to start looking for placements? I know a lot of people who make beats and don’t do anything with them.
TOJU: In my view, I made beats for people to enjoy, to rap to. So I thought “why not give it a try”? When I make a beat and I know it’s good I’ll want to freestyle over it, so I know I should try and get someone else on it.
TI: So who was your first placement?
TOJU: It was this rapper named Agoff who was signed to Soulja Boy at the time, it was exciting.
TI: I remember you were showing me artists like Dolphin God (now Duwap Kaine) years before they were popular. You definitely seem to have a good eye.
TOJU: Yeah, he blew up! I started to notice that since 2013, ever since I’ve been a part of the underground scene I’ve seen people blow up and I’m figuring out what it takes. You have to be different with something that appeals to people, but you can’t be too weird.
TI: Who are some of your favorite producers, from when you started listening to rap?
TOJU: When I first started it was like Dr. Dre, Pharrell, J Dilla, Kanye, Metro Boomin, and Zaytoven.
TI: And now?
TOJU: Now it’s like Ronnie J, Cashmoney AP, he’s really good. I like Izak, he produced "Rubbin’ Off The Paint". I like Pierre Bourne, DP Beats, Southside, actually all of 808 Mafia.
TI: I have to ask a little bit more about the Xavier Wulf/Atlanta story, you just sent him [Wulf] that one beat?
TOJU: I emailed him a few, but he liked that one a lot.
TI: So when you first heard the song with the vocals over it, how did you feel about it?
TOJU: I thought it was super cool because I used to listen to Xavier before in like 2013, before I was good at making beats. It was great to hear someone I look up to over my beat.
TI: With Atlanta, what was it like having a TV station contact you for business?
TOJU: That was fucking insane because I didn’t even think the song was gonna be “TV quality”, it’s like SoundCloud music. But Donald Glover really likes music from SoundCloud, which is great to see.
TI: Yeah, I heard he was playing “The Race” on the set of the show.
TOJU: That’s crazy, I really didn’t expect that to happen. I’m definitely glad it did though.
TI: That’s dope, is there anything big in the works? Anything you’re excited about?
TOJU: Honestly I just have fire beats on deck, hit material.
TI: In terms of music you like, what do you listen to? Are you more underground or mainstream?
TOJU: I’d say I’m in the middle because I like mainstream songs and underground, I listen to radio but also unknown artists.
TI: If you could have any 5 rappers on one of your beats, who would you choose?
TOJU: This is gonna be funny, but I’d say Soulja Boy. I really think he’s the GOAT because he was the first to pop off the internet. Also not a troll, but I’d want Lil B [laughs].
TI: You’re sticking to your roots.
TOJU: Yeah, and he’s hilarious. If Drake rapped over one of my beats that would be insane since he’s a legend. If anybody does anything with Drake they get the “Drake Stimulus Package™”. Like BlocBoy JB came out of nowhere and now he’s a star.
TI: That Drake feature can change your life.
TOJU: For real. If I could make some magic beat, I’d say Jay-Z , even though that’s not likely. And for the last one I’d say Bones, since he’s an OG SoundCloud rapper that’d be cool.
TI: Any final words, anything you want to leave people with?
TOJU: Honestly, if you want to start doing music then don’t worry about it if you’re bad at first. Practice makes perfect, as long as you have the love for music and you really want to be great you’ll go to great places. A lot of people are gonna try to bring you down, but just stay focused. If it’s something you truly believe in, I think you can achieve it.