Words by EchoSlim
Photos by Sean Alaric
About four years ago, I went to check my bredren Nicko Rebel at his studio when I heard this unique voice blasting through the monitors. The beautiful sounds were from a relatively new artist named Toi. I instantly became a fan, and was able to indirectly work with her on Nicko and Alexander Star’s Badd Habitz EP. My ratings for her went up even higher when I heard the song she was featured on, “Sippin On Rum.” I stopped drinking alcohol years ago, but that song gave me instant vibes. In it she sings, “Feeling free like the air I’m blessed to breathe, cuz I’m happy with the bare necessities.” Those lines still talk to me today.
Fast forward a year later after the release of that underrated EP, and I’m breathing the fresh air of Jamaica, feeling as free as ever as I embark on my solo career. While in Kingston working with the legendary Mr. Bunny “Striker” Lee and his son Little Striker, I got an e-mail from LargeUp to interview Toian, as Toi is now known. She happened to be on the island at the same time (a MoBay native, she now resides in Florida).
With a handful of singles of her own now under her belt—including her latest, “Love It,” which we just premiered here on LargeUp yesterday—Toian has built a fanbase that literally follows her every move. She and her producer, Sean Alaric of Class One Music, have built the foundation of a movement that is about to take off with the release of her debut EP, Retrospect, on March 17th. Combining music with style and fashion (ladies, check her makeup and hair tips) Toian has become an inspiration for many people, especially women who were once insecure about their looks. Don’t believe me? Check her YouTube comments.
While Toian and I never did manage to link in person during our time in Jamaica, we were able to have the following conversation, thanks to JA’s new favorite form of communication: Whatsapp voice notes.
LargeUp: Why the name change from Toi to Toian?
Toian: Basically, it was difficult to find me online. Toi is also a word in French, meaning you, thee, or thou. When you search for Toi, a whole lot of other stuff comes up. So I decided to go with my real name, which is Toian, and that has helped a lot with my fans being able to find me.
LU: Great idea, so now you’re optimized in the search engines. Does the title of your new song with Vybz Kartel, “Ice Queen”, describe you at all in terms of your personality or character?
Toian: [Laughs] That’s a funny question. I think everyone at times is an ice queen. We all have to, at some point, put our emotions aside and just do what we have to do. So yeah, sometimes I would say I’m an ice queen, but for the most part I try not to be that way. I wouldn’t say I’m an ice queen as it relates to the song, though. [Laughs]
LU: How did you go from working with Protoje to Vybz Kartel, while still maintaining your same Toian flavor? You might be the only person who’s recorded with those two different sides to Jamaican music. How did each collaboration occur, and what does that say about you as an artist?
Toian: With both tracks, I was approached by the producers. For “Shot By Love” with Protoje, I was approached by Don Corleon, and for “Ice Queen” [with Kartel] I was approached by TJ [of TJ Records]. I don’t see any boundaries when it comes to music. I like to think of myself as a very versatile artist. And doing both sides, I’m able to have a wider range of people listen to me, and I’m not limited as to how I can express myself through music. I don’t think I would ever just say I can only do one style of music. I’m really happy that people on both sides are receptive to me.
LU: What aspects, if any, of being in Florida influence your music?
Toian: The biggest influence I’d say being in Florida has on my music is the fact that we have our own studio, and I’m able to just wake up every day and do what I love—sing, write and make music. Apart from that, my style is mostly influenced by being [from] and growing up in Jamaica.
LU: Since you don’t live in Jamaica, what do you like to do when get there? When you land in Kingston or Montego Bay, what are the first things you immediately do?
Toian: The first thing I have to do when I get off of the plane is get some food! For sure! Fried fish and festival, a patty, or something that I can’t get when I’m in the States. Apart from that, just linking up with friends. I like to go to new places; I’m always trying to find somewhere that I haven’t been before. That’s a lot of places for me in Kingston, since I’m not from Kingston. When I’m in Mobay, I definitely have to go to the beach. That is my place. Have to go to Doctor’s Cave Beach. Getting to see my family is always nice. My family is still in MoBay.
LU: I noticed that you have a following online aside from your music, giving makeup, hair, and other styling tips to women through your YouTube channel. Where did the inspiration to give those tips come from, and why do you feel the need to share that with other women?
Toian: As an artist, image means a lot. When I just started my musical journey, I really wanted to discover my style. I wanted to be confident in how I looked as an artist, because that means a lot to me. So I started watching YouTube videos and seeing other people giving makeup advice and fashion tips, stuff like that. I started really getting into it, collecting makeup, finding my style in terms of fashion. It got to [where] whenever I went out, people would ask me questions about my makeup or what I’m wearing. Personally I feel a sense of satisfaction knowing that other women can see what I do to make myself feel more confident and to feel pretty. Because that’s what every woman wants, they want to feel confident. That’s just a good way to help out other people.
EchoSlim: Lets get to your EP. The first single, “Rude Boys” is out, and I got to see some of the songs being put together. It sounds very dub-influenced, very roots. I think it’s cool to hear a distinctive new voice on this type of vintage sound. What inspired you to go this direction for this EP, when you could of went a dancehall direction with your previous success, or any other direction…
Toian: I’m really glad that you like what you hear so far and I can’t wait for everyone to finally hear the EP. When I did “Shot By Love” with Protoje, that was like my first taste of the whole roots kind of vibe. And I really enjoyed doing it. I could see the reception from the people. They really enjoyed hearing my tone of voice on the deep, kind of dark, dub-type rhythms.
That’s definitely something I wanted to experiment with more, and I noticed that no female artist was really doing it at the time. I used that as a stepping-stone to go forward. Working with a team of very talented and creative people, Nicko Rebel and Sean Alaric of Class One Music, and everyone else who played a part in the EP, helped it come together. I like the contrast between my voice and the old school rhythms. It just gives it a whole different feeling. Its something fresh and its something new for right now—it’s not really being done.
LU: I’m glad that you touched on the topic of the people that assisted you with this EP. Please tell the people who don’t know about the importance of production and engineering, in more depth, how specifically Sean and Nicko Rebel helped make the EP sound like something from back in the day with a modern feel?
Toian: It’s definitely important to work with people who understand what you want to do and what you want to accomplish. Sean just kind of gets me as an artist, and knows exactly what it is that I want to do, and how I want to sound. He plays a very big role in all of my music—he actually helps to co-write most of it as well. From morning til night, that’s what we are doing. Making new music and writing. The chemistry between the artist and the producer is one of the most important aspects in my opinion. Without that chemistry, you’re going to be able to hear it on the record—that there is no chemistry there. With Nicko, he actually takes the time out to know what I want. It’s not just a case where we send the track to him, and he mixes it. I’m actually there in studio with him, listening to everything and letting him know if I’m okay with what’s going on. Not a lot of engineers like the opinion of the artist. I’ve experienced that before. Just having that cohesiveness with everybody is amazing, and that definitely played a role in the final product of Retrospect.
LU: I can definitely hear that cohesiveness on the EP from. What else do you have in store for 2015. Any other releases? A makeup line?
Toian: The EP will definitely be the main focus for this year. We want to release videos for each of the five tracks. The next single that is going to be released is “Love It”, and we already have the video in the works. A lot of people have been asking me about a makeup line. That’s definitely something that I really want to do. I don’t have anything concrete as yet, but that’s definitely something that’s going to come in the future. I also have two other songs that will be released during the time of the EP, on juggling rhythms. And we are going to shoot a video for my song “Kingston Town” which is on Strictly The Best Vol. 50, as well.