Watch the interview on Daily Vice
Robin Banks is a 20-year-old musician from Toronto’s Driftwood neighbourhood around the the North-West Toronto intersection of Jane & Finch, which has been dubbed “Up Top” by the young rapper and his friends. “Jane & Finch is the border,” he explains to me. “The ‘Down Bottom’ is the south side of [that intersection] and we’re up north, ‘Up Top.’” He represents not only his own area but for all Somali citizens, something that has helped his fan base stretch as far as the midwest of the United States. “One place that’s really fucking with me is Minnesota though. I have a big fan base out there.” When asked why he thinks that might be, the lanky rapper shrugs his shoulders and smiles to reveal a signature gap tooth, “I don’t even know to be honest, I guess it’s because there are a lot of Somalian rapper in the world but I guess I’m that one different Somalian rapper. They feel like I’m putting us all on and everything.”
If there’s one thing that Robin Banks is able to do, it’s craft hits. His style is reminiscent of Speaker Knockerz, his blend of rapping and singing making almost everything he says anthemic. He’s also the person who created the term “TT right now,” which is short for “too turnt,” a phrase that has been adopted by Drake for an Instagram caption, and is apparently in the process of being copyrighted. “I came up with that one day because I was just turning up at a hotel and I was just way too turnt and I just kept saying ‘I’m TT,’ and it just caught on.” Considering he only started taking music seriously in June of 2014, his star has risen considerably quickly if YouTube plays and Soundcloud clicks are the metrics on which success is judged. He plans on releasing the mixtape while it’s still warm out, seeing as how his music has a “summertime” feel to it, but the closest he has to a hard date as of right now is “maybe the end of August.” While you wait for it, read our interview with the young artists below.
Noisey: Why do you think that it’s now that you, Top 5 and Layla Hendrix are all coming up and are from the Somali community?
Robin Banks: Because when I really look at other Somali rappers out here, like in the city, they didn’t make a buzz. We’re dropping things that people wanna hear, that party sound. Layla has the trap sound and she’s a female so for her to be singing and rapping on that trap type of sound, people like to listen to that. K’Naan was more of like a motivational kind of guy, there’s people that would listen to it but if you’re going to a party or riding downtown with your windows down and you’re smoking, obviously you’re gonna bump something that knocks your bass. The thing is with me, why I think I’m so big, is because I started using some of the Somali terms in my songs and stuff.
Like I have a single called “Entertainment” and the whole second verse is just, I’m ending all my lines with a Somali term. And then I mainly rap about my Somali homies, like my song “Malis Off A Molly,” Mali is a short term for Somali so I just attached it to the Somali community and they were really feeling me. I’m not trying to sound all cocky and shit, but I feel like the turn up genre, I brought that to Toronto.
What do you think it was about your music that made people gravitate towards it?
I think it’s just that, knowing where I’m from and how hard we have it, we’re still able to turn up, show people that we still turn up, we still live a regular life even though we’re going through a lot with the cops, all the street stuff and all of that.
Did Drake shouting out “TT” help you see more success?
Do you know how he found out about it?
To be honest I can’t even tell you, but the point is he found out about it.
What kind of advice do you give to artists? If someone needs help with their music, how do you help them?
To be honest, I say that when it comes to the music, it’s not even about if you have talent or not, it’s just about how hard you’re willing to work. That’s what I think, like some people are just gifted with it and some people worked hard to become who they are. Because obviously not everybody woke up one day and said I’m gonna be a rapper. You need to take in different types of music too, so I think that’s what will help you to become better at what you wanna do.
What do your parents think about you wanting to be a rapper?
It’s not something they would want me to go for, obviously they want me to be in school and stuff but they’re supporting me 100%.
What do you look for in a beat? What’s the type of thing that makes a beat “TT?”
It’s all about the bass and the little snares. It’s just everything, the beat has to be something you can ride to, that you can smoke to, that you can party to no matter what mood you’re in and no matter what you’re doing, it’s something that you’ll enjoy listening to.
What do you think of Toronto’s music scene as a whole right now?
I think it’s good still, there are a lot of artists coming out and dropping a lot of fire. I think it’s good, the more rappers the better right? The more chances of everybody getting noticed and everything because you don’t really hear too many rappers making it out of Toronto.
Jane & Finch has a pretty rich musical history too right? Do you think growing up where you grew up influenced the music you make somehow?
Um, like sometimes I’d watch the old videos and see how like they used to do shows, be on Much Music and stuff like that, that kind of motivates me too because Jane & Finch has a bad history right? So for those guys to be able to go on Much Music, sell out shows and everything, that motivates me you know? No matter where you’re from you can still do what you wanna do.
What are you trying to do next year?
I’m just trying to get rich to be honest, but like I wanna live the rapper life you know? I wanna wake up, make music, go to sleep in the studio, get up and make music, do shows in front of millions, tour bus, parties, all of that stuff.
Slava Pastuk is the Editor of Noisey Canada. Follow him on Twitter.