estonian rapper tommy cash wants to be 'kanye east'
The 25-year-old raps about growing up in Tallinn and directs visuals straight from a post-soviet sex dream.
"I take a lot of artists as role models for myself," Tommy Cash, the 25-year-old Estonian rapper behind the viral "Winaloto" video, explains. The visually arresting choreography of flesh, superimposed body parts, and Cash's captivating style propelled "Winaloto" — whose killer beat was produced by Russia's stereoRYZE — to the global stage of Western music blogging as the "most unsettling" rap video of all time in summer of 2016.
The body horror-tinged clip, along with his new, overly sexual video "Surf", are a form of provocative self expression that pushes boundaries much like the avant garde filmmaker that he is sometimes compared to, Alejandro Jodorowsky. "All Alejandro's movies are huge pieces of art — Holy Mountain means a lot to me," the rapper says. "When I saw it for the first time, it stayed with me forever. I would like to make videos and music just like he made his movies."
It's Cash's dedication to his art, his hometown, and his authentic self that makes the project intriguing and completely his own. He comes from Tallinn, Estonia's capital, with a story of struggle, self-assurance, and an aching pine for making it . Just watch the video for "Leave Me Alone," a bleak portrait of the Estonian hood and its oppressive nature. His first body of work, 2014's Euroz Dollarz Yeniz, marked the official beginning of his career in making what he dubs "Post-Soviet rap" with severe, creative flows and explosive beats by producers in Russia, Ukraine, and even Japan.
And like any great artist, Cash has a distinct style and powerful stage presence that sets him apart. His fashion sense is a take on Eastern European streetwear (aka adidas tracksuits galore) and emerging brands like London's ZDDZ, the make of the bright orange jacket he wears in the mesmerizing Berlin Colors live performance of "Winaloto."
We caught up with the Estonian rapper in a moment of downtime between the studio and touring Europe to get to know the artist behind the unsettling visuals and Post-Soviet interpretation of hip-hop.
You're on the final stretches of a huge tour you've been on since March. How has that been?
It's been a blessing. It's not the easiest thing to do because it takes all your energy and emotions, but I love my fans and I love to perform. The previous tour was smaller but this one is much harder — it's a level up. If touring was the Super Mario world, I think this is like level 4 or 5.
Growing up in Tallinn, how did you spend your time?
I started dancing when I was 14 because girls from my class were doing hip-hop. I tried it out and I kind of fell in love with it. I didn't like to go to school — I was in art school at the time. I was usually just listening to music or sleeping in and being really tired from dancing a lot. I started drawing and doing street art, and from all this came my rap career. It was a form of art at first -- I started writing and it kind of grew really naturally. I made my first video and that was it.
How did you go from dancing hip-hop to being a professional hip-hop artist?
In the beginning, I was just a kid who was like, "Yeah, I love to rap! I can come perform for free, what money? I don't need money." I was working all these shitty jobs like picking up popcorn in cinemas. I was literally getting fired from everywhere. At first, I didn't want money. I just wanted to do it because I loved it. But then I understood I can get money too so that I can survive.
You've said that Kanye West is one of your major influences. Which other musicians were you listening to?
I love music. I've been listening to different genres all my life. Hip-hop from the 2000s and Nas, Eminem, Missy Elliott, Marilyn Manson. I listened to grunge like Alice in Chains. But Kanye, of course, taught me to believe in my dreams. That's what he was about at first and he inspired me even before this music thing.
You call the art you make "Post-Soviet rap." What does that mean to you?
I get all my inspiration from my childhood and directly from the place where I grew up. I don't try to be American, I don't try to sound like no one else. I think this is the world's problem — everyone is trying to be like someone they aren't or trying to be someone else.
But from the beginning, I understood that I need to show where I came from. It's special for me to be in Paris, England and all the places I travel to — it's a new world for me. And I think I should show Estonia to people. How it is, how it was for me to grow up there, what's going on in my world. I make this post-soviet music.
What was the process of creating your "Winaloto" video and the tongue-in-cheek visuals for "Surf"?
For "Winaloto," I went to Paris with my girl for the first time and we went to the Louvre. We walked through the museum and when we were at the metro station, I asked my girl Anna [Lisa-Hima] — who is also the producer and stylist of the videos that I direct -- "What if we make a video based off skin?"
["Surf"] was straight from the ballsack. The song already sounded like a sweaty, post-soviet sex dream.
You rap a lot about adidas and even have the three stripes tattooed on your foot. What was your first memory with the sportswear brand?
[Laughs] My dad wearing a tracksuit. I remember when I was small, my parents would go out and walk around for a couple hours, but when they were done they'd still be wearing tracksuits. It's like, why!
It's like a cult, it's trapped minimalism. It's not giving a fuck in Eastern Europe basically. Even if you're fat and you're not sporty at all, you're still wearing the tracksuit. Somehow, it's grown into a style where people overseas are wearing tracksuits and it's very interesting for me. But I've been into Adidas for years and years.
After the tour, what do you have planned for 2017?
I just got back from the studio in London and have been working with very great guys — I can't tell you who, but I'm so excited. I'm like a little kid, seriously. When you meet your role models or people you've been looking up to for so long, it's crazy.
Where do you see Tommy Cash in the future?
I would like to be the Kanye East. But definitely, Kanye started out as a great, groundbreaking musician with the visuals he had --- he was forward thinking in his ideas and clothing, just a genius. I want to be great in everything I do, and also perfect my music and create a world for people that they have never seen before.
Text Braudie Blais-Billie