Rapper Towkio, from Chicago’s famed SaveMoney crew, is about to unleash his wonderful weirdness on the world
In the days leading up to his first major European shows this spring, 24-year-old rapper Towkio boarded a plane to Mexico to shoot the music video for “Drift,” the first single off his forthcoming debut album, World Wide .Wav. The treatment for the video was ambitious, to say the least, featuring performances in hot-air balloons, dancers on ancient pyramids, and a fleet of souped-up drift cars ripping and zipping around empty roads. In other words, it was the kind of high-end production that would cost a record label a small fortune. But Towkio, who came up in Chicago’s independent SaveMoney hip-hop collective—which has broken such stars as Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper—took another route. “I went down there with seven friends, spent $8,000 of my own money, and we guerilla-style winged it,” he says with a laugh. “We were using drones, which were illegal, and sneaking cameras into places. It was crazy.”
Towkio (born Preston Oshita) says he’s always been a risk taker, and not only when it comes to his music career. Growing up on Chicago’s North Side, he was a quiet but adventurous kid. “I had a big personality, but I was out-there. I’ve always been in my head,” he says. He credits his immigrant parents—his mother is Mexican, his father Japanese—for his work ethic, especially his mom, who worked three jobs while putting herself through school. “They taught me money don’t get you shit, but hard work is gonna get you whatever you need,” he says.
In elementary school Towkio started writing poetry and listening to hip-hop. “I used to walk around everywhere with a CD player and listen to music on the school bus,” he recalls. His older brothers and cousins gave him his first CDs—50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and Kanye West’s College Dropout—which he still considers two of his biggest influences. In junior high he started rapping and posting songs to MySpace, and joined a local crew called Money Up Front. “They were these maniacs—already out of high school, or they dropped out,” he says. “They took me in, like Lil Wayne, and wanted to start me young, but then I stopped making music. I was on some hustling shit. I just wanted money.”
Towkio started stealing and selling drugs (“mostly pills and shit, Molly”), which helped fund his rap career when he returned to making music toward the end of high school. That’s when he joined SaveMoney, with his kindergarten friend Joey Davis, aka Joey Purp, Vic Mensa, Chance the Rapper, Nico Segal, Kami, and others. SaveMoney works as a sort of creative brain trust; aside from musicians, it includes beat makers, producers, videographers, and photographers. Collaboration is encouraged, and healthy competition fuels every project. “I feel like from the beginning we were all just friends and we were pushing the culture,” Towkio says. “If one person dropped a hot song or a hot verse, then the next person had to go hard. It’s definitely helped us advance.”
In 2012, Towkio released his Community Service EP, featuring his own nimble flow over a heady collage of twitchy EDM beats and world music samples. He followed it up with 2014’s Hotchips N Chopstix, a more hook-heavy EP that retained his dance floor–ready sound. In 2015, as Chance, Vic, and Joey were breaking into the mainstream, Towkio upped his game with .Wav Theory. The mixtape presented a skittering hybrid of soul, hip-hop, and house, and spawned the hits “Heaven Only Knows” and “Clean Up.” Most important, though, it created a platform for the existential, mind-expanding message that Towkio says he’s been channeling since the start.
This September, that message will make its way to the masses when Towkio releases World Wide .Wav. Recorded with legendary producer Rick Rubin in his Shangri-La Malibu studio, World Wide .Wav is a next-level project in every sense of the word. “When I made .Wav Theory I was googly-eyed. I was looking at the moon, talking about my theories on how the moon controls the waves, which also controls the rotation of everything on the earth. It felt very hippie and spiritual,” he says. “Now I’m channeling that energy, that high, and taking an overview. I’m looking back at the earth and realizing how precious our life is, but also how our life on earth is only our life on earth, and once you leave earth, nothing else matters. You’re forced to feel the energy of that higher perspective when you see things different.”
In a crew known for its oddball reputation thanks to its experimental boundary pushing, Towkio has often been considered SaveMoney’s most eccentric member, with singularity to spare. And on World Wide .Wav he’s taking his unconventionality to new heights, fusing sounds, styles, cultures, and mind-sets. “I’ve put a lot of energy into [the record],” he says. “And I’m excited to see what all this energy I’ve been conjuring up and manifesting does, because I know it’s powerful and it has intention behind it, so when it hits, my intuition tells me something good’s gonna happen. I think it’s gonna resonate with a lot of people, because I’m speaking on a deeper level.”
So far his intuition has been right. Along with the “dreamlike” experience of recording with Rubin, Towkio says that everything surrounding World Wide .Wav has felt fated. After they finished recording, Towkio remembers heading down to the beach in front of Rubin’s house to take some acid and “really ask myself whether I liked [the album] or not, whether it was going to be what I thought it was,” he recalls. “There was this overwhelming feeling of ‘Yes. You don’t have to worry no more.’”
Stylist Ashley Guerzon, Photographer’s Assistant David Lopez