- Words Rosanna Dodds
- Photography Harry Eelman
- Fashion Katie Qian
- Grooming Alexa N Hernandez
Introducing the rising star of rap who makes mega jams for the millennial era.
Malcolm Jamaal Davis, better known as MadeinTYO, has a pretty positive outlook on life. The best part of his day? “Waking up.” His favourite song from his new album, Sincerely, Tokyo? He loves them all equally.
Positivity, it seems, has been key in pushing the American rapper to the frontiers of the millennial music scene, where, as TYO puts it himself, “music and content consumption are at an all time high.” Officially arriving on the scene with 2015’s ‘Uber Everywhere’, the artist quickly went viral, climbed to no. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 list and was subsequently remixed by Travis Scott.
You can see the appeal. Has there ever been a lyric that sums up millennial spirit more than, “Yeah, I wanna get the ‘Rari, but I know it takes some time,” the first line from the second verse of his debut? Only perhaps the following, “Look, Uber everywhere, pre rolls in the VIP,” that forms the base of the infamous chorus. It’s a track about being humble as much as it’s about ambition, which is particularly fitting when you learn that he apparently laid it down while his mum was cooking him dinner.
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Life before he went viral, however, was less than typical for TYO. As the son of a Naval Officer, the 25-year-old has moved through his fair share of military bases. He’s spent time at US sites – California, Virginia and Texas – but also, as his stage name might suggest, a base in Japan. “My father being in the Navy was a very dope experience for me growing up,” he explains. “Being around different cultures has influenced me a lot creatively.”
“Growing up in Tokyo was life changing,” he continues, citing the city’s eminent fashion and music scenes. “Rap and hip hop are massive out there.” Having lived there for six years, Japan’s influence is ubiquitous in TYO’s music. Take ‘I Want’ for example. There’s the Kumi Kaori sample, there are Japanese subtitles, and there’s a reference to Attack on Titan in the introduction.
But the influence isn’t just apparent in his artistic flourishes; it’s a feeling that pervades further than his music. There’s a carefree playfulness about TYO that has clearly played a hand in attracting the attention of an impressive collection of industry heavyweights – 2 Chainz, Blood Orange and Big Sean, just to name a few.
That’s not to say that his route to the top has been as easy-going as his attitude would suggest. TYO’s new found fame actually coincided with the birth or his first child, True, and the artist has quickly had to find a way of balancing fatherhood with his career. All things considered, he’s a refreshingly modest guy, and his music’s softer approach to bravado clearly hasn’t fallen on deaf ears.
TYO’s latest body of work is his debut album, Sincerely, Tokyo. It’s an eclectic mix of bouncing hooks and mellow ballads that mark a new stage of making music for the artist. “Sincerely, Tokyo, was strictly for my fans,” he says of his new release. “I focused on giving them the sound I know they love from me, but also on giving them records that would allow them to grow with me.”
And, at the end of the day, that’s what it all comes down to. In the internet age, an artist isn’t much without their following. “Seeing fans react to my music was the moment that solidified this as my career,” he adds. TYO even plays the role of a fan himself, admitting that he has to “lowkey” be an admirer of an artist in order to collaborate with them.
2019 is set to be the rapper’s biggest year yet, and a large part of it, he tells me, will be spent “working on new music and experimenting with different sounds.” But there’ll still be plenty of opportunities for spending more time with his son, enjoying “more leisurely travels,” and hopefully staying positive, too.
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