Oh, the things musicians will do for their art. Last year, Solange turned the Guggenheim into a real life installation for her album A Seat at the Table . There was also the time Kanye West turned Madison Square Garden into a fashion show and previewed The Life of Pablo for the arena. Chicago rapper Towkio is no stranger to thinking outside the box. Between his debut project .Wav Theory and World Wide .Wav, his latest project, he’s risked his life a total of three times: twice in Mexico and once in Hawaii. He was extorted by Mexican police for just $5 although he’d just dropped off $60,000 of studio equipment, and left the country two hours before their worst earthquake in a decade. In Hawaii, he dangled from a car window by only his legs after his "Drift" video. But this time, Towkio is more concerned about elevation in every sense of the word. So much so, that he was willing to be taken almost 100,000 feet in the air strapped to a helium balloon to release World Wide .Wav, a futuristic hip-hop album produced by Rick Rubin.
With three near death experiences, faith fuels his protection, and growing his art is rooted in experimentation. Although, his actions could be read as publicity stunts, he thinks the fact that he’s come out of these situations unscathed means he was called to do them. When I spoke to Towkio, there was an energy in his voice that felt contagious. He spoke highly of humanity like he was the one person who knew something we all didn’t. And rightfully so, how many people can say they’ve dropped 92,000 feet and lived to talk about it.
Noisey: How are you feeling? You’ve had a pretty momentous 24 hours?
Towkio: Unstoppable. Like literally, I’m driving through LA right now and I feel like this city don’t got shit on me. I just feel like I’ve unlocked new potential in my whole brain with the way I’m thinking. I’m just still on a high.
WWW opens with a line on “Swim” about feeling minuscule from space and there’s also a track named “2 Da Moon.” Which came first the album or the trip?
This all came from the evolution of me. I started with .Wav Theory, which is just my ideas and theories on life. I was looking at the moon and if the moon controls the rotation of water waves on the Earth then, if you believe in the butterfly effect, that would affect everything else. It’s all interconnected. That got me to Rick Rubin in Shangri La. I went from making music in cold ass Chicago to being on a beach in Malibu that used to be owned by Elvis, then sold to Bob Dylan. I’m recording this old album on Bob Dylan’s old tour bus. I’m recording all of this music in a magical place. One of the greatest artists of our generation, Kanye, when he went through his mental situation, the first place he went was Shangri La. That shows you how peaceful that place is. That place allowed me to develop my concepts and learn about myself and become a better version of myself.
Most artists get success and they just stay there. But I had to evolve my concepts, I had to evolve my work. I couldn’t just stay theoretical. I had to find out a way to shift people’s consciousness. By doing that I was coming from a higher plane. It’s crazy because growing up in Chicago, you see zero stars. I’ve seen every star in the sky when I was in Malibu and it changed my life. I was like, “Wow, if more people could see stars…” It’s a perspective thing. Like, wow, we really just are small as fuck. In Chicago, all you see is a motherfucking skyscraper. You gotta keep looking down and keep looking over your shoulder. You can’t look up and change your perspective, you’re forced to look down.
During that I still didn’t have the concept developed. When I thought of it, it was WWW, World Wide .Wav. We wanted to follow up .Wav Theory. But then, if you put three w’s together it makes a wave itself. This wave, this frequency, this energy, is a frequency that could be felt across the world. So I was trying to make an album where it didn’t matter what country you were in, what race you are, if you were just human you could feel this high. I feel like the one thing that ties us together as humans, is obviously our planet. The one thing that ties us together no matter what we’ve experienced, is as soon as you break that frequency, we will all feel the same high. In all of this, me going to Mexico to shoot in front of pyramids, or me going to Maui to drift out of cars, to going back to the pyramids in an astronaut suit, to being in a desert in pitch blackness… It all lead up to this moment. That’s why everything worked. I’ve put my all into this shit and God be setting up plays for me. At this point, He’s turning me into a monster, because I’m going to keep going crazy. How do I top myself after going to pyramids and drifting? How do I top myself after making a crazy album in Shangri La? How do I top myself after I drop from 92,000 feet in the sky? Now I have to go crazier. It’s forcing me to advance. But this is the motivation we should have as a human society. It’ll allow us to get further, faster. We don’t know how much time we got. Shoutout to Elon for pushing the boundaries. But other people, we gotta keep pushing the boundaries that we’re living at.
You’ve described this album as being inspired by the “overview effect,” the feeling astronauts feel when they see Earth from afar. Have you always been interested in space?
What’s crazy to me is that we’re taught in class that they’re nine planets. We don’t get taught anything about how vast and beautiful our universe is. I don’t even remember getting taught any of that shit. I was just blessed enough to make it to Malibu. To even have an opportunity to leave the city. There’s so many people who don’t even know what it’s like to leave outside of Chicago.
On Instagram, you wrote that this was a moment that has changed your life forever. What could you see from where you were? What were you thinking on the way down?
I definitely thought I was going to die. It was crazy. I was praying to God the entire time. When I got to the top it made me cry, it was beautiful. It was the exact thing I’d be working for. The exact frequency I was talking about when I thought of my album. I literally reached new heights. When it really set in, it felt like almost an eternity, but it happened so fast and then I was like, “Okay, just bring me down.” Then coming down was the scariest shit ever. There were definitely moments where I thought, “Why did I put myself through this?” I actually feel different now. I’m in my brain so much harder.
What does it feel like on the way down?
It feels like a vertical velocity drop. But when the parachute opens, it’s a pretty gradual drop. It felt like the longest time of my life. But I had my music playing the whole time, so I listened to my album like four or five times.
Did the album feel different up there?
It sounded amazing. It sounded like I made the soundtrack to what I was doing. Like I made the soundtrack to my death wish. Now people are going to be able to hear it in the conscious frame of how I was making it. It’ll resonate harder. A lot of time concepts will go over people’s heads. I remember having a moment when I was making the album and I wanted to listen to it in full and be completely honest with myself. I walked to the water and the sun was setting and these words just came to my head: “You don’t have to worry.” It just sounded good, I couldn’t find anything I didn’t like. I called my mother because my ‘buelo just passed and I’m a mama’s boy. She was hurt so I had to give her the message that everything my ‘buelo did was necessary to get me where I’m at. I had to show her that everything she did allowed me to be able to sit in Malibu where I’m going to make the album that’s going to change my life.
This journey to space is the third physical risk you’ve taken for the sake of your art. Why is taking risks important to you?
You gotta give it your all. Sometimes it’s not gonna work, but you will never know unless you tried. I didn’t really want to go risk my life, to be honest. I don’t think I was choosing to do it. It kind of just happened. It was the play set up, so I’m moving with it. Seeing the pyramids in Mexico, that is art that was left of crazy advanced technology. We obviously have a common underlying factor, and it’s a collective of human effort. We have to be collectively making an effort as humanity, at all times.
You speak a lot about manifestation and energy, specifically speaking to the time 11:11. Why’d you choose to be in flight at that time?
Well, at 11:11 you’re supposed to make a wish. So, make a wish. I wished that I made it back. I made that wish and God granted it. 11:11 is wishful thinking, it’s synchronicity and what are the chances I see it every day. I thought my album was going to drop last week. I put all my energy into that day. “This is the day, February 19.” Then everything went to shit. Earlier in the day I was at the gym, dude’s phone fell out his pocket and it said 11:11. At that point, I’m like okay, I’ll just trust the process. Who knows what would’ve happened if we would’ve tried to do everything earlier.
What did SaveMoney have to say about this? Was Rick, or anybody else trying to talk you out of this?
I think after this amount of manifestation in what I do, it didn’t surprise them. I told everybody to respect me because I had already made my mind up. My mom found out the day before, on the internet. I didn’t want anybody to talk me out of it. I just needed positive energy, I didn’t even want to doubt myself. The fact that I even did that shit, I probably will never do that again. Unless they figure out better technology to make that shit like 100 percent safe. Plus, I don’t know how much motherfuckers really need to be in space. When you go up there you realize that we got the best planet in the Universe. We got life. There’s not a lot of life, at least not in our solar system.
You’re pretty concerned with the legacy of humanity, as well as your own. How do you think WWW will add to your legacy?
Shit, it’s just the next chapter. I’m going to keep going crazy. My new shit sound amazing. I can’t wait to get back in the studio. I’ve got a whole new line of consciousness. I’m just excited to see what the next manifestation is going to be. It’s not about the end, it’s about the journey. I wouldn’t have done this shit if I blew up off “Drift” or one of my other songs.
On your return, there was a moment where you just looked happy to touch land. What was going on in your mind?
It just felt like the most craziest, blessed, thankful, back from the dead moment ever. It felt like I died and came back to life. I was just so thankful to be back on the ground. Thankful for God, thankful for everybody that prayed for me. I felt everybody’s energy when I returned back to ground.
Just let the world know this: We got a lot of work to do.
World Wide .Wav is out today. Listen here.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.