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Towkio is going to space.
That’s not a metaphor for how quickly he’s risen to prominence it the rap game. It’s literal. As we speak on the phone, the Chicago rapper is preparing to use a high-altitude balloon to break the plane of the Earth, where he plans to “drop” his debut album, WWW., in just a few weeks, much to the consternation of his manager (he’s since completed the stunt and made it home safely). He is, naturally, excited — so much so that it’s almost difficult to actually ask questions, because he just can’t help sharing stories, theories, and his own personal philosophy, which has been influenced by ideas like the butterfly effect.
He has reason to be excited, though. This moment is the culmination of a journey he began in the Chicago Public Schools system, alongside fellow Savemoney crew members Vic Mensa and Chance The Rapper. Only three years ago, his song “Heaven Only Knows” earned him his first high-profile publicity, and since then he’s only increased in regard, as his Savemoney brethren have secured award nominations and big-name co-signs. His 2015 mixtape .Wav Theory displayed the same conscious intelligence and sonic adventurousness of Chance and Vic’s best work, and racked up an impressive collection of year-end honors from publications like Complex and his hometown Chicago Tribune.
Now, on the eve of WWW.‘s release, he’s about to achieve two dreams at once. Listening to an advance version, I’m struck by the creative risks he takes and how he wears his influences on his sleeve. The album breathes the same rarefied air of Coloring Book, Acid Rap, and Innanettape, but establishes itself as its own distinctive thing. It defies typical genre conventions; songs shift wildly from Chicago house-influenced dance music on “2 Da Moon” to full-on orchestral “Symphony“. Towkio’s lyrics are deft, incisive, but also freewheeling, loose-limbed, constantly find new ways to break away from staid formula and rote recitation. He croons through songs like “Morning View” with SZA, he patters through “Forever” alongside Vic, he swings from relaxed to all-out energy on “Loose.” He’s somehow all over the place, yet comfortably in his pocket. I’m impressed by his ability to make a project so diverse so sound cohesive, but not surprised.
Only someone with the energy of Towkio could possibly manage to do these things. He himself is the product of blended cultures, coming from a mixed Japanese/Latino heritage and growing up the melting pot of Chicago, how could he be anything else than the product of his environment, and totally himself? As he explains the stories and inspirations behind WWW.‘s creation, his unlikely path just makes sense, like he was supposed to end up here all along.